Today in my Historic Christian belief class we partook in a discussion about angels and demons, a topic that for a long time took no place in my belief system in light of my systematic rationalism and naturalism before I was a Christian. I always thought it was hokey to believe in angels and demons... well, actually I thought the idea of demons was thrilling. I have always been interested in ghosts, aliens, and spirits... TV shows and scary movies involving all of the above. Also, I love Tim Burton, Edgar Alan Poe, Frederic Chopin, Charles Baudelaire and other artists who on rainy days tend to look at the world through deeply tinted Ray-Bans (or at least with a hint of darkness).
While I explained my world away with science, there were always these things in the back of my mind, some spiritual presence that existed in the world. I would look to science to explore spirituality as well, which as a Christian now makes no sense in my mind. I have, instead, come to a much deeper understanding of the divinity of God, angelic beings, and demonic beings on this earth (including Satan himself), although these things are much different than aliens and ghosts.
I could tell you countless stories of friends and others who have had numerous experiences with the spiritual realm, but I want to share with you two experiences of my own that help me to understand the spiritual realm more deeply because I once was extremely and intensely dubious of God's power. I think a lot of Christians, even, though we may claim to believe in the spiritual realm, we truly struggle with acknowledging the divinity of God and the presence of evil forces in our lives.
This was a while ago so the details in my mind are quite foggy, but I remember going to Border's with a group of my high school friends. We were all working on homework, and a bald-headed, rosy-cheeked, sparkling older man approached us. I would guess he was in his sixties. He seemed a little crazy to us, as most elderly people often do having lost some ability to finish trains of thought and the like, but he spoke so joyfully that we couldn't help but listen. He started telling us his life story, about surviving cancer and about how God has blessed Him immensely. He couldn't contain the gospel; it poured freely from his mouth as if it were pure gold from heaven that was worth more than any gold or precious material found on earth. I wish I could remember his words so that they, too, could minister to your Spirit, but I will continue in saying that we listened intently, told him we were Christians and about God's presence in our lives, and then he bid us farewell, reminding us never to forget about the gospel and to pass it on until death requires our tongues to decay into the soil surrounding us.
Hebrews, which is a book that I value highly because the author describes in detail what faith is to look like, has a verse that one of my friends brought up after the man departed from us. Hebrews 1:2 says, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." My friend pointed out that he very well could have been an angel. We all agreed that it could be a possibility because of the kind of presence that man demanded of us.
On the other hand, I want to explain to you a very scary experience in my life that occurred just last Spring and changed my perspective of spiritual warfare and the dark forces in this world forever. It was a very powerful and dark experience, not dark like Burton or Poe, but intense and scary. I wouldn't say that I felt threatened, but I felt more imposed upon if anything else. I carry the light of the Holy Spirit, God's own presence, within me which reminds me that I can resist demons and their power.
One Sunday night last Spring semester, my boyfriend and I had just returned from my home for Mother's Day and we had gotten into some argument that was bigger than it needed to be, which happens sometimes. In this long discussion, I fell into a line of thinking that I was worth nothing, not good enough to be dating my boyfriend. I fell into a numbness, a deeply dark depression, and for the first time in YEARS I started having serious thoughts of suicide. (SIDE NOTE: I hesitate to share that detail in the vast chasm of cyberspace, but I know that understanding the details is very important in relaying how these evil forces work in the moments when we are vulnerable to them.)
I was supposed to be meeting one of my very good friends in the Student Union that night (we were sitting right outside the Union when we started talking), but after making me promise not to do anything to myself while he was gone, my boyfriend went in to tell her about what was happening to me (I gave him permission to tell her) and that we were going to get off campus for a while. I don't remember why we were leaving campus other than I just wanted to get away. They prayed for me, and he came back out. He told me to move to the passenger side and we started driving.
This is when I started to understand what was happening. While we were driving I felt very dizzy and weak. I kept seeing intensely terrifying dark figures on each side of the road. I didn't really understand why I was afraid of them other than the fact that they just made me feel that way. They were deceptive, too, because Joe couldn't see them, but also when we would approach them and I could see them right up next to the car, they would totally shift shapes and turn into random things like trees, posts, bushes, stumps, and other things that did not resemble the shape of them that I saw before they were so close. I could not communicate during this trip but only trembled and shook and tried to cover my eyes as I wrestled with terror.
We arrived at a covered bridge in a small town near Taylor and parked the car. He asked if I wanted to get out, and I told him no, that there were some really scary things happening out there. I explained what I saw, although I was wondering myself if that had been a hallucination and if my boyfriend would believe that I truly saw what I saw. I could not explain to him the depth of the terror those things made me feel and the terror I was still feeling. I was still seeing things outside of the car, but I suddenly grew very faint and closed my eyes. I was exhausted physically, emotionally, spiritually.
My boyfriend comforted me with Scripture, praying against Satan and his demons, directly quoting the word of God. In my exhaustion I wanted to lay down. He told me to lie in the backseat and sleep. I felt like I was able to step outside of the car without feeling threatened by any of the dark things so that I could climb into the backseat, and my boyfriend sat in the front with his hand on my back continuing to pray and quote scripture as I eventually fell asleep.
When I awoke, we headed back to school. I was like a rag that had been worn, torn, and rung out one too many times. Before we parted, my boyfriend prayed one last deeply loving and protective prayer over me and my experience with suicidal thoughts and the darkness that had surrounded me. He was worried that I might hurt myself in the night, but I explained to him not to worry and that God was releasing that desire from me. He left and I slept in the peace of God's comfort that night.
Even though this was the top terrifying experience of my life (more terrifying than the time I thought I was going to drown and more terrifying than any thrill from a scary movie) and I wouldn't wish suicidal thoughts or the darkness of Satan and demons upon anyone, I do desire to pray that God exposes us more frequently to these powerful experiences. This is not because of my obsession with the macabre and the disturbing, but because Christians can so easily doubt the power of Satan, the Holy Spirit. I want to be a witness to the fact that the spiritual realm is active and engaging in constant battle (although the war's been won, victory through the death of Christ--Hallelujah!). It is immensely important that we acknowledge these forces in the world because we must guard ourselves against the influence of Satan, demons, and other dark forces that hold us in bondage and make us forget the freedom we have from sin thanks to Christ's sacrifice.
I just want to reemphasize, again, that a large portion of my life was devoted to explaining things like angels and demons away with science and naturalism and that I subscribed to miracles and the like as chance. We are so blessed in the security offered by the fact that God has a purpose for each and every one of our lives, no matter how unimportant we think we are. He loves us all the same and desires the best for all of us, not just for Barack Obama or Bill Gates, but for the homeless and the restless, too. And that is not simply a feel-good message that the church attempts to share with people, but the gospel truth as experienced by many many people on earth throughout history and still today.