X Close Menu

The Exorcism of Emily Rose - Part 5

Again, let’s be perfectly clear about what we mean by the word demonization. We are not asking if a Christian can be tempted, taunted, deceived, oppressed, harassed, accused or otherwise tormented by a demonic spirit. Clearly the NT indicates this can and does occur. We are here concerned with whether or not such an attack can intensify and expand to the degree that a true, born-again believer can be inhabited or indwelt by a demonic spirit.

In the film, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” this issue is never raised. The prosecution, in its attempt to prove that Emily Rose was epileptic and not demonized, never appeals to her being a Christian. Perhaps it is too much to expect that sort of theologically sophisticated approach in a film of this sort, but I suspect the defense would have simply pointed out that the Roman Catholic Church does teach that a believer can be “possessed” (again, using the language of the film, not the Bible).

So, can a Christian be demonized, i.e., indwelt by a demonic spirit? Three answers have been given: Yes, No, and Yes/No!

As for the third of these options, Mark Bubeck, Merrill Unger, Thomas White and others suggest that a believer can be demonized, but in a somewhat modified or restricted sense.

Based on the doctrine of trichotomy, according to which a person is comprised of three faculties: body, soul, spirit, they affirm that a demon can inhabit a Christian's soul and body, but not his/her spirit. The body is one's physical constitution. The soul is comprised of one's mind, emotions, and will. The spirit is that element or faculty which relates to God and at regeneration is born anew, sealed and permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

My immediate objection to this view is that there is no explicit evidence for it in Scripture.

It is based on the presumed validity of trichotomy (1 Thess. 5:23), a doubtful doctrine (see Mark 12:30). Human beings, I believe, are dichotomous: material and immaterial, body and spirit, together which constitute the soul. See Gen. 2:7. Soul = embodied spirit. Often times "spirit" and "soul" are used interchangeably in the NT, thus prohibiting us from drawing rigid distinctions between the two.

Furthermore, the whole person is renewed by the Holy Spirit, not just one faculty or element within that person (2 Cor. 5:17). To restrict a demon to a person's soul and body, excluded from his spirit, is to suggest that there is a rigid, spatial compartmentalization of our beings. But "where" is the soul in the body? "Where" is the spirit? These are biblically illegitimate questions. It is an attempt to apply physical categories to spiritual realities.

Clinton Arnold (Three Crucial Questions) offers a slightly different interpretation. Without drawing a distinction between soul and spirit, he refers to "the core of the person, the center of his or her being, his or her ultimate nature and identity" (85). It is this within each person that undergoes a radical, indeed supernatural, transformation in the new birth. He explains:

"At the center of this person's being now lies a desire for God and a passion to please him in every respect. This is the place of the Holy Spirit's dwelling. No evil spirit can enter here or cause the Holy Spirit to flee. To extend the image of the temple, we might say that this is the inviolable 'holy of holies'" (84).

Here again we see an attempt to restrict the access of a demonic spirit to certain "places" or "spiritual regions" within the individual. Does Arnold's model successfully avoid the weaknesses and criticisms of the "trichotomist" theory noted above?

Let me turn now to interact with the arguments traditionally given for why a true Christian, one who has been born again by the Spirit of God, cannot be demonized, which is to say, cannot be inhabited by a demonic spirit.

(1) We begin by noting those biblical texts which describe the defeat of Satan, such as John 12:31 (“now will the ruler of this world be cast out”); 16:11 (“the ruler of this world is judged”); Col. 2:14-15 (“He disarmed the rulers and authorities . . . by triumphing over them”); Heb. 2:14-15 (“that through death he  might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”); 1 John 3:8 (“the Son of God appeared . . . to destroy the works of the devil”). The argument is that if Satan has been judged, stripped, and his work "destroyed" (1 John 3:8), how can he or his demons indwell a believer?

