What’s the difference between a demon and delusion?
In the Old Testament we see little mention of the Devil. He’s there in Eden, mentioned briefly in relation to Saul’s torment, Job, and a few other places. This is not the time and place for in-depth word studies, but the Hebrew text doesn’t ignore them. Rather, the Old Testament writers took it for granted demons existed. We should attempt to reclaim their attitude because it’s the one God gave them. Our biggest problem is shedding the false images typical in Western Christianity.
Further, I’m not really interested in deep theological studies here. We are looking at practical applications: What do we need to proceed with our religion? Religion is not faith, but the human application of faith. One of our biggest problems is false information on how Creation works because we have been taught to approach the Bible with false assumptions.
Given the broad collected mentions of Satan and his activities, one of the best biblical images for his position is Potiphar in Egypt (Genesis 39-40). He was Pharaoh’s “jailer,” whose mission was to take custody of the prisoners as slave labor. Based on their skills and available jobs, Potiphar could rent them out for whatever would earn him income (details varied by local custom and law). Having a noble keep the jail was a common arrangement among Ancient Near Eastern kingdoms. In many cases, the royal jailer was a very substantial noble, it could be a lucrative position. Thus, if you as a subject defy the ruler or cause him to question your loyalty, you could end up pulling a term of slavery.
The applicable part of that image is how God uses Satan as His divine “jailer.” However, there’s a subtle nuance of degrees involved: To the degree you don’t claim your full divine heritage, to that degree Satan owns you. Your eternal future is not at issue here; it’s a question of whether you live by your heart and harmonize with God’s divine character and harvest your share of shalom. The blessings God has poured on Creation for those who love Him are devoured by Satan on behalf of anyone who falls short on loyalty here in this realm of existence. Nothing Satan does can affect someone’s spiritual destiny outside this life.
John’s Apocalypse indicates in symbolic language that Satan holds authority over a third of the angelic beings (Revelation 12:4). They were swept down to the earth; it’s consistent with the Curse of the Fall, where Satan was confined to this realm of existence. His assigned task was consuming mankind insofar as they were more like dust than like God’s family. I keep reminding folks that the essence of living like dust is relying on human intellect and reason and ignoring the heart-mind. So if you return to Eden through the Flaming Sword of revelation and restore the ascendancy of your heart over your brain, you make yourself less available to the Satan’s slavery.
Restated: Conforming to the moral character of God limits Satan’s activity in your life. In a certain sense, obeying the Law Covenants will place you out of reach from the Devil. He is confined by the character of God in Creation, too. So you would naturally think the Devil will work to keep you from claiming your divine heritage. He will present claims on your blessings, and you need to stand close to Christ where God will deny his claims.
Not in the legalistic sense of Pharisaism, not to mention virtually the whole of Western thinking, but God limits Satan in a broad general sense. God is an emperor with a very complicated business of running Creation, so sometimes you’ll fall under suffering for no apparent reason (like Job), but that just means the reason is over your head. The temptation is to listen to the Devil’s lies that you somehow have gotten into hot water with God, so you need to surrender to demonic custody. Satan isn’t harmed by your false image of God and His revelation.
Up to this point in our series, we need to recall that his lies include seduction from letting your heart rule over your health and your interaction with Creation as a whole. Satan would love to make you forget that you can hear Creation’s voices. He would love to deny the truth that your heart tells you, so that the door is open for him to enslave you.
And demons are real “persons” in the sense of being individuals with varied personalities, varied powers and so forth. Satan isn’t going to discuss with you his strategy and why he chooses to assign a very nasty demon to this person — with very apparent “possession” symptoms — and others simply have to face occasional temptation to act with weakness. But deception is the primary weapon. As long as you believe his story about something, you can’t act the way God intended.
What difference does it make whether it seems very obvious this one has a demon, while that one just lives with a very sad delusion? It’s just words; there is no effective difference. Ill health in the awareness is not so different from ill health in some other part of your physical being in practical terms. Either way, the Devil has stolen your privileges.
He does it only because we listen to him; he can’t take what we don’t surrender.