An abuse of faith

Evidence is emerging that a growing number of children are being subject to violence tied to witchcraft and exorcism rituals.  Even though 200 years have now passed since the last witch was punished on a ‘ducking stool’ in this country, belief in demon possession is still common in other countries and is now increasing in the UK.  Even witches covens are now almost commonplace in this nominally Christian country!!

Reports suggest that more cases of child abuse in the UK are now linked to ideas of spirit possession and witchcraft, according to evidence given to a parliamentary committee.  The problem hit the headlines in 2000 when it was revealed that an eight-year old child in north London had been tortured through belief that she was possessed by an evil spirit – a belief supported by local church leaders.  In 2005, three adults in east London were convicted of cruelty to another eight-year old child.  She had been starved, beaten, cut with a knife and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes in the belief that she was demon-possessed.

Although the reports indicate that it is predominantly an issue in African communities, often fuelled by extreme religious conviction, experts believe that its growth is a reaction to personal or family misfortune.  Such is the level of concern about the small but rising trend that the UK government intends to publish an action plan on religion, witchcraft and child safeguarding, both to raise awareness of the problem and to develop expertise to counter it.

A worldwide problem

But in many parts of the world a belief in demon possession and exorcism is not uncommon.  For as long as records exist, evil spirits and demons have been blamed for many illnesses and everyday human problems, for which the help of witchcraft and similar rituals have been thought to be the only possible cure.

Many of the people who listened to Jesus Christ and his disciples preach the ‘good news’ about the Kingdom of God, 2000 years ago, firmly believed that demons existed and were the cause of sickness and disease.  And despite the growth in medical knowledge since then, such a belief can still be found today, even among those who now call themselves Christians!

The belief that there are evil forces that can control people and events is widespread in some countries.  This is particularly true in Africa, even though Christianity is growing faster there than in many other parts of the world.  The problem is made worse when those who misunderstand the Bible are also Christian leaders.

actor in a film

Unfortunately, too little effort is being made to explain what the Bible actually teaches about such things as demons and evil spirits, so witchcraft is still a strong influence in many people’s lives, including so-called Christians.  Books and films that have witchcraft and exorcism rituals conducted by church ministers are reinforcing those false beliefs. They only add to the fear in some people’s minds that devils and demons exist and can take possession of human minds and bodies. 

The right answer

The Bible clearly teaches that God is the only source of all power in our world and that he is responsible for both the good things AND the bad things in our lives:

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”  (Isaiah 45:7)

“Evil came down from the Lord unto the gate of Jerusalem.”  (Micah 1:12)

“Shall a trumpet be blown in the city and the people not be afraid?  Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”  (Amos 3:16)

So when we get trials – such as sickness or poverty or abuse – we have to accept that bad things like these come from God as well the good things.  We shouldn’t blame such things on the devil or demons, calling for the use of witchcraft rituals or exorcism.

When we see references in the Bible to ‘demons’ or ‘evil spirits’, we need to understand that those who were using such expressions – including Jesus himself – were simply using them to make themselves understood by the people listening to them.  It didn’t imply a belief in such ideas by Jesus and his disciples themselves. Similarly, to call someone a ‘lunatic’ today wouldn’t mean we thought their behaviour was actually caused by the moon!

Back to the Bible

References to “demon possession” do not occur in the first part of the Bible, the Old Testament, because such an idea was not part of common culture when that part of the Bible was written.  But witchcraft and various forms of idol worship were very common, and God strongly condemned them.  When the first king of Israel had a problem and went to see a witch to find a solution, God condemned him totally for what he had done and eventually replaced him with a better king.

By the time of Christ, when the New Testament of the Bible was written in Roman times, the worship of numerous gods and idols was still very popular.  It was commonly believed that it was angry gods and spirits that were the cause of life’s many problems.  So somebody with a mental illness or epilepsy was said to be “demon possessed”, whereas we now know the true cause of such problems.  Apparently doctors in some parts of the world even today will only be successful persuading their patients to take their medicine by saying their drugs will “chase away the demons”!!

One book in the Bible is all about a man called Job, who lost many of the good things which God had blessed him with, including his possessions and children.  But he didn’t say, “These demons have taken away all God gave me”.  No; listen to what he said:

“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  (Job 1:21)

“Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”  (Job 2:10)

Once we understand that all things – both good and bad – are from God, then when we have problems in life we can pray to God for Him to take them away.  And if he does not remove them, we can be sure that he is giving them to us so we develop our characters.  God knows that if we handle our trials and tribulations successfully, then they will be for our ultimate good, as this Bible quote explains:

“My Son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He (not demons!) chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?  But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons.”  (Hebrews 12:5-8)

Very hard though it may sometimes be, when we face difficult problems in life, illnesses, or even death itself, we have the assurance that God is in control of everything.  In fact, such experiences are telling us that our heavenly Father cares for us so much that he is trying to change us in some way, perhaps to trust him more and trust ourselves less.

Like Job, we may think we have heard everything there is to know about God, only to find out – after we have lived though some terrible event in our lives – that we hadn’t seen what the Bible really teaches about God, so we didn’t know God properly at all. When Job found that out about himself, he said:

“My ears had heard of you (God) but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”  (Job 42:5-6 NIV)

The terrible experiences that Job went through certainly changed him for the better!!  Which was why God – not devils, demons or evil spirits – caused him to suffer so much and to lose everything he loved, knowing that as a result he would become a better person.

And the same can be true of everyone who understand the truth about suffering and hardship.  It’s not something that can be changed by witchcraft or exorcism.  Prayer, and a correct understanding about the origin and purpose of ‘life’s hard knocks’, can help all of us endure such things and can change us into the sort of people God wants us all to be.  Only then will we be fit for the better future that God has in store for us all.

woodcut of suspected witchesFacts, not fiction!

Being a true Christian means that we try to copy what Jesus Christ himself believed and taught.  To do this we need to read all the Bible carefully for ourselves, then accept what it says and reject everything else – including a false belief in witchcraft and exorcism.

The Bible claims to be the words of God himself, and so it’s God who is telling us these important facts:

  • There is one God, author of good and evil.
  • God will not tolerate the existence of any other god-like power in his creation.
  • Angels carry out God’s will, whether good or evil.
  • Christ and his disciples did not believe in demons, witchcraft or exorcism.
  • Demons are not even mentioned in the Old Testament part of the Bible.
  • The Bible teaches that believing in demons, or demon-possession, and worshiping idols (false gods) are the same thing, and God condemns them both.
  • People in Jesus’ day, particularly those who lived in Galilee, believed in demons, so Jesus simply used the language of his day to make himself understood.
  • When Jesus and his disciples performed miracles, they could only be fully appreciated by those who were watching if they were described using words they understood, such as “driving out demons”.
  • In the New Testament, belief in demons is linked to idol worship, and the Old Testament prophets clearly showed that these false ‘gods’ do not exist.

So, belief in demon possession, witchcraft, evil spirits and the need for exorcism are not only wrong, they are also strongly condemned by God himself.  To believe in such things is like saying God is a liar and that the Bible is wrong in what it teaches!!

When the Bible is not properly understood, then terrible things can happen – like the child abuse now practiced as if it was an acceptable part of being a Christian.  Whereas true Christians will know the real facts about God and his love for all of us, in the bad times of our lives as well as the good, and that he hates such false beliefs and evil practices.

Fortunately, one day soon all the evil in this world will be gone for ever.  Every Christian should avoid witchcraft rituals and belief in demon-possession, and should always pray:

“Thy kingdom come”.