Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Victims of a Greater Devil

I know . . . that's a horrible picture . . . but it is latex.

I think it is only right to put a “book-end” discussion up about the opposite of having a lesser God (or not) and that is having a greater devil than what most evangelicals believe in.

It was about a year ago that Denise and I went out to dinner with friends, one a pastor and the other couple ex-missionaries. The story came up that the ex-missionaries’ (18 year old) daughter was working in a nursing home. She basically worked the night desk as the only employee in the nursing home from midnight until seven A. M. . She told her parents that she would start to feel spooked about three in the morning. It was dark and she could hear the heavy breathing of the patients, some moaning or talking in their sleep.

As I listened, I was thinking, “That sounds pretty normal. I think I would feel the emotion of “spooky-ness” in the same circumstances, as would most people.”

The pastor had a different take on it. “I need to meet with your daughter. This sounds demonic and she needs to protect herself spiritually from the forces that she may be facing.”

The missionary couple shook their heads in so much agreement that I decided, again not to be a jerk, to just keep quiet. I smiled.

The pastor looked at me, “Mike, you were a missionary in the Muslim world. You must have seen a lot of demonic activity?”

I looked surprised and shook my head to the negative. “Hmm. Not really.”

When most of my Evangelical friends talk of Satan’s influence they speak of these mystical spooky scenes. That’s why they think the devil dwells in the pages of a Stephen King novel, Harry Potter or in a horror flick. “Burn the Ouija Boards,” was a cry I heard from pastors in my Bible-belt community. “Satan is in them there (remember this was Tennessee dialect) weeegeee boards!”

I think the worse nightmare of those who think this way would be living out the movie The Exorcist, in real life. However, my devil is different. My nightmare is living out the movie Love Story in real life. That movie scares the hell out of me much more than The Exorcist. Why? The devil in Love Story is really much worse than the one portrayed in The Exorcist.

Love Story (for those over the age of 50 and who remembers it), tells how wonderful falling in love can be. Then, in the midst of the total romantic bliss, the one you love can is taken from you by cancer. There is nothing your love can do to protect or save them. That is real hell, far more than having a girl’s head spin around and her puking on you. This real hell on earth happens all the time. That’s what makes it so scary.

While, of course God is the victor and death has been conquered, still the fall is real as is the horrible pain of it. The devil that we must face dwells within that fall and its aftermath.

In the Love Story theme, I think right now of Denise Spencer. While there is comfort in the Gospel for her, the nightmare is still very, very real. I bet she would trade places with the priest in the The Exorcist on any given day. I know I would prefer to spend a thousand nights in the house with the head spinning girl than to watch my spouse or one of my children die while I stand by watching in tremendous, but impotent love.

I saw two patients this week that had lost siblings as teenagers due to car wrecks.

I remember attending a church in Marquette, Michigan. Our youth group just attended a big Christian Woodstock-type festival. They came back to church on an emotional high. They took turns at the podium, crying and telling about their experiences. Then one young man shared how he was having a great time clapping and being swept away in the spirit . . . when he looked down and he had chewing gum on his pants. He said it was a Satanic attack to distract him from the music. If the devil was just going around sticking chewing gum on my pants, I could live with that in a heart beat.

But this life is filled with the workings of a much greater devil than the one illustrated by the sermons and legends of many Evangelicals. This fallen life on earth is filled with a lot of real pain. Yes, God is the victor and all of life will be redeemed some day. Even now there are wonderful bright spots, a sunset, beautiful prose, the birth of a baby, a wedding of two in love, someone coming to Christ. Those wonderful things are equally real, yet we still on see in a mirror dimly the true redemption that we do not know yet.


Becky said...

Many years ago, I had to take a disability leave from work due to severe clinical depression. When I came back, a coworker I barely knew apparently heard what malady had caused my absence (it wasn't a secret)and began dropping by my office. His vigorous agenda was to convince me that, if I had been depressed, either I couldn't possibly be a Christian or was possessed by demons or both. (Incidently, this was a high tech firm, with everyone having a masters degree or more in engineering/science.)

On one of these visits, I made a comment that before the depression diagnosis (and subsequent treatment that lifted pain I had struggled with for a decade) I probably would have agreed with some of his views, but that my views on how pain and suffering fit into the Christian life had now completely changed. He said "Well, I have to admit that nothing bad has ever happened to me" and started leaving the office. As he got to the door, he turned back and added as an afterthought "Oh, except when I was 7, my father committed suicide," then turned and left the office.

That was an eye-opening moment for me. I try not to psychoanalyze other people, but that incident was just too obvious. (I happened to know that he had sons age 5 and 7 at the time.) All that intense energy and emotion that was supposedly coming out of his love for God and concern for the state of my soul wasn't really about me or God at all. It was about his desperate need to be completely safe from ever feeling/doing what his father felt/did. And his desperate need for "being a Christian" to offer that guaranteed safety.

I often wonder just how much Christian/evangelical behavior stems from fear of suffering and from the desperate need to live in a world where "being a Christian" gives absolute safety from/control over tragedy and suffering. That kind of mindset explains quite a bit about why those who do have tragedy/suffering befall them are treated so badly in many Christian/evangelical circles: the suffering must be explained in terms of the sufferer's own failings in order to maintain the illusion that "being a Christian" keeps one safe.

