62. Do You Believe in Demons?

Do You Believe in Demons?

For we do not we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time: 0554

Last night around 2130 [Jameson] came to me to pray with him for Lcpl Schmidt’s family, because he felt unworthy to pray. I took the offer and we prayed for his family, the snipers and us. Afterwards, we got to talking about salvation…

“I really admire your faith,” Jameson said after we finished praying. “I’ve led a lot of people away from Christianity, but not you. You held on, and I admire that.”1

His compliment surprised me. A few months before deployment, while sitting in the back of a Humvee, we shared a conversation that took a turn toward the religious. The cordial chat heated up when out of the blue, he blasted a slew of forceful objections to Christianity. I didn’t have much to say. His sudden aggression threw me off balance, and the weight of his accusations hung heavy over me for the rest of the day.

Mortality, though, has its way of bringing us to our knees. Even the hardened, ardent atheists can and often does dig up unsprouted seeds of faith when faced with death. Internal conflicts remain dormant during years of plenty. But, when famine strikes, we scavenge, we dig, and many times, we find treasures that may never have been discovered otherwise. 

“I appreciate the compliment, but I believe God gives us faith, so it isn’t mine to have or lose,” I said.

The air conditioner we sat on began to hum.

“You really think that?” he said, turning towards me.

“Yeah, Ephesians 2 says it’s all by grace and it’s all a gift, even the faith it takes to receive it.”2

“God must have not given me faith then.” He angled his head back towards the ground.

“All you have to do is ask.”

“But I did.”

“You did?”

“Yeah, man, I used to believe,” he said in a tone mixed with angst and longing. “I grew up going to church, I loved it. I was involved in youth group, read my Bible, prayed the prayers and then, sometime around my junior year, I quit everything.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. One day it all just felt fake. Then I got involved in the wrong crowd, started drinking and doing drugs. I went from loving God to convincing people he doesn’t exist.”

I let out a deep breath. “Dang, I’m sorry to hear that.” I paused for a few moments to gather my thoughts. “You sure nothing happened? Sounds like things changed really quick and you can’t think of any reason why?”

“No clue. All I know is everything made sense and I thought I was saved. How do you even know if you’re saved?”

“Well, it says in Romans that if we confess and believe that Jesus is lord we are saved.”3

“Come on, seriously?”

“It’s what the Bible says. All you have to do is believe.”

“But how do you know? I’ve prayed that prayer I don’t know how many times and I still don’t believe,” James said as he hopped off the AC unit, turning towards me. “What about the Prodigal Son, do you think he was saved before he left his father?”

“Well, yeah. He was in his father’s house.

“Do you think he was saved even when he walked away?”

“Was he ever not the father’s son?”

“Hmm,” James said with a nod. “So you think someone can be saved after leaving God?”

I slid off the air conditioner and faced him. 

“I think it depends. Some people leave and never come back while some Christians wander so far away from God nobody would even recognize them as a Christian. They might even fool themselves into believing they’re not, but like the Prodigal Son, they find their way back to their father. That’s why I’m so glad we’re saved by grace, and that God’s grip on me is tighter than mine is on him. No matter how far I go, he’ll always bring me back.

“Yeah, but you haven’t left like I have.”

“Perhaps, but I’ve sinned a lot and need God’s grace as much as you do. I’ve spent years worrying about making God mad, feeling crushed by guilt and always attending church with a heavy heart, as if coming into his presence sad and depressed about things he’s forgotten about is what he wants from me.4 Fear of rejection is never the foundation of a healthy relationship, unconditional love is. When I stopped worrying about sinning and started living as if God actually loved me like a good dad, everything got easier.”

“Makes sense. I haven’t heard it put like that before. But you still didn’t answer my question. How do you know you’re saved?”

“I guess it’s because I believe my sins are forgiven. I’m at peace with God because of what Jesus has done. I know that even when I wander off, he’s still got me.” 

He sighed. “I just don’t have that kind of faith. Since we’ve been on deployment, I’ve tried to read the Bible, but it doesn’t make sense anymore.” James stepped to his side and propped his elbows up on the chest-high air conditioner as it shut off. 

I took a deep breath, appreciating for a moment the undisturbed silence, subtle breeze and the cloudless sky. I leaned up against the other side of the olive green box, facing him.

“Sure you can.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Let’s pray about it. I’m sure God would answer a prayer for faith.” He shrugged. After I finished a short prayer, a thought entered my mind. “You know what, something else could be at play here too.”

“Like what?”

“There is an unseen spiritual realm that we often don’t think about, but it has a profound influence on the world around us. Satan and demons are real.” James’ face looked flat. “Seriously, the Bible says he’s the ruler of this world.5,6 It says that he blinds the eyes of unbelievers.”7 Maybe there’s some kind of spiritual oppression going on.”

“Seems kinda weird to me.”

