Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Demoniac - pt. 1

The end of Mark 4 records the conclusion of a wild and stormy evening. The start of Mark 5 records the beginning of a wild and stormy morning. Jesus had confirmed his authority over nature, and he is about to display his power over the supernatural. After dealing with bad weather he moves on to confront blatant wickedness. In Mark 5 Jesus will contend with and demonstrate His power over the three great terrors of mankind: demons, disease, and death.

After quelling the storm the Lord’s boat came to shore in Gadarene country. Christ and his cadre were immediately introduced to the Demoniac of Gadara. All three synoptics relay this encounter, but Mark used 20 verses to tell the story compared to 15 verses from Luke and seven in Matthew’s account. Only Matthew mentions that there were two men (8:28), but the focus in all three narratives is on the one man who spoke with Jesus.

People are always drawn to the strange and the supernatural; to the power and mystery that lies beyond their own comprehension. We must be careful, however, not to seek answers, clues, or information about the supernatural apart from God’s Word. Scripture alone must inform our minds about that which is spiritual for it is the only trustworthy source. All that the Lord desires for us to know and understand about the supernatural is revealed in scripture; any other source of information should be avoided.

While considering Mark 5:1-20 one must discuss the Enemy, his minions, and their destructive goals and power. At the same time, however, one must be careful to not give place to the devil. I have no desire to promote an unhealthy fascination with demonic activity. My desire is to demonstrate from scripture that Satan is real, as are demons. They are powerful. They are bent on the destruction and perversion of God’s glory. They are also defeated! They contend with the Lord of Glory, but they are fighting the long defeat.

If the Bible is to be taken seriously we must take seriously what it teaches concerning the satanic realm. I agree with RC Sproul when he writes: "There can be no Biblical theology without a corresponding demonology.” (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, R.C. Sproul, p.142)

The Reality of the Adversary

All of us are familiar with the caricature of Satan: red suit, horns, long, pointy tail, bad goatee, sinister grin, and a trident in one hand. This cartoonish image originated in the Middle Ages, but you should not think that Christians from centuries ago honestly believed that Satan looked so idiotic. They portrayed him as a clown on purpose. The medievals wanted to depict him as the buffoon of all time; as the ultimate loser of the ages for his rebellion against the King of Glory. The purpose of the caricature was to strike at Satan’s pride.

In his book The Serpent of Paradise Erwin Lutzer writes that “Martin Luther suggested that when the devil persists we should jeer and flout him, ‘for he cannot bear scorn.’” (p. 14)

I’m not crazy about that advice, and I believe that the medievals paid too much attention to the adversary, but the opposite extreme exists in our current cultural climate.

The devil is real. Satan is not the bogey-man. He is not an old wives’ tale. He is not the product of Hollywood horror films. He is more than just a Halloween costume. He is not the relic of an ancient and superstitious era of human history. That said it is not uncommon today for people, even professing Christians, to scoff at the idea of an actual adversary. Author Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology mentions German scholar Rudolf Bultman.
[Bultman] emphatically denied the existence of a supernatural world of angels and demons. He agreed that these were ancient ‘myths’ and that the New Testament message had to be demythologized by removing mythological elements so that the gospel could be received by modern, scientific people.
Christian author and teacher R.C. Sproul recounts a similar story. Sproul writes:
I once asked a college class of about thirty students, ‘How many of you believe in God?’ The majority of the students raised their hand. Then I asked, ‘How many of you believe in the devil?’ Only a couple raised their hand.

One student blurted out, ‘How can any intelligent person believe in the devil in this day and age? The devil belongs to superstition along with ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night’

Sproul replied, ‘There is a far more credible source for believing in Satan than for believing in goblins. You may not be persuaded of the trustworthiness of the Bible, but it is surely a more credible source than Mother Goose…If you believe that God is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for good, why do you find it hard or incredible to imagine that there is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for evil?’ (Ibid., p. 139)
No one could convince the Demoniac that Satan was a mythological element of the gospel. The devil seemed real enough to him.

These stories of denying the reality of the adversary remind me of the boxer who was being pulverized by his opponent. Between rounds his trainer weakly attempted to encourage the man when he said, “Great job out there champ. He ain’t laid a finger on you yet!” The boxer looked at the man through swollen, bloody eyes and said, “Keep your eyes on the referee then, because somebody in there is killin’ me!”

