Rob is not a priest: in fact, he’s a police officer. On duty, one of his tasks is training other officers to respond to subjects who are agitated, delusional, or otherwise suffering from some form of mental illness. It’s what he does when he’s off duty that got my attention. Rob rescues people who are demon possessed.
Believe it or not, a mental health professional referred me to him. A trusted friend of mine had described an extraordinary scene that erupted at a small dinner among friends late one evening. When I recounted what my friend had experienced, the therapist replied, “I’ve never seen anything like that in the field of mental health. It sounds demonic to me.” So that’s how I came to meet an exorcist at Starbuck’s on a Saturday morning.
Rob’s assault on the gates of Hell began late one night in 2007, standing alongside an automobile in a mall parking lot with a troubled young man inside pleading for help. Over the next four hours in two or three different locations, he found himself staring into the eyes of Hell. He prayed, quoted scripture, prayed some more, and even called in a local church pastor for a while. Around 2:00 AM, an evil spirit came shrieking out of the dazed victim, and an exhausted young police officer, soaked in perspiration, realized The Exorcist was more just pulp fiction.
Many episodes later, he draws an interesting comparison. In the first century, people tended to perceive demons everywhere because they didn’t understand mental illness. Today we’ve been so programmed to look for mental illness and mood disorders that we don’t recognize the spiritual, the demonic when it should be apparent.
To my surprise, he doesn’t invoke mystical words or the jargon we often associate with demonology and exorcism, although he can pray in Latin. What makes this guy so compelling is the way he draws on the sermons of Jesus and core ideas of the Gospel. “Certain events or problems seem to open human beings up to demon activity,” he explains. “Things like trauma, sexual abuse, and unforgiveness.” Even Christians can suffer spiritual oppression when we allow resentment to build up in our hearts and refuse Christ’s commandment to forgive those who offend and injure us. “You don’t do it for the other person.” he elaborates. “You do it for yourself.”
When he finds himself face to face with someone who may be either controlled or at least harassed by an evil spirit, Rob doesn’t reach for a crucifix or a flask of holy water. “Intercessory prayer is key,” he asserts. “Always begin with intercessory prayer. Sometimes, it’s the prayer that provokes the demon to reveal himself.”
Most of us are familiar with the Gospel accounts of Legion, a wretched man inhabited by more demons that he could count (Matthew 8.) Crazed and out of control, he lived among the gravestones, screeching and howling every night. In a world already sensitive to demon possession, his terrified neighbors could not recognize his problem: he was their problem. Their conventional methods, binding him with ropes and even chains, had failed every time. Jesus of Nazareth was not afraid to peer behind that familiar one thousand yard stare to diagnose the ancient evil that afflicted him from within. He cast them out with a simple command.
Immersed as we are in high-tech and Twitter feeds, you and I quite naturally try to boil our faith down to a short list of slogans: the gospel for dummies. We tend to be uncomfortable with mystery- even the mysterious nature of the Holy God of Eternity. Despite biblical assurances that his thoughts and his ways are infinitely higher than ours, we’re still pretty sure we can explain anything with a smartphone and a Google search. Think again!
Author and theologian John Piper recalls his own experience in an exorcism several years ago. And he emphasizes 2 Timothy 2:24, ” Teach with gentleness, correct your opponents in love. God may perhaps grant them to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth and be delivered or escape from the power of the evil one who had taken them captive.” Notice scripture’s use of the word perhaps: it’s complicated.
Demons are not science fiction. Even as skeptics dismiss the very idea as superstitious nonsense, they watch breaking news reports about the senseless and agonizing death some human beings inflict on strangers and ask “How could a human being ever do something like that?” There is obviously more here than meets the eye.
The Book of Revelation foresees a new wave of demonic warfare just as the Final Countdown begins. In other words, we won’t get out of here before all of us have encountered demons in the escalating conflict. Our victory is certain, but it won’t be cheaply won. “They overcame the devil by the blood of the lamb, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
Be ready for He is coming! And lift up the Cross!