Wednesday, February 22, 2006

168. on spirituality (part 2)...with all due respect

So the other night, I was a part of something pretty gnarly...and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Okay, so these past couple of weeks, I've been sharing about how I want to have a more experiential kind of Christianity rather than just a clinical, intellectual one. Now I don't know if some of you have been praying for this to happen for me or if God reads my blogs as prayers themselves, but last Sunday night I had an encounter with...well, I guess the only way to really put it is to call it an exorcism...sort of.

I've been going to this house church that a friend of mine started. It's pretty simple. We get together, share a meal, and then talk about the Bible and what God's been doing in our lives. And we call it church (old school, Book of Acts style). Anyway, after church, we have a time of prayer and healing and this past Sunday, one of the members asked to be rid of a personal problem that had resurfaced lately.

No sweat. So we start praying, and this guy (let's call him T) starts to growl. I don't mean his stomach started to growl, I mean HE started to growl. And my first thought was, "oh no, not again."


Months ago, maybe a year ago (I'm not good with history), T asked me to go with him to a Monday night healing service at a church in Moanalua Valley. See, T had been going through a rough time in his life and one night he got so frustrated that he kind of decided to switch sides from being a Christian to being a tool of Satan. He got so frustrated he prayed to the devil and said something like, "take me, I'm yours, do whatever you want."

The next day, T is kind of freaked out by what he did so he talks about it with someone who worked at the church he was attending at the time. This guy tells T that he's messing with things that shouldn't be messed with - opening doors and inviting some really bad (basically demonic) spirits to come into his life. He suggested that T go to this Monday night healing service thing.

So I meet up with T at this church and we sing some songs and then the healing service begins. Basically the people who want prayer team up with one or two of the people who are there to pray for them. All these little groups sit in little circles around the room. T met up with two of the prayer people and they said it was cool for me to sit in and to pray along with them. I'm thinking, "no sweat, we're just sitting around and praying."

T tells these guys what he did and they all agree that that wasn't a good idea and that he needed prayer. So we start praying. And for the first few minutes it's just prayer. They pray for T and ask God to forgive him for what he did and for protection and some other nice prayer type things. And then the shit started to hit the fan.

I don't remember how it began exactly, but I started to hear all kinds of strange noises coming from T. We're praying so I have my eyes closed, and when T starts growling and gnashing his teeth, I keep my eyes closed because I don't want to see - what I'm hearing is freaking me out just fine, thank you very much. Then the guy who's praying for T starts going off about "demon come out" and "you have no authority" and "in the name of Jesus I bind you" and all kinds of other exorcism type phrases.

At this point, I'm hearing other strange noises from around the room but the bit that's going on in our little group is quite enough freak out for me so I don't pay them much attention. T keeps making these animal, almost unnatural sounds. Occasionally he bursts into laughter - not like a witch's cackle or like a diabolical villain, just a gently mocking laughter. This gets the guy who's praying for him even more worked up and he starts commanding, "in the name of Jesus, stop laughing. Demon, stop laughing." And sometimes that would work and T would stop laughing and go back to just growling, sometimes he would just keep laughing.

Well, this goes on for what must be ten or fifteen minutes, and then T kind of peters out and snaps out of it. He becomes plain old T again. They let him rest for a moment, give him some water, ask him how he's doing. T sounds groggy like he just woke up from a long, deep nap. When it looks like T is ready, they go at it again, the same as before.

Now, I've known T for four or five years by now and he is not one of those flaming Pentecostal types. He was kind of the opposite. Like me, he had trouble experiencing his faith. What I'm trying to say is, this isn't someone who had ever wigged out like this before. Honestly, when he first started making those strange noises, I almost laughed because I thought he was playing some kind of joke. But he wasn't.

