Evil spirits.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 August

It’s odd: Lots of people believe in spirits. Christians do too, ’cause God’s a spirit, Jn 4.24 and angels are spirits. He 1.14 We also figure the spirits of dead loved ones exist in the afterlife—or heaven, as many people imagine.

Yet many of these very same people refuse to believe in evil spirits.

I used to say this mindset comes from Platonism. Plato of Athens taught if we could only escape this world of matter and decay, and just become pure spirit, all our self-centered impulses, greed, materialism, lusts, and so forth would simply cease to exist. We wouldn’t have ’em anymore; they were embedded in our flesh, but without that flesh we’d be nothing but good. Plato’s not the first to believe this junk; plenty of other cultures teach the same thing. Present-day folks who believe it, don’t necessarily believe it ’cause of Plato’s reasoning—heck, they don’t have any reasoning behind it. They simply believe all spirits are good… because it never occurred to them spirits might be bad.

Yep. Even though mythology, fairy tales, and horror movies are loaded with evil spirits. Monsters, boogeymen, fairies, ghosts, demons, elder gods which wanna destroy everything once they’re awakened. But for whatever reason, people imagine real-life spirits aren’t evil, and are nothing but benevolent. They’re on a higher plane than we are, and in getting there all the evil got purged from them.

To some degree this is because too many people have overdone their emphasis on evil spirits. Christians in particular. Wasn’t so long ago that everyone assumed every psychological disorder in the DSM-5 was the product of evil spirits. Years ago I had a roommate suffering from depression, but he was convinced he was demonized. Fortunately one of my pastors was a psychologist, and could diagnose him properly. But you’re gonna find very few pastors (even though they do a whole lot of counseling!) have had proper psychological training of any sort. In fact some of ’em claim psychology is devilish. And therefore people with psychological disorders are demoniac, and instead of meds they need an exorcism.

You’re gonna find a lot of dark Christians with this mindset. They insist evil spirits are absolutely everywhere. Everywhere. Pick a problem and there’s a demon behind it—a sinister intelligence using that problem to trick us into losing our salvation and going to hell. I’ve visited “deliverance ministries” which insist every temptation, no matter how minor, has a devil behind it. The leaders demonstrate how to cast out these devils, claiming everyone’s infested with at least one or two of ’em, like bedbugs in an old mattress. Christians included!—they claim we can’t be possessed by evil spirits (since we’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit), but the critters can certainly latch onto us like leeches, and tempt us whenever we’re weak.

Okay: If devils could infest absolutely everyone in this way, don’t you think they would? Our entire planet would be hopelessly demonized. But it’s not. It is full of selfish people, who’ll act more evil than Satan itself. But that’s way different than people puppeteered, or at least heavily steered, by evil spirits. Humans are plenty capable of inventing our own evil. Few of us need any devil’s help in being evil.

Let’s not go overboard when it comes to evil spirits. Nor underboard. Two things we need to bear in mind about evil spirits, as indicated in the scriptures:

  • God made us humans able to resist and defeat them. The devil itself flees when resisted. Jm 4.7 So do its allies.
  • They’re greatly outnumbered by God-following humans and spirits, and of course God can defeat them all by himself. So they’re only a threat when we’re ignorant of them, and dismiss what they’re up to.

This being the case, let’s not be ignorant of them!

Their origin and activity.

Y’might notice I use the words “devil” and “demon” interchangeably with “evil spirit.” It’s a habit I picked up from my fellow Christians: We treat ’em as if they’re all the same thing. But technically the words have more precise meanings.

  • A devil, like Satan, is trying to corrupt us humans, and thereby prove we’re not worthy of God’s attention or affection.
  • A demon is a false god, which tries to get us to follow or worship it instead of the LORD, and otherwise wants to own us.

Both are evil spirits, but an evil spirit isn’t necessarily a devil or demon. It’s simply a spirit which isn’t benevolent, and isn’t really benign. It’s simply evil.

Where’d evil spirits come from? Same as all spirits, God made ’em. And no, he didn’t make ’em evil. Everything he created is very good, Ge 1.31 so at one time these evil spirits actually weren’t evil. At some point they went wrong. The scriptures don’t tell us when and how, so Christians guessed… and that’s how Christian mythology is made.

The most common belief is Satan went rogue, and convinced a few billion angels to join it in an ill-fated (heck, downright stupid) coup d’état against the Almighty. And while there was a war in heaven, the passage we usually quote about it is way open for interpretation.