But there is clearly a delicate tension in Scripture between texts, on the one hand, that describe Satan’s defeat (they are in the left column below), and texts, on the other, that portray his extensive and potentially devastating activity (they are in the right column). I encourage you to take your Bible and compare and contrast these texts:

Mt. 12:25-29 "versus" Mt. 16:23; Acts 5:3; 1 Pt. 5:8

John 12:31; 16:11 "versus" John 17:15

Eph. 1:19-22 "versus" Eph. 6:10-13

Col. 1:13; 2:14-15 "versus" 1 Thess. 2:18

I put the word “versus” in quote marks because I don’t want to imply that they are in ultimate, unresolved conflict or competition with each other, but that each focuses on either the defeat or power of the Enemy and that neither should be allowed to trump or cancel out the truth expressed in the other.

(2) There are also texts which describe the promise of divine protection.

a. Matthew 6:13 (“deliver us from the evil one”) – Deliverance from the evil one is dependent (not automatic) on our prayer for it. What happens if we do not pray?

b. John 10:22-29 – The question is asked: "If a demon could indwell a Christian, wouldn't that mean, contrary to John 10:29, that he/she had been snatched from the Father's hand?" No. This text simply asserts the same truth we find in Rom. 8:35-39, namely, that nothing, not even a demon, can separate us from the love and eternal life we have in God.

c. John 17:15 (Jesus prays that the Father “keep them from the evil one”) – But this text cannot mean that Jesus asked the Father to make us utterly invulnerable to demonic attack (indeed, it was after this prayer that Jesus told Peter of Satan's request to "sift" him like wheat). This may be a prayer for our eternal preservation, or it may be that the fulfillment or answer to this prayer is dependent on our availing ourselves of the Father's protection (Eph. 6).

d. 2 Thessalonians 3:3 (The Lord will “guard you against the evil one”) – Again, we must ask: "Kept or protected or guarded from what regarding the enemy, and on what, if any, conditions that we are responsible to meet?" This promise of protection does not rule out attack or temptation from the enemy (see 1 Thess. 2:18; 2 Cor. 12:7; 1 Pt. 5:8; etc.). Therefore, either this is a promise pertaining to the eternal preservation of the believer (i.e., no matter how vicious the attack, no matter how bad life gets, Satan can't separate you from God), or it is a promise conditioned upon the obedient response of the believer. I.e., it is a promise based on the truth of v. 4 (“And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command”). Dickason explains:

"This promise, then, is for those who walk in obedience to the Lord. Satan will not be able to take them unaware and render them weak, unfaithful, and unproductive in Christian life and service. It is a great promise for the obedient and watchful Christian, but is not a blanket protection promised to all. It does not promise that no Christian will ever be attacked or seriously affected by demonic forces. It does not address the matter of demonization" (91).

e. 1 John 4:4 (“he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world”) – This text does not mean that all Christians are always automatically guaranteed of never being deceived by error. It does mean that we need not ever be deceived, for the Holy Spirit is more powerful than Satan.

f. 1 John 5:18 (“the evil one does not touch him [i.e., the one born of God]” – The argument is made that it makes little sense to say, as this passage does, that the evil one cannot "touch" a Christian and yet, on the other hand, that he could conceivably indwell him.

But we can't press the term "touch" (or take it in a physically literal sense), for according to 1 Pt. 5:8 it is possible to be "devoured" by the Devil! See also Rev. 2:10. Thus, whatever "touch" means, it does not suggest that all Christians are automatically insulated against demonic attack. To "touch" a believer may mean to rob him/her of salvation. If so, then Satan cannot "grasp so as to destroy" the spiritual life of the believer. Again, the promise could also be conditional, perhaps on the fulfillment of v. 21 (“Little children, keep yourselves from idols”).

Clearly, no Christian can be swallowed up by Satan or robbed of the salvation, life and love of the Father. He/she cannot be owned by Satan, nor separated from the love of God in Christ. But none of these texts explicitly rules out the possibility of demonization. The promises of protection are of two sorts: either (1) a promise pertaining to the security of the believer's salvation, or (2) a promise dependent on the believer's taking advantage of the resources supplied by the Spirit.

To be continued . . .