I would like to comment at the outset, lest anyone expect a deeply uncomfortable and salaciously personal entry, that I do not write this entry about my own personal demons, such as they are. Certainly my own life experiences and self-critical nature have influenced my interest in such matters as demonology, to which I may be more interested than the average person, but I do not intend this particular entry to be a personal commentary on myself or anyone else, but rather a reflection on the relationship between demonology in popular (musical) culture and one passage of the Bible that deals with Jesus Christ showing unexpected mercy to demons. Those who want to know where my demons hide will be likely to be disappointed by this particular message, but those who are curious about the continuing relevance of demonology to contemporary culture and biblical thought will hopefully find much to reflect upon.
There are, at the time of writing, two songs dealing directly with the subject of demonology that are currently popular songs on the music charts here in the United States. The more popular, and more meaningful, of these songs is the song “Demons” by the band Imagine Dragons. Now, as at least a casual fan of this band who appreciates their lyrics , I found their song “Demons” to be a fascinating example of the admission of dark struggles along with the longing for love and redemption that fill this fallen world of struggling sinners. Given that we must admit our own weaknesses and struggles if we are honest with ourselves and others, while also still longing for love and graciousness, it appears as if there is a widespread interest in these times in cultural artifacts that are honest without being entirely dark and cynical.
In order to understand the appeal and specific use of demonology in this particular song (which may perhaps explain some nature of its popularity), let us look at the lyrics of “Demons,” by Imagine Dragons. The first verse of the song reads as follows: “When the days are cold, / And the cards all fold, / And the saints we see / Are all made of gold, / When your dreams all fail, /And the ones we hail / Are the worst of all, / And the blood’s run stale, / I wanna hide the truth; / I wanna shelter you, / But with the beast inside, / There’s nowhere we can hide .” While this verse is a bit oblique and written in a rather Hebraic construction using the “waw” (“and”) construction , the lyrics themselves are easy enough to understand. The songwriter speaks of days that are dark and cold, where there appear to be no decent people around, where everything goes poorly and all of our dreams are ruined by cruel experience, and where the people we see around us are the darkest sort of people that can be imagined, we often wish to hide from the truth and protect the ones we care about from the worst aspects of our own natures. After all, the ones we love and care about not only need to be concerned about the evils in the harsh world outside, but also about the darkness and wickedness that lies within us, since we do tend to hurt the ones we care about most the most of all, sadly enough. And if we are seeking to comfort and protect those whom we love and care for, there is nowhere we can hide from the darkness that lies inside of ourselves.
The prechorus and chorus elaborate on this point: “No matter what we breed, / We still are made of greed. / This is my kingdom come. / This is my kingdom come. / When you feel my heat, / Look into my eyes; / It’s where my demons hide. / It’s where my demons hide. / Don’t get too close; / It’s dark inside. / It’s where my demons hide; / It’s where my demons hide.” The prechorus and chorus themselves demonstrate the fear and longing that lies within our hearts. If we are candid, we will readily admit the fact that our greed and lusts fill our lives no matter what sort of justification or sublimation we engage in. Those of us who struggle against sin and who genuinely seek to follow God also recognize that it is the truth that sets us free from illusions about ourselves and about the world that we live in, as painful as the truth can be sometimes. What the songwriter speaks about himself is true of all too many of us–our passion and intensity brings out the worst aspects of our nature, either literally or figuratively demonic, and often our fears of those baser aspects of our nature cause us to be afraid of our deepest longings for love and intimacy with others, as if we are afraid that no one would love us or want to be with us if they saw us for who we really are.
The second verse continues as follows: “When the curtain’s call / Is the last of all, / When the lights fade out, / All the sinners crawl. / So they dug your grave, / And the masquerade / Will come calling out / At the mess you’ve made. / Don’t want to let you down, / But I am hell bound. / Though this is all for you, / Don’t want to hide the truth.” Here again we see the honesty of the songwriter in reflecting on his own darkness. If we are inclined to be merciful, we will look at the expectation of the songwriter for damnation because of his sins as being a bit harsh. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and therefore no one is worthy of salvation or eternal life on their own merits. A confession of sin and a clear desire for mercy make the first step to the salvation sought by the singer. All too many of us feel downhearted about our own sins, some of which we may even see as unpardonable or unforgivable because of their severity, and we may see ourselves as being without worth and fit only for oblivion or a state of permanent torment, depending on our views of the afterlife. The fact that the songwriter persists in honesty despite his own fears of damnation is remarkable, though we would wish to encourage him to be more hopeful.
