In my last post, I outlined how the Evil One or demons tempt us to sin. But sometimes the demonic works through doubt, division, discouragement, or confusion rather than specific temptations.
I was in a prayer meeting music ministry for years. Unfailingly, irritability would run high at the beginning of our practices. Someone realized that this wasn’t just a collective bad mood. The Evil One’s minions were apparently stirring up discord among us. We realized we needed to pray against this at the very start of every practice. We did, something would lift, the strife would evaporate, and the practices would go far more smoothly.
All couples and families occasionally get on one another’s nerves. But usually the cause is pretty straightforward, or one of the family members may be habitually moody. But family tension sometimes arises for no apparent reason. Quirks or habits that wouldn’t normally bother us suddenly do.
This may be due to demonic interference. With characteristic wit, C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters depicts the advice a senior devil gives to a junior devil about stirring up resentment between his “patient” (the man the junior devil is attempting to lead to damnation) and his mother.
When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy – if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this easily managed.
Such demonic “stirring of the pot” often precedes a spiritual breakthrough. The Evil One unwittingly shows his hand. Other forms of demonic interference include unaccountable discouragement, depression, self-pity, or even physical illness. Whatever’s going on, we arm ourselves with holy water and bless the house from top to bottom. The sense of oppression clears. If the “attack” takes a milder form, one can pray a simple prayer in the authority we have as disciples of Jesus. “In Jesus’ name, I command any oppressing spirit to leave me and go to the Cross of Jesus”, or “Jesus, please free me from temptation or oppression” or even “Lord, help me.”
The Evil One may also work through fear. Years ago, I stayed overnight at the major seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago, in order to attend the priesthood ordination of some former seminary classmates the next morning. On the drive out to the seminary, I was spooked. I felt a completely baseless fear and dread that increased as I got closer to the seminary. That night, I fell asleep only with difficulty, after many prayers and with a Bible clutched to my chest.
The ordination was glorious, a celebration of faith and commitment. Several of us went out to lunch afterward, and I mentioned my bizarre night-before. A priest in our group nodded. “That always happens the night before ordinations. There is a Satanic coven in Libertyville [the neighboring town] that prays against the seminary that night. I was so creeped out the night before my ordination that I drove 30 miles to my parents’ house, slept there, and drove back early the next morning.”
In Perelandra, the second book of C.S. Lewis’s “Space Trilogy”, one characters recounts a similar experience of spiritual attack. He was to meet a friend to help prepare him for a divine mission to the planet Venus. (It’s a long but wonderful story.) To get to the house where they’re meeting, he has to go through some woods. The woods unaccountably assume a menacing aspect. He becomes frightened and feels a very strong urge to flee back to the train station he just left. Odd thoughts begin to flood his mind (“Am I going crazy? What if I start screaming? What if I start screaming and never, ever stop?”). By the time he gets to the unlit house, he practically collapses in terror.
When his friend Ransom arrives shortly after and sees the character’s fright, he comments, “I see you made it through the barrage.” Ransom explains that there are dark spirits who prevented Ransom from meeting the character at the train station, and who were mentally terrorizing the character during his horrifying walk through the woods.
In the lives of the saints, the Evil One’s attacks can be quite dramatic. St. John Vianney, a 19th century parish priest, converted hardened sinners from all over France through the ministry of Confession. He spent up to 18 hours a day in the unheated, uncooled confessional, and 3000 people a day would come to the village of Ars, where he was the pastor. He could read hearts – that is, he might tell a penitent the latter’s unconfessed sins, or other details of his or her life he couldn’t possibly have known.
The Devil apparently hated St. John’s ministry, subjecting him to actual physical attacks almost nightly. The harassment also included crashes and other loud noises. One night, the guests in the bedroom below his were awakened by what sounded like a train going through the saint’s bedroom. On another occasion, his bed curtains spontaneously burst into flame. After particularly rough nights, St. John would tell friends, “A big fish [that is, a notorious sinner] is coming today.” The Evil One apparently knew that a particularly influential soul was going to be saved the next day, and he would vent his fury on St. John.
So if you’re experiencing any of the above, that’s good. It means that you are a person of interest to the Evil One. That is, you are enough of a blessing to others to worry him. You may also – unlike Frodo, through the Holy Spirit, not through a magic Ring – be getting more sensitized to spiritual realities. As I said at the beginning of Part I, much better to know you’re in a battle than to keep getting hit by unexpected attacks. Angels and demons do exist. They do affect us. We have weapons to fight them. God has won the battle.