Demons are something that the ordinary world talks about in a rather casual way. For example, earlier this week I received an e-mail that examined the question of whether databases are demon possessed. Pass.org, an organization that seeks to promote the understanding of SQL and other relational databases and general technical competence, sent me the following e-mail: Ever feel as if your databases are possessed? Overwhelmed with scary new threats such as the cloud, open source and DevOps? Get a deeper understanding of all the stranger things mutating database management.
These free resources will help you:
- Easily gain control over all your diverse database platforms, without springing a nose bleed.
- Safely explore new worlds of cloud service providers and open-source databases.
- Quickly identify and torch database demons to prevent DevOps disasters.
- Securely peer into the database upside down with unprecedented cross-platform visibility.”
Now, this sort of e-mail may not strike you as odd. One might expect that a message sent on Halloween would play up the spookiness of some of the behavior that computers and computer programs operate with. I know that I have frequently wondered if certain computers (sadly, all too often my own) or programs that my computer program were indeed possessed by fallen spirits sent to torment me in my work hours or personal time. Perhaps you have wondered the same thing yourself. Perhaps you have not thought of acquiring the right software or the skills in how to use it as a way of engaging in exorcisms, but if we see our computer work as haunted then it is not too surprising that we would also look for ways to make this experience less fraught with disaster.
Nor does this exhaust the ways that we view demons in public culture. Several years ago the pop-rock group Imagine Dragons released an immensely popular song called “Demons” that expressed a commonly held view of demons as one’s darker side that one kept hidden from others as a way of protecting them. We may think of our darker urges and longings, that which would destroy us if we let them go unchecked. And this is indeed true. To the extent that we see the worst of other people in terms of abusive and destructive behavior, we are showing them aspects of the self-destructive world of fallen spirits. Now this does not begin to view demons in the sense of actual beings, but it certainly does allow us to use demons, whether we mean it literally or figuratively, as a way of discussing evil that we may see in ourselves or in others.
At other times, certain aspects of popular culture are immensely honest about the discussion of demons and aspects of demonology. For example, most contemporary role playing games owe a great deal to the efforts of those who were responsible for creating Dungeons & Dragons several decades ago. One of the more notable aspects of D&D and related games is the understanding of various planes of existence, in which the material plane that we inhabit is only one of several. Those who examine the possibility of transportation and summoning relating to other planes of existence will find that Dungeons & Dragons has a complex view of evil and fallen spirits that posits a distinction between devils, which are lawful evil fallen spirits, and demons, which are chaotic evil fallen spirits, the two sides being in conflict with each other over rulership and domination in the evil realm. Without commenting on whether or not this view is necessarily accurate, it is important to recognize that such games recognize that there is a distinction between the sort of evil that is involved in the anarchical rejection of standards and restraint and the sort of evil that is involved in the desire to gain control of institutions in order to dominate and control others.
It should be noted that most of the time these are not the matters that are the most important in the Bible as it relates to demons. There are occasions where we see the veil turned back and we see the influence that demons have on matters of state politics, and as someone who is deeply interested in institutions and politics, these matters are of great interest to me–and I think these matters are important to discuss for what they show us about how it is that unseen forces influence the political orders of the world. That said, they are not the main focus of the Bible’s discussion of the fallen spiritual world, which focuses largely on the effect that demons have on people, whether they be King Saul or nameless and suffering people who sought healing from Jesus Christ. And understanding this biblical context will greater allow us to better understand the sort of effect that fallen angels have in our own time and in our own world, to give us something to fight against and pray about.