Our scriptures have many references to Satan, the devil, demons and unclean spirits. But today, people are too sophisticated to believe that the evil forces are still around and at war with God’s people. We believe in angels, God and eternity (or at least we claim that we do), but when it comes to those dark forces that bring about evil, death and destruction that’s another thing all together. We like to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that actually many of the problems we face might just be the result of our enemy playing with us. However it definitely is not Godly play and it definitely is not playful and/or harmless.
Like it or not we are face to face with something we would just as soon not pay any attention to in today’s world. And quite frankly those dark forces would just as soon we would not pay any attention to them. However they are mentioned often in our scriptures and we see evidence everyday in the world of evil. Where does it come from and how can we protect ourselves from something we are not willing to address as a viable enemy?
Satan was once an angel in God’s kingdom, but he rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven along with his followers. Now they make their influence felt here on earth. When we realize that demons are fallen angels, we have some sense of what they can and cannot do.
Angels are like humans in that they have intellects and wills, but they have no physical bodies and are not subject to death or physical ailments. They are superior to us in strength , skill, intelligence, and knowledge. The word angel actually means messenger and God has sent many to reveal things to us. Abraham was visited by angels as was Mary, Joseph, and many others. But the angelic nature of demons, though in many ways superior to our own ways, has been deformed by their sin. Their purpose is to see as many humans as possible join them in rebelling against God. They do have power to use against us, but that power is limited. The Satan is not an evil deity equal in power to the good God who is eternal, all powerful, and all knowing. Satan is doomed to fail, but in the meantime he disrupts things, He is a thief and has come to steal, kill and destroy those who would follow Jesus the Christ.
So we live our lives as God’s children struggling with many things. We battle against our flesh, the world, and the Devil. Temptations come at us from all directions. We pray each day in the daily office to be delivered from evil and not to be led into temptation. Then often we proceed as if that takes care of it, when in actuality it is only a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound.
Do we actually believe all that the Bible teaches or do we pick and choose and ignore the parts that seem out of step with today’s culture? We tend to like hard evidence for things.
Is there evidence that God exists? We see it every day in His creation as well in each act of kindness done in His name and we feel His presence as we go through the day. Is there evidence that Satan and demons exist? History shows us that people of vastly different cultures have affirmed the reality of evil spirits; our sacred scriptures speak to us of them; Christ refers to demons many times; Saints confirm their existence and evidence of demonic intervention in human affairs is around us daily. I can attest to their existence through my own experiences. I have also spoken with persons who played around with things that they thought were harmless and thereby opened themselves up to demonic presence. Ouija Boards, Tarot Cards, sorcery, séances, palm reading can all open a portal for oppression by evil forces. It is not a given, but to play with these things is to play with fire, If you don’t want to be on the devil’s hook don’t nibble at his bait.
Most demonic activity is subtle and occurs within our thought life. Demons plant ideas within our minds seeking to influence our reason, memory, and imagination and ultimately our will. They suggest ideas through what we read, what we see and hear and through our conversations as well as various social and communications media. Most often they influence us through temptations. They entice us to commit sin. Flip Wilson wasn’t far wrong when he joked, “The devil made me do it.”
Because demons are real and at work in our world every human soul is at risk. As we are admonished by Paul in the 6th chapter of his letter to the Ephesians: “Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
So what do we do to protect ourselves? To stand? What are our weapons and what is our armor? Briefly, we have many weapons. The most powerful one is prayer, both private prayer and corporate prayer. There is strength in numbers and worshiping God in community provides a hedge as do the sacraments. For all seven sacraments provide channels of grace and both protect us and rescue us from evil powers. The Devil’s first attack on the human race was focused on a married couple. Through the ruin of their family, he has extended his evil to every generation. The home is a sanctuary, a holy place, a fortress against Satan’s assaults. Families are strengthened as they worship and pray together.
Knowing scripture and God’s promises and word, is what Paul calls in Ephesians, the sword of the Spirit. Faith serves as our shield. It includes both a knowledge of God and a confident trust in Him. Hope, our hope of salvation, is our helmet and protection for our mind. If we lose hope for our salvation we open our minds to all the poisonous thoughts that cause us to despair. Finally there is love. Love is the breastplate of our spiritual armor. Love consists not merely in feeling, but in doing – in choosing what is right and good. When love is lost our heart is vulnerable and the enemy can take deadly aim.
We have been warned to keep alert for our enemy is like a roaring lion prowling around, looking for someone to devour. The Satan has been defeated by the lion of Judah, but boy is he mad and out to get those who do not adequately seek God’s protection. As our Collect for Peace provides for us, we pray: “O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.