How do we know

... if someone is possessed by a demon?

I have been perusing through the gospels and reading stories of Jesus' encounters with those who were possessed by demons. It seemed back then people just knew whether or not someone was demon-possessed. Sometimes they were violent, sometimes they were disabled, and sometimes they were just "crazy".

Scripture describes a "demon-possessed" person running up to Jesus. What were the indicators that led them to know this? Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I could meet someone and somehow know - this person has an evil spirit.

Nowadays there is so much confusion about the nature of the spiritual realm. Let me qualify that - there is so much confusion about the nature of the spiritual realm in Western societies.

I visited a support group for people who had family with mental illness. I remember someone expressing their frustration because someone else had told them that their family member was possessed by a demon and that if she prayed hard enough, he would be healed of his mental illness. Her frustration came from feeling judged that she had not been faithful enough in prayer and it added to the burden of being the caretaker.

A lot of the people in the room empathized with her and attributed the interaction to the person not understanding the scientific nature of mental illness. I wondered aloud how the spiritual realm does still play into mental illness and was met with silence and resistance.

Nowadays we call it schizophrenia and depression, but I still wonder what role the spiritual realm plays in a person's well-being. Even for those who aren't "clinical," how can we understand plainly what is happening spiritually? How do we develop discernment over whether a bad day was just a bad day, how there were germs in the food we ate that made us sick, and when spiritual warfare is really at play?

I think part of it is our lack of understanding of the spiritual realm. Most of us think Hollywood and it just gives us the heebie-jeebies.

God has allowed me to have some pretty significant experiences over the last two years though, and I feel like I'm in unchartered territory. I agree that the Scientific Revolution caused a divorce between the spiritual and the physical world. What does it look like to bridge them together again?


Tiffany said...

AH AH AH!! I'm learning about this stuff in my Poverty and Development class - how we in the West suffer from what this one author calls a "Spiritual Dichotomy" - when we separate the material realm with the high religion realm. And goes on to say that we aren't in tune with what he calls the "Excluded Middle" - the realm of angels and demons and witchdoctors and curses etc...that are very real in place with a traditional (instead of modern) worldview. I'll have to bring you this book. It's fascinating.

Wendy said...

great thoughts and good questions .. would love to hear more about what you learn.

soybeanlover said...

I started thinking of John 9:2-3. While we may know how things are caused now(too many chromosomes, brain damage) it still doesn't take away the point that it is part of God's world. There are probably illnesses, etc. caused by demons, but we use science to neglect the spiritual side of the illness and just try to address things with medicine. While someone shouldn't feel guilty that their prayers don't take away the trial, we do need to rely on God throughout mental illnesses much more than society does now.

Juliana said...

I've always noticed how someone who was possessed by a demon in scripture seemed to have a lack of free will, and that Jesus's healing seemed to restore that free will. Does the modern scientific lens on mental health (or other physical illness) take away the component of free will? It seems to me those I know with mental illness (or any of the -isms, or other physical ailments) struggle to control their feelings, minds, attitudes, perspectives, even bodies. It is a curious intersection of faith and healing - as noted by someone else faith still speaks to these conditions even if Jesus does not outrightly heal the condition.
I remember at Urbana years ago (I am so old) there was a huge uproar in a breakout session on the question of whether a Christian could be possessed by a demon/the devil.
Oh, and I have had a few experiences with "possession" if you ever want to discuss (in/of others, not myself). Very interesting, never totally unpacked them. Maybe because there are somethings the mind can't digest completely. Like the spiritual realm...Also, my major at UCD was all about the crosssections of science and culture and how that impacts our epistemology...fun fun!