The bridge of “Demons” continues along the same theme: “They say it’s what you make; / I say it’s up to fate. / It’s woven in my soul; / I need to let you go. / Your eyes, they shine so bright; / I want to save that light. / I can’t escape this now / Unless you show me how.” Here we see the hope for redemption even in someone who considers themselves lost, still wrestling with the fear and longing inside of him that pulls him in different directions. Many of us know that tension all too well. By believing himself predestined for suffering and sorrow, the songwriter’s longing for redemption founders on the lack of knowledge of how to live and how to feel cleansed and forgiven from the sins that burden his tormented soul. He longs for love and salvation but feels he has to let go of loved ones because he fears getting too close to anyone to hurt them because of his own suffering. Rather than viewing his distance as a betrayal, he sees it as saving them from the hurt and troubles that would result from allowing them too close to his wounded and broken heart. How many of us have felt the same way ourselves in our complicated and troubled relationships with others?
In looking at the honest and reflective lyrics of this particular song, which accurately reflect the feelings and concerns of many people (given its popularity), we might be tempted to think that it is only human beings who tend to be filled with this mixture of fear and longing concerning judgment and predestination. Those of us who believe the Bible, though, can find evidence that even the eponymous fallen spirits of the contemporary hit by Imagine Dragons (an all-too-appropriate band name for their often melancholy but spiritual song lyrics) have the same sort of tension as human beings do.
Although the evidence for this is a bit scarce, given the fact that the Bible far more often speaks of the perspective of life under the sun from the human perspective and only occasionally shows the worldview of the demonic realm, the evidence we possess is at least suggestive. As James 2:19 reads: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” Why do the demons believe? They served God before Satan’s rebellion and know God exists from intimate personal experience. And yet this intellectual knowledge of the existence of God does not lead to any sort of personal comfort or peace of mind because they fear judgment, considering themselves predestined to damnation for their rebellion against God. Their knowledge lacks hope in God’s mercy and pardon for their rebellion, and so the knowledge they possess of God’s ways and God’s power only fill them with torment because they consider themselves, like the songwriter of “Demons,” to be beyond the hope of salvation and redemption and forgiveness.
In a larger passage, we see the same fear present in demons spoken of in a Gentile area near the Sea of Galilee during the ministry of Jesus Christ, in Matthew 8:28-34: “When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding. So the demons begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.” And He said to them, “Go.” So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water. Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.”
Here we see demons who, being possessed of spiritual knowledge, knew the existence and divinity of our Lord and Savior, were afraid that Jesus had come to torment them before their time. They knew that the time of final judgment had not yet come, and they were afraid that Jesus Christ had come to torment them and condemn them before that time had come. They therefore asked for mercy from Christ, asking that if they were cast out of the people they possessed, that they would be able to possess some other life form and not be cast out without a home. It appears that like human beings, even fallen demons appear to have some need for intimacy with other living beings, finding life to be miserable alone. And yet this desire for intimacy leads to torment because they deceive or trick or coerce others into intimacy and do not seek forgiveness and mercy and restoration to closeness with God because of their own hopelessness.
Let us note that Jesus Christ granted their request for mercy and let them depart into a large group of swine (who promptly submerged themselves into the Sea of Galilee in what may be termed a type of baptism). Perhaps those less inclined to despair might note that if demons can ask for and receive mercy and grace from Jesus Christ that human beings ought to be at least as likely to receive the forgiveness and redemption we seek for ourselves (and others) also. Sadly, the response of the people of the region was similar to the response of the demons written about in James 2. Instead of seeking the mercy of Jesus Christ for their own sins, the people of the region were frightened by the obvious display of his power over the spirit realm, and desired Him to leave them alone. Showing the same graciousness to the Gentiles of the region that He showed to the demons, he granted their request, even if it must have been a bit of a disappointment to do so. Let us therefore neither give in to despair ourselves, nor live in fear of God’s judgment without showing the proper appreciation for His love and mercy, nor let us fail to show that same love and mercy and graciousness to others as we have the opportunity to do so.