We do this little cycle of prayer and resting about five or six times that night. In the end, there wasn't any kind of demon expelling itself from his body like the alien in Alien. It was more of a gradual release. And here's the bit that really freaked me out. Walking out of the church, I asked T what it was like, what he remembered, and he said he couldn't remember a thing. I asked him about growling and about laughing but he didn't remember. It was like someone had flashed one of those MIB memory sticks in his face and filtered out the last few hours.


So we're praying for T after home church and he starts growling. There were four of us (including me) praying for T, but I was the only one who had seen him wig out before. It pretty much went the same way things went at the healing service except for one crucial difference. The people praying at the healing service had seen this type of thing and had studied it and knew what to do. We did not.

And here's the bit that I'm reluctant to admit because I really respect T and the other people who were praying for him at this home church. I wasn't buying it.

Now before I go on, let me be clear about what I mean by that. i don't mean to say that T was purposely making up those noises. I'm just not as sure that they were from a demonic source. So where did they come from? Well, with all due respect, there's a part of me that thinks it was a kind of psychosomatic response. See, shortly after T went to the first healing service, he started going to a church that had a pretty heavy charismatic flavor to it, and so he's much more familiar with teachings that talk about demonic influence and strongholds and spiritual inheritances. With that in mind, it wasn't as much of a surprise for me to see T act out in this uncanny way.

I wasn't super freaked by what was going on but the other guys praying certainly were. And they had reason to because while T was in the grip of whatever had hold of him, he started talking back to those praying for him, calling them weak, calling them sinners, accusing them of not knowing what they were doing. He even turned to one of the guys who was praying and said he was going to leave T and enter him instead.

Now here's the bit I don't understand. He spoke specifically to three of the people praying for him, but he didn't say anything to me. I suppose one reason could be that because I wasn't buying it, I wasn't a threat to it. I mean I was praying, but it was a weak prayer along the lines of, "Lord, if this thing is real, help T and help my friends who are praying for him." I didn't have any of myself invested in that prayer whereas the other three guys were verbally praying their guts out, trying to drive this thing from T. Why should it have paid any attention to me.

And see, this is part of why I have such a hard time with this whole spirituality thing - because it reads like a bad fantasy novel. And I don't like the fantasy genre (I was bored through most of the LOTR trilogy, especially the first one).

But at the same time it troubles me because I feel like I'm dissing T by not believing in this manifestation and by extension, I'm dissing the other guys who were praying because they certainly believed it was serious and real. Not only that, but what if it was real and what if I really was such a non-threat to whatever it was that it didn't even bother to acknowledge me. Now I don't mean to say that I wish it had spoken to me, I'm glad it didn't, but if it didn't because it didn't give a shit about me, well that makes me a pretty pathetic Christian doesn't it?

Bottom line? I don't know what I saw.


m said...

I think your skepticism is entirely reasonable. Your friend seems like a weirdo to begin with. I mean, who actually says, "I choose now to be a tool of Satan?" That's the stuff of bad movies and even worse testimonies.

I'm the only Christian I know who is unconvinced that Satan even exists, so don't take anything I say as meaningful, but to follow your own reasoning, why in the world (or out of the world) would any demon feel the need to go into a person who says, "Take me, Satan -- I'm yours," when that very same demon refuses to enter the one person in the group who doubts its existence?

We are bad enough without "Satan." Once someone actually says (and again, I can't imagine anyone absurd enough to actually say this except the most immature of believers), "Come into my life, Satan," well, shoot. Satan's work is done, is it not? What use has a demon for entering this person when what's in there is horrible enough?

I say just chill. I'd be more worried about you if you swallowed any of this with no skepticism at all.

m said...

Here's something I don't understand. If we are supposed to be able to cast out "demons" with Jesus' authority, why is it so difficult to do? That doesn't sound very authoritative to me?

I think it's because it's not really a demon. It's our own filthy, stinking evil, and the only reason it's so difficult to get it out, even calling on Jesus' name, is that we don't really want to let it go. Killing my old man, and all that. If it were really some kind of OTHER being, and if Jesus had so much power over it, you'd think it'd be gone at the first mention, wouldn't you?

m said...

