This provoked interviewer Jennifer Senior to probe: "Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?" Justice Scalia replied:
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run
off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore. …
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful
The event to which Justice Scalia referred is at the end of Matthew chapter 8:
“If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.”
And he said to them, “Go.”
So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.
I don’t always know what to do when it comes to talk about demons in the Bible. Especially
when the demons talk and have names and stuff like that.
I’m never sure if back then they had the exact same things going on that we do, but they didn’t
know about things like epilepsy or mental illness so they just called it all demon possession.
Or if maybe there used to be demons possessing people and sorta like polio and smallpox,
it’s just not something we have around anymore.
Or if we do actually still have demons and it makes it more understandable and controllable
for us if we use medical and scientific terms to describe the things that possess us.
I honestly don’t know.
I too am puzzled. Bottom line, I take spiritual things seriously enough that I wince at the Hollywood cliches of Satan. On screen the prince of darkness is a charming executive with a suave mid-Atlantic baritone, pitching for souls and dispatching often bumbling, comic minions. My problem with this is not comedy. The problem is in trivializing demons and demonizing trivia. Laughter has great power:
"The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked."
— Thomas More
“I often laugh at Satan, and there is nothing that makes him so angry as when I attack
him to his face, and tell him that through God I am more than a match for him.”
— Martin Luther
Martin Luther is said to have thrown an inkwell at the devil. This inkwell story was noted by the Brothers Grimm, famous for their stories of Little Red Riding Hood, and Hanzel & Gretel. A better-documented quote from Luther comes from 1521: "I fought the devil with ink." This most likely refers not to flinging inkwells but principally to his translating the Bible into German and also to his other engaging writings. Variously bigoted, academic, crude, witty, sarcastic, profound, sentimental, cheeky, and humble, if not the first, Luther was arguably one of the best to weaponize ink. For an introduction, try Luther's Table Talk.
Luther fought the devil also with singing. He wrote anti-Devil words and tunes in the popular style of his day. Listen to his big hit, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" in its original tune--not the cover version heard in most churches today. The original tune had an energetic off-beat lilt fit for a Renaissance Faire. Oh, wait, it was the Renaissance.
1 A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
2 Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God's own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
The Lord of Hosts his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.
3 And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
4 That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever!
What of devils today? Are demons just a metaphor for struggle, as in the headline, "Rapper fights booze demons"? Are they just another way to sell greeting cards and candy?
"What is this Halloween and devils?" This is what Christians from Taiwan and Korea have asked me more than once. They remarked, "So many ugly things, like the Buddhist demons back home." One cautioned me, "When my mother became a Christian, she burned all that devils stuff."
(1) Do not give the devil more credit than due. I have seen terrible afflictions yield to medication or counseling.
(2) Do not give the devil less caution than due. Like Justice Scalia, I cannot rule out fiendish activity whether on personal matters, social scales, or inconceivably larger. Paul describes an axis of evil:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in
the heavenly places.
(3) I aim to not dwell on devils and angels. I look to God. This may explain the Bible's brevity on such matters. We don't need silver bullets and holy water. We need God! In his dialogue with the devil, even Jesus was absolutely terse: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." For demons, Jesus typically had just one word: "Go."
... Or is it?
Jesus had a warning for a culture that thought it was clear of demons:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest,
but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it
finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits
more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than
the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Don't just evict evil. Fill that vacuum with God.