Last week, The Daily Mail reported that the Roman Catholic diocese in Milan, Italy, set up an exorcist hotline to cope with the growing demand for assistance in dealing with potential cases of demonic possession. People calling the hotline can schedule a visit from one of a team of twelve priests on call to deal with emergency exorcisms. The task force leader, Monsignor Mascheroni, said that the most important role of the diocese’s team was “listening and consolation,” adding that instances of “real diabolical phenomena” were rare. Further, Monsignor Mascheroni said that psychiatric disorders were more likely to be to blame for truly unusual behavior than demon possession.
Particularly for many Christians in the United States and in the West, we often think that the entire question of demon possession is merely a strange phenomenon that, at best, could have been valid in Bible times, or, at least, was the “myth” that sought to explain certain phenomenon in the ancient world and other less enlightened ages. Today, some Christians, if we think about the topic at all, consider the concept of demon possession to be superseded by our more advanced knowledge of psychology and psychiatry. But is it really? After all, when was the last sermon you heard that dealt with demon possession, or even satan? And if you heard a missionary speak at your church about exorcisms, wouldn’t many of us feel uncomfortable? It has been many years since a compilation of demon experiences has been published. The last one I know about, Demon Experiences in Many Lands, was published in 1960, but is now in the public domain and available here:
But if these things are in fact going on today, and not merely in the Milan area, then should not the Church be aware of them? And a shocking question for our modern ears to hear: Could there be some instances that might seem to be mental health problems or addictions that can be better relieved by prayer than by modern medicine or psychotherapy?
Here is an incident from Palestine that some of my readers have heard before, but it might merit another thoughtful look:
And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.” Mark 5:1-13.
It is an intriguing question for modern Christians, don’t you think? Does a Christian really have the option to say that evil only comes from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain? But I would be cautious about dismissing the existence of intelligent supernatural evil in the 21st century. After all, Jesus believed in a real devil and fought against him, and continues to do the same in our world as well.