And, of course, externalizing all bad feelings and bad events to the external demonic, fits right into this mindset of "being a Christian" keeping one safe and in control.

(My opinion, is that, sadly, this desperate grasping after safety has a severe stunting effect on growth towards maturity in Christ. I'm mostly at the point of knowing something is desperately wrong in the view of suffering within many (Protestant? evangelical?) churches than in being able to verbalize anything helpful. I was so hoping that Michael Spencer might be able to come back from this cancer and verbalize for us all more about the place of (medical) suffering in Christian life and maturity.)

Along these lines, I was just reading an old Internet Monk essay ("Thoughts on Jesus Camp," April 10,2009):
"My students are exploring the difference in Lewis’s portrayal of the devil in The Screwtape Letters and the portrayal of the Devil in Jesus Camp. The difference is obvious. Lewis sees the devil at work on our wills, character and habits. The sins and temptations of the world and the flesh are of little interest to Screwtape. He is far more interested in pride and excused hatred and cruelty than in temptations to become an imaginary or real wizard. Jesus Camp’s version of Satan is entirely about the agenda of liberals, political issues, failure to participate in approved activities and being “worldly” in an external sense. Screwtape would find a whole world of possibilities for corruption in the world of Jesus Camp."

MJ said...

Becky, I think you said that beautifully. I was already preparing to have a part II looking at this from the pain of suffering chronically from a mental illness. Living inside mental illness can be a nightmare far worse than meeting a witch face to face.

I think you are right in what you said, about looking for safety.

The guy who led me to the Lord, described one of the benefits of being a Christian is that God builds a hedge around your life protecting you from any kind of harm. It is shocking when you've done all the right things, but harm comes anyway.

Anonymous said...

First, I lost both parents to cancer. Watching my mother die of it (and the chemo side effects) when I was 20 (with an emotional age of six) was one of the worst experiences of my life.

(I am coming off an unrelated two-month-long bout of depression myself. Becky, I can attest from prior depresso episodes that when that happens the LAST thing you want is some glib know-it-all shooting off his mouth. And just because someone has a masters in engineering/science doesn't mean they're not "evolved beyond" rank superstition.)

Second, a lot of Christians dwell on Satan as some sort of backwards proof that God must exist. When Fr von Spee blew the whistle on all the witch-hunters that roamed 17th Century Europe in the aftermath of the Reformation Wars, he described the mentality this way: "If no Witches, then no Devil. If no Devil, then no God. So Witches must Exist!"

Third, Becky, "externalizing bad feelings to the external demonic" can all too often turn into demonizing someone else (The Other Guy) in the process. We see far too much of that today in American Politics as well as the church.

Finally, do you remember Christ's response about that tower collapse in Siloam? Effectively, even Jesus said "Sometimes, shit happens."

Anonymous said...

Then one young man shared how he was having a great time clapping and being swept away in the spirit . . . when he looked down and he had chewing gum on his pants. He said it was a Satanic attack to distract him from the music.

Just like all the 17th Century Witchfinders-General who KNEW Satan made the neighbor's cow sick. I mean, Satan is supposed to be the RL model for Sauron & Sauron's former master Morgoth. Making cows sick, milk curdle, or sticking chewing gum on pants sounds real wimpy for a supernatural Fallen Archangel, Bent Oyarsa, Dark Lord, or Dark Power.

A friend of mine put it this way:

"They can't even get out of bed in the morning, they're so terrified of Satan slipping his Whoopee Cushion under their butts."

Incidentally, the above Anon was me.

Headless Unicorn Guy

MJ said...

HUG, Sorry to hear about loosing your mother. I know that I harp too much about suffering and pain, but I feel that someone should write a book on the Christian Denial of Pain.

This past Sunday at church, one of my best friends was leading the prayer time. His favorite aunt, 92, is dying of cancer and is expected to pass before two weeks. He started to talk about her and got choked up. He seemed to get very embarrassed about it.

His wife, with good intentions,immediately spoke up. . ."What he is trying to say that he is very happy that his aunt it going to be with the Lord because she loved the Lord. Those are not tears of sadness but of great joy."

I was thinking, "Joy? Like hell it was joy." I have a favorite aunt whom I love dearly (and who is 86). She is a devoted Christian. However, if she was dying of cancer and I got coked up it would be because I was very, very sad about it. I don't her to go away where I can't talk to her each Saturday like I do.

WHY CAN'T WE BE SAD OVER SAD THINGS???? I'm not talking about lying in our bedrooms sobbing for the next 40 years. I'm talking acute grief and a long sadness about that situation.

Anonymous said...

This past Sunday at church, one of my best friends was leading the prayer time. His favorite aunt, 92, is dying of cancer and is expected to pass before two weeks.

Remember Internet Monk?
And Jollyblogger?
And why I'm reluctant to see my doctor for my prostate problem?
My writing partner (the burned-out country preacher) is calling 2010 "The Year of the Funeral" because so many of his congregation are dying (four simultaneously as I write). At least the funeral stipends customary for his denomination will make ends meet.

Headless Unicorn Guy