(Painting: "The Two Demoniacs," by James Tissot, c.1890, watercolor)
50.) Exorcism in Christ’s Ministry (and the Extent of Demonic Influence) - Christ’s earthly ministry also included exorcisms. In some cases, the descriptions in the Gospels might actually relate more to what we would call the healing of mental illnesses (seen as demonic possession through a certain cultural lens), but it seems indisputable from the testimonies of Scripture, Christian tradition, and present experience that demonic influence is a very real thing, perhaps even to the point of “possession.” This would be where a human being cedes so much of his own free will to the power of evil that he freely allows—though without full knowledge of what such an allowance would entail—the use and governance of some part of his volition by demons themselves; possession is never the eradication of a person, simply some measure of control ceded under deceptive terms to a demonic influence. It is similar to certain diseases in that sense—an outside influence (whether a bacterial infection or a demon), through the exercise of freedom granted to all creation, has developed into something that thrives by invading and taking over certain human capacities. Scripture often describes demonic influence over people (and over societies, institutions, nations, etc.) in the imagery of “bondage.” It is one aspect of the Kingdom-of-God-in-history that this bondage is being shattered. Beginning with Christ’s earthly ministry, climaxing in his resurrection, but still awaiting its final fulfillment at the eschaton, the power of Satan and the demons has been broken. The Kingdom continues to press forward and claim victory and deliverance in Christ, and the demonic realm must submit. Christians, since they still live in the world, are still subject to temptation and attack by demons. Though it would be theoretically possible for a Christian to become “possessed,” such an instance would be exceedingly rare, since the Christian would essentially have to have been thwarting the consistent pressure of the Holy Spirit in his life toward upward moral growth for the possibility even to arise (and even then, he would not cease to be a Christian, he would simply be a Christian with a grievous spiritual illness); and in most cases I would posit that Christians fall under significant protections from demonic influence which are perhaps not available to those outside the Kingdom. The way that demonic power is thwarted in the Kingdom is simply by the authority of Christ, particularly in the exercise of prayer and fasting. Demonic influence, Scripture attests, has always been held back in some measure by the sovereignty of God, and now, in Christ, the progress of the Kingdom of God is binding them ever more completely and liberating the world from their hold.