“Let’s pray again.” We closed our eyes. This time I stood up. Tapping into my inner Pentecostal,8 I raised my hands and spoke with authority. “If there is any influence of the enemy at play in Jameson’s life, we pray that you would send it away in Jesus’ name.”

When I opened my eyes, I didn’t see him anymore. His presence startled me as I turned my head left. He now stood inches away, leaning in towards me with a glare.

“You shouldn’t have prayed for me.”

“Why, what’s going on?” I said, tilting my head back.

“As you were praying, I got super angry. I wanted to slam you against the HESCO.”9

“Really? That’s weird.” I took a step back. “I’ve prayed for a lot of people. Usually they feel calm, peaceful, thankful but never has anyone been angry after praying. ”

At this point, James wrapped his hands around his arms and shivered violently, as one might when standing in a wind tunnel after a polar plunge. 

“Is it cold out here?” He said, struggling to get his words out between chattering teeth.

“Uh, no. Feels pretty good to me,” I said.

“Yes it is, it is dude, you’re lying.”

His teeth continued clacking as I opened my arms and said, “Do I look cold?” 

“Shit, man. You shouldn’t have prayed for me,” he said, making his way back to the other side of the air conditioner. I returned to my side, the gears in my head spinning as his shivers slowly faded.

“Something’s obviously wrong here. Have you ever had any traumatic experiences?”

“No.”

“Do you ever have thoughts in the third person?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, like rather than saying ‘I should do this,’ in your head you hear ‘you should do x, y or z.’ Or like negative self-talk but as if someone else is saying it in your head? Like ‘you’re an idiot, you’re worthless, nobody loves you.’ People don’t usually think like that, so if it sounds like someone else is talking in your head it could be a spiritual attack.”

“I don’t know.”

“Any weird or vivid dreams, or recurring dreams?

“Oh yeah, I have dreams.

“You do?”

“Yeah. I’ve had the same dream almost every week.”

“For how long?”

“Years.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I’m in a dark room, laying on an ice cold, metal table, and I hear chewing sounds. I can’t see anything but I know people are standing around me, and they’re eating me.” My eyes widened. “Then the lights turn on, and I recognize some of the faces.”

“Who are they?”

“Friends I used to do drugs with.”

“No one else?”

“No. Well, this one guy Matt used to be in it. You know, the guy I said you remind me of?”

I nodded. “So Matt’s not there anymore?”

“Yeah, when he became a Christian, I never saw him in my dream again.”

“Anything else?”

“After that I get up, but my body is still laying on the table, and I start eating myself.”

“And you have this dream almost every week?”

“Yeah. Sometimes more than once a week. I just had it a few nights ago.”

“You know that’s not normal, right?”

“I guess. It’s just been going on so long, I guess I’m used to it.”

“When did it start?”

“I don’t know… maybe some time in high school?”

“Did you ever mess with witchcraft or a Ouija board or anything?”

“Yeah, we did mess with a Ouija board. I forgot all about that.”

“What happened?”

“Well, me and my friends thought it would be fun to sneak into an abandoned insane asylum and mess with one.”

I laughed. “My gosh, seriously?”

“Yeah man. It was freaky as shit. One of us would write down like 7 or 8 digit numbers while the others asked it what it was, and the board nailed it every time. Then after messing around for a little while it spelled the word R, U, N. Freaked us the fuck out so we left.”

“You do realize you were communicating with demons, right?”

“I don’t know. All I know is I never wanted to play with one again.”

“When did this happen?”

“Probably when I was around seventeen.”

“So let me get this straight. You were a Christian, involved in your church, loved God, and then you said you stopped believing around your junior year, which was around the time is when you played with a Ouija board? I bet this is when things turned around and you fell away, because you opened the door for an evil spirit. I’m guessing the dreams started after this?”

“Yeah, I think you’re right. That must be about when it all started. So what, do you think I’m possessed?”

“Oh no, not possessed, but certainly oppressed. Demon’s don’t have to enter someone to harass them, and it seems pretty obvious to me that’s what’s going on. So we gotta keep praying.”

“Nah, man. You’d be wasting your breath. Just keep praying for Schmidt’s family.” He walked in my direction, looking at the HESCO  a few feet behind me. “I just think I’m going crazy.”

“You’re not crazy,” I said as I approached him, putting my hand on his shoulder. “Something is definitely wrong and I’m here for you.” He shrugged his shoulder out of my grasp, turned and walked to the dark side of the hooch,10 disappearing into the shadow. “James?” I said, following in his footsteps. When I arrived at the corner of our compound and looked left, I saw him propping up his elbows on one of the smaller HESCOs. “Where you goin’?” I walked up to him as he stood up, looked into the blackness beyond the slightly curled, draped opening of the hooch’s rear entrance. He turned back and shuddered.

“Did you ever see the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose?” he said. 

“Ye” – 

“Wasn’t it scary?” He said as he turned to look at me.

“Uh, kinda. It made me jump like once, but that’s about it.”