Sorry, but to continue:

The one thing Jesus cannot (or will not) make us do it choose him. He can cast out demons or sickness or little happy butterflies, if any were in you, because he has power over everything, including death.

But he will not use that power to make us choose him. THAT's why these Moanalua Gardens people had to work so hard at it. T wanted his evil. So, reallly, do we all. We don't need a Satan. We're disgusting enough.

The LoneTomato said...

Wow, this has really gotten stuck in your craw huh?

First things first. T is a very good friend of mine. He's as normal as they come and he's not one of those unhinged Christians who see demons and angels behind everything. It's just that he's a very passionate person and he did that Satan prayer thing, he was venting his frustration with God.

Second, about Satan not existing, who was Jesus tempted by in the wilderness? Who tempted Eve? I mean, I get what you're saying about how we want evil and so there's not much of a need for a Satan-figure to explain evil, but there is some kind of spiritual battle being played out isn't there? Or maybe I'm mixing ideas that don't go together. Can you explain the "unconvinced that Satan even exists" bit?

Lastly, I've already kind of touched on this above, but I really like the idea about how our own motivations play a role in these "exorcisms." I mean, isn't it much more appealing to believe that our misfortune or our inability to deal with sin is a problem that exists apart from ourselves rather than face the fact that we want the very sin that we shouldn't want (Romans 7:15)?

m said...

That's exactly what I'm talking about. Blame it on a demon or on Satan, and you don't have to blame it on your own propensity for and inclination toward evil.

I'm not saying I DISbelieve in Satan. I'm saying I'm not convinced. If you were Jesus, and you knew who you were, would someone standing there -- someone you knew was LESS than you -- tempt you to change course? We're talking about the SON OF GOD.

Now, what would REALLY tempt the son of God? How about an awareness, a realization of one's own power and of one's own rejection by the very billions of people he was sent to endure this for? Ultimately, whether or not Satan was there, this is the key to the temptation in the wilderness: Jesus, given a choice, chose the sacrifice. He chose the hard way out. It didn't take Satan to make him have to confront that decision.

Similarly, do you think it was really necessary for SOMEONE to tempt Eve? The temptation was built in to the situation. Given a choice, a human has to consider the options. If the fruit (or whatever it was) was, upon reflection, not even worthy of consideration, then it was never a choice to begin with, and that's what Genesis 3 is all about: God's grace giving us the choice to love him, rather than creating a world in which the creation had no choice but to love him. The serpent quoted in Genesis says, "God doesn't want you to try the fruit because you will become like God." And he wasn't lying! It was totally true -- that initial act of disobedience was an affirmation by these first people that we were going to do whatever the heck we wanted, even knowing that it meant separation from God. That's what "in his own image" means: the ability to think, to reason, and to choose, and this is why his plan for our salvation is so perfect: because he won't force us to accept it. We have to choose it.

Finally, about T being normal but passionate: I just don't see how a moment of frustration like that just lets all these demons in. What, Jesus turns around and feeds the goldfish or something while a demon just slides into one of his sheep? Either I'm underestimating the power of demons (quite possible, but I'll take my chances), or everyone who thinks this could happen is underestimating the strength of the bond of baptism. T (probably) is MARKED. He already belongs to Jesus. Now, I know it sounds like I'm forgetting everything I said about the freedom to choose and about Jesus not making you stick with him, but that new creation thing? That changes stuff. We get the spirit IN us; it becomes part of us. There's just no room in there for something as consuming as the holy spirit AND a demon, if you ask me.

Moki's Mom said...

So Randal... I'm supposed to meet Chris K. at Moanalua Gardens Church tonight, so I did a search and found this! Um..suffice to say I'm having second thoughts about going. Gnashing of teeth? No thanks. The only thing I heard was about them comparing the length of each of your legs and praying for them to even out. I suppose that in itself is odd.

Anyway, I'm glad I stumbled on your blog. Hope you're doing well.