The Psychology of Demons

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I watched The Exorcist in high school. While I watched movies often in those days, especially action/adventure movies and comedies, I hadn’t yet explored much in the realm of horror. The movie left an impression on me that remains to this day, though not because the movie itself scared me. No, I remember The Exorcist because, around the viewing of the film, I was told stories of real life events that inspired parts of the story. The story of The Exorcist forced me to recognize the reality of spiritual warfare, the existence of actual demons. The film reminded me that we face a very real, very evil enemy.

Since that time, I’ve tended to avoid watching movies about demonic possession. I’ll go see movies about killer clowns that feed on fear, and I’ll read books about haunted houses and world-ending creatures. As I’ve written before, I enjoy creepy stories. But tales of demons are a bit too real for me. Although highly fictionalized, these stories display an aspect of reality which I don’t like to acknowledge. I’m learning, however, that some stories of demons can be helpful.

Consider The Screwtape Letters. In Lewis’s famous fictional account, a young demon receives instructional letters from an older demon concerning the temptation of a man. Lewis, by writing from the perspective of a tempter, provides a fresh perspective on spiritual warfare and temptation. The pages, though dark and bitter at times in their realness, overflow with wisdom. God has used Lewis’s book often to challenge and to encourage me in my spiritual growth.

Scripture itself speaks of demons in order to highlight truth and to glorify the Lord. Throughout the Gospels and Acts, we read stories of demonic oppression and exorcism. We see the power of God at work over the powers of darkness. One instance in particular stands out to me.

Luke recounts the story of the demon possessed man of the Gerasenes. We read that this man lived naked, out “among the tombs” rather than with other people (Luke 8:27). According to Luke, attempts to restrain the man failed, for he would break free from his chains and would “be driven by the demon into the desert” (Luke 8:29). At Jesus’s command to leave the man, the demon begged for mercy ( Luke 8:28). We then read a part of their interaction to which I had not given much thought until recently. As Luke records the encounter,

Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him.
Luke 8:30

Jesus’s question stood out to me as I read. Why, I wondered, would Jesus ask the demon its name? Then I began to think.

Jesus is the pre-existent Lord of all, God incarnate, the very “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). John writes that Jesus is the Word of God, in the beginning with God and one with God (John 1:1). Jesus is the creator of all that exists, and no created thing exists apart from him (John 1:3). Paul adds to this picture by stating that “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). These truths mean that angels were created by him and for him. Jesus may well have given the angels both their names and their purposes. Their identities and their designs point to their creator.

Jesus’s question, then, may have called to the mind of each demon its original name and its original purpose. Perhaps the demons recognized in that moment the voice of their designer, knowing that before their eyes stood the one who brought them into existence and who originally called them to service. Luke writes that the demons responded not with their names but with their numbers. Perhaps the demons’s response was an evasion of Jesus’s question. Perhaps they realized that to answer him truthfully would be to admit their original, God-given titles and designations. Perhaps they evaded because they knew they were rebelling against both name and design. Perhaps, in that moment, they felt the weight of their rebellion and the utter insufficiency of their power, for, in the face of flesh before them, they saw the God they’d rejected and trembled at what he could rightfully do to them. The demons seemed powerful and unstoppable to all who tried to subdue them, but a quick look through their eyes reveals a different story.

Too often, I fear what life may throw at me. I fear because I feel my weakness. I’ve been afraid to face spiritual warfare, afraid that one day I may be called to minister to someone who is tormented by demonic oppression or possession. I know that I, in my own strength, cannot face such a foe. As I read from Scripture, humans themselves cannot overcome these enemies. But, as I consider this story from the perspective of the demons, I see where the true strength lies. Though our enemy may be great, our God is infinitely greater. Demons, though able to make grown men tremble, tremble themselves before a holy God. And the same Jesus who delivered souls from the grip of demons showed himself powerful over storms and sickness and death itself (Luke 8). Jesus then conquered our greatest enemy, sin, through his sacrificial death on the cross, leaving nothing left for his people to fear. He has overcome the world (John 16:33). As Paul famously asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

So this week, strange as this challenge may sound, view the world from the perspective of these demons. Consider the psychology of the demons before their maker in Luke 8. And, as Paul exhorted the Colossian church,

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth.
Colossians 3:1-2

Recognize Jesus as the great deliverer, the all-sufficient savior. And trust him, confident that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).


Photo by Fred Pixlab on Unsplash

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