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Are Demons Real?


The following ran on the June 5, 2012, edition of Theology Professor John Holbert is the author of this story.

June 7, 2012

By John Holbert

The language of demons, devils, and Satan in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are metaphorical attempts to take with utmost seriousness the realities of evil in the world. Such language personifies the darkest fears of those of us who have sensed and experienced and perpetrated heinous acts, acts that somehow passed far beyond our best intentions. With Paul we readily say, "The things we know to do, we do not do."

Still, it does not help us to make such acts merely the results of horned, crabbed, and tailed figures who haunt the night, seeking pliable victims of their dastardly desires. Ironically, such literal beliefs in effect do the opposite of what the believers hope for them. To blame the demons is to let us off the hook; "it is not I, but the sin within," and the sin within is, to some, a ravening beast, devouring us for purely evil intent.

This plainly will not do. Jesus in Luke 10:18 announces that he has seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Despite John Milton's fabulous epic poem, "Paradise Lost," wherein he enshrined this "fallen angel" myth in the hearts of many, we would do better to enshrine the fact that Satan and his minions are but metaphors, ways poetically of reminding us of the realities of our sometimes nasty desires, both individually and corporately. Those desires are all too real, far more real than red-caped devils, undead ghouls, and insidious demons. Satan has fallen in the life and ministry of Jesus, fallen into metaphor only. We now are asked to follow him, Lord and giver of life.

John Holbert is a Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, and is the author of eight books and many articles.