Monday, April 26, 2010
A few weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a late night text. She was house-sitting and became worried when she noticed that a closet door had opened all on its own. Calmly, and with nary a pause, I responded that we don’t believe in ghosts; it could either be a demon or a vagabond child star from the 80’s—either way her only recourse was to rebuke it. She was encouraged by the answer, her fears allayed, and that was the end of it.
What you just read was a typical experience among Pentecostals; where “the world” ascribes spooky, seemingly supernatural phenomena to ghosts, Pentecostals know better and correctly identify the work of satan’s minions. I must admit that, raised under the influence of my Arabic Greek Orthodox Grandmother’s superstitions as a child, it took me some time replace her foolish mysticism with the hard, fact-based, theologically rigorous rationalism of Pentecostal doctrine when I encountered it as a teenager. In places like campouts or sleepovers I was regularly disappointed when my new friends didn’t tell ghost stories—and they didn’t want to hear mine (their loss because I still have a great story about the time my Grandpa was flayed during his sleep by the ghosts of a graveyard he was building an apartment building on top of).
It was explained to me that all of those times I’d read about ghosts in the bible were wrong, err, well, not wrong because the bible is infallible, but mistranslations, yeah! The apostles who thought they were seeing Jesus’ ghost in Mat 14:26, Mark 6:49, and Luke 24:37? Nope. Jesus in Luke 24:39? Negative. The ghost wife (Jonathan Kirsch translation) Saul uses to summon Samuel’s ghost in Samuel 28? Easy, familiar spirit! All of this spooky confusion is the fault of reading various PERversions of the bible, like the one by that rascal papist King James I (virtual cookie if you can see the irony!) and the same lesbian translators that tried to delete Jesus entirely from the NIV.
Even as I struggled to internalize this, my disappointment was short lived, however, because in the place of ghost stories came a lexical peculiarity I hadn’t encountered: demon stories. They sounded an awful lot like ghost stories, the demons acted just like ghosts, with the haunting and such, but, as I was constantly and forcefully informed, ghosts didn’t exist, only demons and familiar spirits. I found that nearly everybody had a demon story, some with several. They ranged from the mundane, like an ominous feeling, to the titillating, like naked demon-women who tempted pastors, to the horrifying, like bodiless furry claws that grabbed feet in the middle of the night, to the heroic, like full on Greco-Roman wrestling with demons over the control of some local town or county (Ephesians 6:12—literally!). As an aside, my personal favorite demon stories come from people who spent time at a certain Midwestern bible college that is, for some odd reason, absolutely infested with perverted sex demons.
Over the years I’ve found that there are among the rank and file of every church those poor victims who cannot for the life of them go more than two days without being besieged by the forces of darkness. Anytime, anywhere satan springs a trap on them, trying his darndest to hinder or even kill them because if he didn’t they’d probably single-handedly pray the whole world free from disease, mental/emotional affliction, and on through to salvation. The rest of us less-spiritually threatening brethren can repay these brave souls for bearing the brunt of demonic fury for us by listening attentively to every wild-eyed weekly installment of their battles (call it Joe vs. the Fiery Pit of Hell).
I’ve occasionally wondered aloud why it is that some of the most God-oriented people I know or heard & read about rarely ran into demons—and when they did it was dismissive and short. I’ve also wondered why super-spiritual demon wrestlers rarely see angels, since we believe in their intervention about as evenly as demons. Stupid questions, I am only coming to realize! Hopefully if you’re similarly simplistic in your understanding like I am, we will come to know the truth better by and by.