Deliver Us from Evil

Detail of Death and the Miser (c. 1494), Hieronymous Bosch, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

I missed church last Sunday and I’m kind of glad I did. The sermon was about one of the many times Jesus cast out a demon (Mark 1:21-28). I don’t have any personal experience with exorcisms, nor do I want to. It’s one of those things that most of us nowadays see more as fodder for horror films or missionary stories than for any kind of direct, personal application. “What to do if you’re demon possessed” is not a sermon I’ve ever preached or plan to. Still, if we believe in God and angels it’s wishful thinking to suppose that evil beings do not exist.

This past week I’ve been reading a fascinating memoir written in the early twelfth century by a monk  named Guibert of Nogent. Guibert described some hair-raising supernatural events at his abbey and elsewhere, including this one:

I once saw a woman so terribly angry with her little boy that among other slurs she hurled against this innocent child she even cursed the very waters of baptism in which he had been washed. Immediately the Devil took hold of her as she was ranting madly, saying and doing abominable things. She was led to the church and shown to the brothers. When prayers and exorcism had brought her back to her wits, she learned from the suffering she had undergone not to curse the Lord’s sacraments. (A Monk’s Confession, 88)

Most of us have seen people become so enraged that they acted insane, even demon possessed. I don’t know if literal demons cause such behavior, but anger is certainly one of many things we need to exorcise from our lives. Any sinful behavior or addiction that takes possession of us should be cast out. And prayer is still the most effective weapon we have for this kind of spiritual warfare. That doesn’t mean we should avoid professional counseling or medical care for problems like anger or addiction. But it does mean that God is our ultimate source of deliverance, and we can go to him directly for help. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Deliver us from evil.”

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