A call came up on my phone while I was driving to a meeting. I didn’t recognize the number but it was local, so I hit the hand’s free button on the steering wheel, to take the call.
“Do you believe in demons?”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Do you believe in demons?”
“Uhm, who is this?”
“It doesn’t matter; do you believe in demons?”
“I believe in the demonic,” I said.
Pause. “What’s the difference?”
“Well, I don’t believe in scaly little creatures reeking of brimstone, creating havoc and doing violence, taking over human beings and spitting pea soup. But I do believe in forces, energy, and intentionality that seeks to do harm, and that influences individuals and systems in all kinds of destructive and damaging ways,” I explained.
“So you don’t believe in Jesus,” was the immediate reply.
“No, I believe in Jesus. Do you think Jesus was a demon?” I asked.
“Jesus cast out demons; if you don’t believe in demons, then you don’t believe in Jesus.”
“Is there something I can do for you?” I asked, hoping to get a slightly clearer idea of what was going on.
“My wife got vaccinated and now she has a demon, but if you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t help me,” he concluded, hanging up.
My mind whirled with questions following the call. I wondered what was going on in this man’s life and home that made him reach out. I wondered about his belief that he was dealing with a demon. I wondered at his unwillingness to enter more fully into a conversation, but kind of dead-ended our talk with declarative inferences. I wondered where he would find help. I wondered who he was and why he called me. I thought a bit more deeply about my response and my belief in “the demonic” rather than in “demons.” While I am a firm believer in God, Jesus, and the transcendent presence of the Holy Spirit, I admit to being more agnostic about my thinking of spiritual forces such as angels, demons, ghosts, haunts, and spooks.
I cannot honestly dismiss beliefs in the supernatural (after all, I do believe in a resurrection…) because I have experiences in my own life that defy a simple, rational, reasonable explanation. I was there, I saw what I saw, heard what I heard, felt what I felt, and I cannot offer a scientific explanation. What I love is that every time I share these stories with other people, it opens a floodgate – almost everyone has a similar story or two of their own.
Story #1: A member of my youth group was beside herself, weeping and begging not to have to return to her home. She shared that her seven year old brother had begun acting strangely, very aggressively, and that he was damaging home and destroying property. She said he was acting like a little pervert and was beginning to use foul language. I reached out to her parents and asked if there were anything I could do to help. I knew the boy from Vacation Bible School – a cute blond haired, blue eyed cherub who had bonded closely to me. His parents thought he might open up with me, so they welcomed me to have a talk with him. I met a sullen, sad, petulant kid who wouldn’t make eye contact or offer more than a monosyllabic answer. Suddenly he looked up at me with the most sinister leer, and his formerly blue eyes were brown and he spoke to me with a very adult voice. He pulled a penknife out of his pocket and stabbed the back of my hand and tried to attack me again, but I was able to hold him off, just barely. He was the strongest little boy I have ever met, and he screamed out obscenities and insults. I told the parents that I thought they had a serious problem, and if I ever had an encounter with the truly demonic, this was it.
Story #2: One of my youth group co-leaders, Bob, was in a serious car accident, suffering significant head injury. I went to visit him in intensive care, and when I took hold of his hand to pray, it was as if I received a serious electrical shock, numbing my arm to the shoulder for the better part of a week. On a Thursday evening the week following, I came full awake at 11:47 and would swear to this day that I Bob’s voice. I got up to get a soda out of my refrigerator and halfway across the room, I passed out. I learned the next day that Bob came out of his coma for seven minutes, rousing at 11:47 and drifting back at 11:54. The following week I woke from sleep at around 2:00 in the morning, experiencing the same electrical shock feeling for what seemed like just a few seconds, but when I looked back at the clock, it was 4:13 – the exact time that Bob was pronounced dead at the hospital. I have been told by many that this was just coincidence, or that I have reframed the memories to fit the reality, but, sorry, it happened this way and it raises just enough questions and doubts to keep me wondering.
Story #3: Faye was a lonely, poor, very elderly widow in a rural church I served. Her husband, Doug, died sixteen years before I met Faye, but she spoke lovingly of him all the time. Faye was essentially homebound, and even within her lovely three-story Victorian house she was restricted to the ground floor. One day, I went to visit Faye and while we were talking I heard footsteps on the floor above us. I was alarmed because I knew no one else was supposed to be in her house. I asked Faye if she heard someone moving around, and she scoffed at me, saying, “Oh, don’t worry, that’s just Douglas.” “Douglas?” I asked. “Yes. He putters around most afternoons,” she explained. “Faye, I need to check this out. Someone is upstairs; we may need to call the police.” She laughed at me as I ascended the stairs. On the landing, I paused to listen, and I could hear footsteps and shuffling around in the room at the end of the hall. I cautiously opened the door, peered in, and while seeing nothing, the footfalls got louder and clearer. Someone, something, was audibly moving around the room, and there was a fresh scent of sandalwood. When I returned to Faye, she just grinned at me as asked, “Did you smell his aftershave? That’s how I know it’s Douglas.” Lots of people have explained to me what must have really happened, but none of them were there. Also, I have a couple more Faye stories just as strange, and just as inexplicable.
So, I don’t know — demonic spirits, telepathy/telekinesis, ghosts — I tend to say I don’t believe, except when I do. I have no qualms about a quantum essence of divine spirit, but balk at anthropomorphized evil. I do believe there are trans-rational, transcendent forces at work in our world, but I am not clear on the forms they take.
I hope my anonymous caller got the help he and his wife need; I would hate for my unbelief to add to his misery, but he certainly got me thinking… again.