The adversary is real. The scriptures do not mythologize the devil and his demonic host and neither should we. We should not, however, pay too much attention to the enemy, nor should we mix Biblical truth about him with legends and superstitions.
We do not learn about the devil from Dante’s Inferno or Milton’s Paradise Lost. Neither the occult nor popular culture is adequate to inform us about the origins, designs, and ultimate destination of the believer’s enemy. The Bible is the only true and accurate guide of truth, including truth in regards to Satan.

The Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel (chapters 14:1-23 and 28:11-19 respectively) tell the story of a being who is more than simply a human king. Both prophets pronounce woes on two proud kings of their day; Isaiah the king of Babylon and Ezekiel the King of Tyre, but from the given descriptions it is obvious that the prophets were not only referring to the kings of Babylon and Tyre but to the evil force which stood behind them.

Scripture teaches that Satan was once Lucifer, which means “light bearer”. Lucifer was created perfect; a covering cherub of the Most High. He reflected God’s glory. He was God’s worship leader, but he desired for himself a share of God’s glory. Isaiah distills Lucifer’s lust for glory with five “I will” statements in 14:13-14:
  • “I will ascend into heaven”
  • “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”
  • “I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation”
  • “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds”
  • “I will be like the most High.”
Because of his pride he lost his exalted position. He is the light–bearer no more. He became and is now Satan the adversary and the slanderer.

To be concluded...


Fresh Dirt said...

I was suprised that you said that we don't learn about the devil from Milton's Paradise Lost. Much of the equating of Lucifer with Satan is a Milton influence on our contemporary culture. I would question the idea that Scripture teaches this idea. Isaiah 14:12 says, Oh how you have fallen from heaven Day Star/Morning Star/Lucifer/Venus (how ever you want to translate it it is a phrase in reference to Venus). It seems like a big jump to intepret these verses this way. I would attribute much of this jump to medieval Catholicism and the popularity of it to Milton.

I'm also very interested in how we Christians pull all of these verses throughout scripture together in order to talk about Satan. Obviously many verses throughout scripture refer to supernatural enemies. However, I think it is an interpretive jump to lump them into one being that we name Satan. The Accuser in Job 1 & 2 has distinct characteristics and limitations that the Deceiver in the synoptic gospels does not seem to have. The Dragon Serpent in Revelation, Beelzebub, and various other transliterated names are found in scripture. I think we fail to take the scriptures at face value by interpreting these various characters as one character. As a culture, we seem to be predisposed to choosing one of two theories: Satan exists or it is a myth. Perhaps there are more choices for us to consider.

I'm glad you opened up this topic. Not enough exploration is done on this subject in our theological institutions nor in our churches.

Travis said...

The Isaiah and Ezekiel passages refer to not only the kings of Babylon and Tyre respectively, but to the force which propped them up; namely Satan. I don't make that connection strictly based on the translation of "heylel".

There are many fallen angels but only one Satan, and I do think that is a face value understanding of a Biblical demonology. I fail to see the greater power and freedom allowed to the adversary in the NT as opposed to the OT.

Satan exists, and I believe the only thing worth considering is how to resist him.

Fresh Dirt said...

Wow... I'm really surprised by your reaction! I feel like I attempted to provide a more nuanced viewpoint that attempts to take in the whole of scripture. You, however, choose not to concede even the smallest point. What if there are multiple evil beings? What if Beelzebub and Satan are not the same? How does that diminish your position at all? The viewpoint I delineated is more literal. You make reference to the powers behind the kings of Babylon and Tyre... I, too, would say that Isaiah and Ezekiel are referencing the supernatural fallen powers behind these kings, but it is an interpretative leap to assume these powers are the NT character Satan. They could just as easily be other evil characters-- similar to the Prince of Persia that the angel in Daniel faces. We must resist the Deceiver (I prefer the translated meaning because I think it provides us a tool in identifying situations where the enemy might show himself.). We must also face the idea that an Accuser is still in the heavenly realms prosecuting the faithful before God.

Travis said...

I'm sorry if my comment seemed like a "reaction". In conversations I prefer to respond not react. Keep in mind that some(many)times I'm at work when I respond to the comments, and that is why my replies may seem clipped.

I too believe that there are many evil spirits at varying levels of power and influence. After all, a third of the heavenly host followed Satan in rebellion. My point is that I believe Scripture is clear that there is one Satan. Other demonic forces are subservient to not independent of him.