Delivered from Deliverance

Early morning last Saturday, I was awoken by the phone ringing. It was not ridiculously early, and I might have been up by 8 anyway, but I had slept unusually well that night, and stumbled downstairs to answer, eyes half shut.

The caller explained that he lived in a certain town (over 100 miles away) and would I kindly perform an exorcism? I answered that this is not something I am known to do, and he might have better luck trying his local Anglican bishop. He thanked me and we ended the call, I returning to bed.

With hindsight it was probably bad advice; I suspect half the Anglican prelates struggle to believe the existence of angels and demons. Still, they would be unlikely to rush into some silly ritual, suggesting instead the man seeks counselling. I had not the patience to make further enquiries and essentially fobbed him off. Perhaps I can blame the tiredness.

He might have been sincere. We Bible believers accept that demons may influence and control a human being, as the scriptures attest. However, much that is supposed to be demon possession is likely something else. Mental illness is serious and genuine; our own hearts incline us toward evil, so blaming someone or something other than ourselves for our actions is itself a symptom of corruption. Even when it is real, removal of a demon is not a sufferer’s ultimate need. What each human needs and requires is Christ Jesus Himself. Going about ‘delivering’ people is not a gospel minster’s priority- it is proclaiming Christ. When such manifestations appear in the scriptures, there seems no doubt that the cause is demonic. Still, I believe we are less likely to encounter demons today than people in the past, and here's why.

1) There is a finite number of demons. They do not reproduce and there is no evidence that subsequent angels joined Satan's rebellion after the initial round. Although their number is likely to be high (thousands? millions? billions?) it never increases. At the same time, human numbers are increasing. The world population is currently around 7.9 billion, projected to rise to 9.74 within thirty years. If there is a fixed number of demons (and not all demons may have the propensity to inhabit human bodies), then a large and growing population will spread them more thinly, reducing our chances of encountering one.  

2) Secular British and European culture rejects the supernatural in general and the demonic in particular. As Lewis suggests in his Screwtape Letters, this state of affairs is equally pleasing to the fallen ones as the rabid superstition known at other times and in other places. Whether humans ignore or reject the gospel, the result is the same. Intelligent opponents will hide themselves and conceal their activities if the prevailing culture would be better deceive thereby.

3) Numbers of demonic agents have actually fallen. We know the Lord Jesus delivered seven individuals from demonic power, one of whom, the Gadarene, accommodated a great many. If we assume they were all despatched to hell or Tartarus, they would be unavailable to afflict humans in subsequent ages, including our own. In Luke 10, the 72 returned, exclaiming that even the demons had submitted to them. Furthermore, the apostles delivered people from demons (eg Paul in Acts 16). On the other hand, the apostles might have been unable to command such spirits to return to hell, and were merely limiting their activities at that particular time. In Matthew 12, Jesus suggests that a spirit, once removed from a person, “...passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’”. This would indicate that not all homeless demons are cast into hell. That said, the text might allow the spirit to have left the body of its own volition, rather than having been commanded to leave by an apostle.  

Of course, there are many who make livings and reputations by operating ‘deliverance ministries’. They see demons under every bush, blaming (or crediting) them with every human sin. They often teach that blood-washed, Holy Spirit-indwelt believers can be the home of unclean spirits. For example, Peter Horrobin’s Healing through Deliverance, claims to be ‘the foundation and practice of deliverance ministry’, all for only £24.99. Had my early-morning caller done a quick internet search, he would have found a number of nationwide ‘ministries’ that would have been only too delighted to assist. Quite why my number came up, I do not know. Google yields five references to demons on our website, none of which suggest I wish to involve myself with them or their removal. Would that people sought and preached Christ with the same fervency with which they look into dark things they little understand.

Image by Ruth Archer from Pixabay