He shivered again, turning back towards the HESCO. “That movie scared the shit out of me.”

“Yeah, it’s freaky, and I know stuff like that can really happen, but I trust in the one who has power over everything.” I rested my palm on his shoulder blade. “Don’t worry. The devil’s power is nothing compared to God’s.” He squirmed from underneath my hand and walked away, past the second hooch and stopping at the opening to the courtyard. He folded his arms over the HESCO and buried his head in them. I stood there puzzled for a moment, looking at him, wondering what was going on and what to do. After a few moments I approached him again. “Everything’s going to be okay James.”

“I gotta get out of here.”

“What?”

“I need to go.” When he said this, I got the impression he didn’t mean go somewhere else on our tiny outpost, but run as far away from here as possible.

“Go where? We’re in the middle of freakin’ nowhere.” He turned away from me but I grabbed his wrist. “Where are you going?” 

He tugged for a few seconds before I loosened my grip. I watched as he ran towards the opposite end of the courtyard, fully expecting him to cut right, hop the small gate and run into the wilderness, but he stopped at the opening, as if startled. He then turned and jogged back to me.

“Where were you going?”

“Away from here, but I saw a bright light and it freaked me out so I came back,” he said, hunching forward and propping his hands on his knees.

“I didn’t see anything.” I rested my hand on his back and prayed silently as he caught his breath but he quickly scooted off behind the hooches into the shadows. I stayed put, dumbfounded. A few moments later, he stepped out and approached me with a contrived smile.

“Hey Decoup, I’m feeling better now. Let’s call it a night and get some sleep.” 

As he made his way back to the front of our hooch, by the AC unit, I followed close behind. “You sure you’re okay? Do you even know how you got here?”

“Yeah, man. You know, we were talkin’ and stuff.” 

“You tried to run away.”

“What? No I didn’t.”

“You just tried to run to who knows where, now you don’t remember? Something is seriously wrong here.”

“Nah, everything’s fine.”

“Jesus has power over Satan and demons. We just need to keep praying and I’m sure all the dreams will stop.” I turned to face James as he stopped in front of the door to our hooch. He glared at me and stepped closer, until his nose nearly touched mine.

“If you pray for me to Jesus, I will slam you against the HESCO.” He spun around, entered the door and slammed it behind him. I stayed put, asking God what to do next. The door swung open.

“Were you praying for me?!”

“Uh, no.”

His face turned from angry to apologetic. “I’m sorry, Decoup, I shouldn’t have said that,” he opened his arms, closing in for a hug. “I don’t really want to hurt you.” He proceeded to hug me like a politician embracing a homeless person for a photo shoot, his fingers the only part of him that barely tapped my back, while the rest of his body and arms hovered an inch away.

“It’s okay James, I’m fine. We still gotta get to the bottom of this.”

“Nah, I’m good.” he said as he took a few paces back, and lit up a cigarette. He took a few puffs in silence. “You know why I like cigarettes?”

“Why?”

“Because they numb the mind.” 

I didn’t have much to say, other than acknowledge him. He must have lit at least two more cigarettes as we continued hashing things out over the next twenty minutes. I watched him as he stared into the glow of the ember and caressed it with a smile. I don’t even think I brought this up to him because I was so transfixed by his odd behavior.

By the time 2300 rolled around, Olsen, one of the junior Marines whom I’d almost never interacted with, headed towards us. He just finished his shift on guard duty at the top of our outpost.

As he was about to open the door, Jameson asked, “Hey Olsen, was it cold out on post tonight?” He turned, and shrugged.

“Yeah, kinda.”

James turned to me. “See, I told you, Decoup, it was cold!” Olsen glanced at me, then James.

“He was shivering his balls off down here earlier, trying to convince me it was freezing when it was like seventy five degrees out.”

“Well, it honestly wasn’t that bad, but it was a bit windy up there.”

“Take it easy, Olsen, get some sleep,” I said. Roping anyone else into our conversation, especially considering what I truly thought was going on, was a recipe for disaster.

But, before Olsen made any moves towards his cot, James said, “Hey Olsen, do you believe in demons?”

  1. We are at a small patrol base in Afghanistan. For additional context, read my previous post here.
  2. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.“ Eph. 2:8
  3. “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10
  4. See post 9. Alternate Reality for more detail.
  5. “And you were dead in your tresspasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…“ Ephesians 2:1-2
  6. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” John 12:31
  7. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4
  8. This Christian tradition/denomination emphasizes spiritual gifts and miracles. I participated in a weekly Bible study with some Pentecostals, so some aspects of the tradition rubbed off on me.
  9. A Hesco barrier is a large cube-shaped folded metal basket with a sturdy mesh liner that comes in various sizes. When the Hesco is opened fully and filled with sand, it becomes a semi-permanent building-block for military establishments both big and small in deployment zones.
  10. The large, tan, half-dome tent where we slept.

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