Revelation 12.7-9 KJV
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Thing is, this war took place after Jesus’s birth, Rv 12.5 yet there were evil spirits in the Old Testament. But our myths ignore any chronology they find in Revelation and insist this war happened at the beginning of time, and this is how evil spirits became evil. Plenty of Christians have used this myth as the basis of all their “spiritual warfare” practices.

Well. What we do know, from our own human experience, is when God creates intelligent beings, he gives us free will. Which is always risky; it’s why we rarely program free will into our robots, and are quick to pull the plug when they go somewhere we don’t want. Free will always includes the possibility, the risk, the danger, that free agents will choose the wrong thing. Adam and Eve chose to sin, and the result is a humanity which no longer centers our lives on what God wants, but only looks out for ourselves, our desires, our needs… and what some of us obviously desire most, is to pester and corrupt one another, and make chaos.

So it’s not a stretch to imagine spirits who did exactly the same thing. They have free will, used it to sin against God, and now all their interests are selfish. And for their own reasons, they wanna trick or trip up us humans. Some wanna possess us—own us, manipulate us, joyride inside us, and make us do as they wish. Others wanna be worshiped as if they’re legitimate gods, same as many a corrupt human dictator, king, or president.

Same as humans, evil spirits covet power. They wanna be in control of their environment. Some do it benignly, and some don’t. Certain evil spirits are perfectly willing to give humans whatever we want, so long that the spirit gets whatever it wants. That’s pretty benign, right? A mammonistic god covets worship and we covet money, so it gets us money and accepts our worship. Mutually beneficial, right?

Well… not really. ’Cause all the time humans follow the evil spirit, they’re not following God.

Oh, we might totally think we’re following God. Fr’instance ancient Egyptians followed Osiris: They lived moral lives, hoping that when they died, their good karma would guarantee them a happy afterlife. But once they died, they discovered there is no underworld, and Osiris certainly doesn’t rule it: Everything Osiris’s priests promised were lies. Eventually even the most benign of evil spirits aren’t benign. They’re lying and cheating and stealing. And destroying.

The scriptures don’t come right out and say so, but it appears some of the evil spirits (again, just like us humans) were already judged, long before the End, and sentenced to a place called the ἄβυσσος/ávyssos, which we call either the abyss or the KJV’s “bottomless pit.” Rv 9.11 KJV An angel-king called Ἀπολλύων/Apollýon—the name means “destroyer”—guards it, presumably to keep the evil spirits inside.

We know the legion of evil spirits begged Jesus not to send ’em to the abyss. Lk 8.31 An odd statement of Paul’s suggests Jesus visited this place when he died, Ro 10.7 and Simon Peter made another odd statement about Jesus going to speak “to the spirits in prison.” 1Pe 3.19 Hence the popular Christian myth that when Jesus died, he went to hell, freed all the Old Testament saints from it, and took them with him to heaven. But there’s not enough biblical evidence to claim that’s what any of the authors of scripture were writing about.

What do we do with evil spirits?

We gotta be aware evil spirits exist. Like spies and sleeper cells, the reason they can get away with what they do, is because people aren’t aware they’re around, nor of any of the many ways they undermine us.

I expect humans first started to realize evil spirits existed, when we first started to resist temptation. Ever notice certain temptations seem to almost have an intelligence behind them? When we try to get away, it’s almost like they chase us? When we resist it one way, they adapt and come at us another way? No it’s not just our minds messing with us. There is a spirit behind many a temptation, and this spirit’s behavior is how we realize it’s there, and what it’s up to.

Humans love shortcuts. So rather than resist temptation, we’d much rather say some magic words and get the evil spirits to go away. That’s why Christians have invented all sorts of not-at-all-biblical “spiritual warfare,” in which we try to bind these spirits and drive them away. Y’know what actually does work on them? Resisting temptation. Stop sinning, dangit! Evil spirits frustrate easily, and if they can’t corrupt us, they’ll go find someone easier to bug.

I’ve watched various Christians get furious whenever they realize they’re being tempted. “How dare those evil spirits try to mess with me!” followed by a whole lot of attempts at exorcism. Which works for the devils just as effectively as getting us to sin: We’re not gonna develop fruit of the Spirit if we’re too angry to listen to the Spirit! If the devil can’t get us to be its hand puppets, it can at least turn us into its robots, and have us respond predictably whenever it pushes our buttons.

So don’t do that. The way to fight the frontal assault is to obey Jesus. Don’t get mad; don’t get even; get forgiving. Get peaceful. Get generous. Exhibit some of the Spirit’s fruit. And of course pray.