In the introduction to his 1942 masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
76 years later, these words ring somehow truer than ever. Every stroll by a Redbox kiosk reveals yet another straight-to-cable (kiosk?) movie featuring demonization. Research indicates that witchcraft and paganism are on the rise among millennials. The new Netflix show The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (rated TV-14) features a pentagram in the show’s moniker, is “steeped in the occult“, and is described in a recent article as a “satanic coming of age story.”
My teenage years were filled with fear-mongering, guilt-associating, and all manner of poor interpretations of Philippians 4:8. There is nothing down those roads. I do not mean to travel them myself and have not encouraged either my children or students to go there. But I have encouraged, and will continue to encourage them to avoid trifling with things that are spiritually dangerous.
Several members of the clergy who I consider friends have had personal encounters with demonized people. Hearing their stories is sobering and terrifying. Early in the ministry of Jesus He has repeated and dramatic encounters with “unclean spirits” (Mk. 1:23,32,39). In the ninth chapter of the Gospel According to Mark, an agonized father recounts the terrible plight of his demonized son:
“he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid… it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.” (Mk. 9:17,18,22)
Here and elsewhere it becomes clear that the objective of these demons is not merely to frustrate or confuse the people they have possessed, but to seek their destruction.
Particularly disturbing in the Gospels are accounts like the one above in which the demonized person is a child. Jesus entered into a world that was spiritually dangerous, and almost immediately began pushing back at that spiritual darkness. The evil, demonic forces He encountered had isolated (as in Mark 5), tortured and tormented those around Him.
In the account of the “legion of demons” in Mark chapter 5, we encounter a man who was living among the tombs. He was an outcast from his community, was coerced into harming himself physically, and cried out in terror both night and day. From just the first quarter of Mark’s Gospel, we have a clear and disturbing picture of the intent of these unclean spirits on humanity. They are a powerful and dangerous, but defeated foe.
Any attempt to entertain ourselves with spiritual forces intent on the destruction of our brothers and sisters should be forsaken. DIscernment, not fear and guilt, should guide our seemingly infinite choices in media consumption. Shows like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina run the risk of normalizing and even celebrating what Christians are commanded to take no part in:
“Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.” (Ephesians 5:10,11 – NLT).
The picture that emerges from the earliest and most reliable accounts of the life of Jesus make clear that evil spiritual forces are real and diabolical. Their intent is likewise clear – the torture and torment of those for whom Christ came to give His life.
The ending of the story of the man who WAS possessed by the legion of demons is instructive. In Mark’s account, the man, now freed from his torment, begs to go with Jesus. Instead, Jesus commissions him to go bear witness to his community (the same community from whom he had been cut off) of the Lord’s mercy. He does so, prompting amazement from those who heard his story.
Those who have experienced the grace and mercy of God should be quick to bear witness to the greatness of God’s goodness toward them. Having nothing to do with the “worthless deeds of evil” should extend to our media consumption as well. There is much to be celebrated in this era of storytelling. Christians should lead the way in celebrating whatever signs of light and life there are to be found in film, music, and shows created for online and television platforms. They should also know and recognize the dangers of what C.S. Lewis warned of some 76 years ago.