Love, Demons, and Mental Illness

Here is an excerpt from my last Facebook Live series on De-mythologizing the Devil. It is such an important topic that I would like to share a portion of this teaching with you today. If you saw the movie "Split", you will see how multiple personality disorder could be confused with the archaic belief in demons. 

First of all, when it come to "spiritual warfare" or "the devil" I want you to know I am not a critic standing on the outside being critical. I was an insider who gradually came to some different conclusions. I have dealt with victims of satanic ritual abuse. I have watched a woman set a lighter under her arm without flinching as she growled as I spoke about Jesus.  I have been in remote villages and mountains in India where I have seen manifestations of supposed "possession". I have been in places where I preached the gospel and prayed for people and afterward heard the stories of how one woman instantly had a vision of Jesus coming and sweeping away the demons that were tormenting her.

I lived and worked in an apartment complex where I met Satan worshippers and where there was a witches coven. In fact, the witches had “chick tracks” just exactly like the old gospel tracks that people used to pass out. 

I know about leading a church to pray against the principalities in our city, of having spiritual warfare leaders in our church. I know about the books on deliverance that are filed with hundreds of different “strongholds” of demons where one had to identify the strongman demon in order to get the person free of the rest of the demons. 

I know about how we started to evaluate people on the basis of what demons they might have instead of seeing no man after the flesh like Paul said we were to do.

I know about witches covens in our city that apparently were putting dead animals on our door steps and blood on the church doors. 

I know about warfare going on in our home where things would fall off the walls, and we even sometimes felt things crawl into our bed, literally feeling it push the mattress down. 

What I’m NOT saying is that the experiences were imaginary. They were not. But what I AM saying is that the interpretation and causes of those experiences were not what we think.

See, I started understanding the gospel more clearly.  I started to see that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places far above all principalities and powers. I started to see that the defeat of “satan, devils and demons” was so utterly complete, no matter what they are, that to focus on them was to be distracted from the beauty of Jesus. We started to see that Christ is all in all in a brand new way, and that if he is the prince of peace and above every principality, then Jesus IS the “principality” over my city.  We realized if Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth, then whatever spirits there might be, had absolutely zero authority. 

So we stopped. We stopped doing anything related to spiritual warfare. We stopped binding. We stopped anointing the doors in our house with oil. We stopped trying to “close doors in the spirit”. We stopped focusing on the devil in any way at all. We stopped thinking about demonic lay lines. 

And do you know what happened? 


Or to say it another way… all the stuff, all the manifestations of weird things, all the things falling off the walls, and all the things that crawled into our bed, all of it stopped! 

I asked on Facebook the other day what happened to people when they stopped doing spiritual warfare.  And the absolutely overwhelming response was that they had the same experience that I did years ago. It was replaced with peace, joy, seeing the world brightly again, healing, restoration…. all kinds of things that we associate with the gospel ironically. 

So over the years I have had a growing suspicion that there never was a satan, a devil or demons… but I didn’t put all the pieces together until recently. Most of those thoughts and scripture explanations I shared at the recent "De-Mythologizing the Devil" Event over the course of 3 one hour sessions. (There I addressed where many "demonic" manifestations come from but there isn't room here to tackle the subject completely).

"But aren’t we in danger of being deceived?" Well, there are 42,000 different denominations many of which believe in the devil and yet they are at odds on other major points of doctrine. So even with their devil they are deceived. Like how is it that believing in the devil makes one less deceived? And what happens if we do get deceived? Jesus is a really good shepherd and he will lead us back to himself. 

But we want to be honest about how we view scripture right? Previously we saw how the story in Revelation 12 about the dragon drawing 1/3 of the stars from heaven wasn’t about 1/3 of the angels of God, but it was the stars representing Israel. It was how AFTER the birth of Christ a portion of Israel apostatized and tried to kill Jesus and the early church. So there is actually no scripture anywhere in the Bible that says that demons are fallen angels. 

What Are Demons?

Let’s start with the Greeks. See the idea didn’t begin when we open up Matthew.  The Greek believed that demons were the disembodied spirits of some of their heroes who died. They would build a statue or an idol to them and invoke their name in order to be empowered by them. In other words, if the dead Greek hero was known for his courage, they would call on his name to be filled with the spirit of that hero so they could have courage too. Sometimes these heroes were mischievous and caused problems and so the Greeks cast out demons (the spirit of a dead man behind the idol). 

Did you know that the unbelieving Jews cast out demons before Jesus ever showed up on the scene? Jesus said, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebub, how do YOUR sons do it?” 

The rabbis believed that the backbone of a person who did not bow down to worship God became a Shed, or demon (Baba K.16 a; Jer. Shabb.3 b).

According to Josephus, the Jews didn’t believe demons were fallen angels with wings cast out of heaven. They believed that demons were the disembodied spirits of the wicked dead, similar to the the Greeks. 

So is the Bible teaching us that the disembodied spirits of dead people float around in the earth and possess people? That is a contradiction to every other scripture in the NT. So what is this demonization all about and why does Jesus cast out the dead spirits of those who are worshipped at idols?

Have you ever noticed that when Jesus cast out a demon, the result was always a physical healing of some kind of the person was set back in his “right mind”? It wasn’t because it was a demon causing it. It was because Jesus healed them. Go back and read Matthew 8: 16, "When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities  and bore our diseases.” Where in that passage of Isaiah does it say that he dealt with our demons? No it predicted that he healed them. That was the real underlying problem. Infirmity and disease.

The Humility of God 

Did you ever ask yourself WHY Jesus and Paul didn’t speak directly against slavery? It was very prevalent in their day. There were abusive master and servant relationships. Yet, Jesus USES the master/servant relationships as illustrations in many of his teachings instead of renouncing slavery.

If Jesus really was the manifestation of the love of God and the truth of God and the grace of God then why not address it, instead of glossing over it altogether? It is because what he taught them about loving their enemies, and about preferring one another, and about kindness and mercy, essentially turned every slave master relationship into a boss-employee relationship. In other words he was able to go to the root of the problem instead of addressing the problem itself.

The whole letter to Philemon is about him sending back an escaped slave, except Paul so addresses the relationship that Philemon is essentially almost a father figure if he takes Paul's advice. He did NOT address the institution of slavery. He addressed the root of the problem instead. 

I have dealt with many who have struggled with mental illness over the years. From those who extreme guilt caused by abortions, to veterans with PTSD, to those with schizophrenia. I have wept with them, prayed with them, and I know how difficult the struggle can be. I have also seen how attributing demons to those with mental illness can cause more harm than good and many times it is legalistic fearful religious thoughts that are the source of their problems. 

Today in Africa the doctors will often go along with their beliefs as they give them medicine because it is more important for them to be healthy than to try and convince them their superstitions are wrong. Is Jesus somehow less gracious? 

In other words, Jesus doesn’t directly attack their superstitious beliefs, he just condescends to their level of understanding and heals them so that they effectively see that any demonic idea is empty at the presence of Jesus Christ. 

I find it very interesting that the main place that Jesus cast out demons was in Galilee, and never in Jerusalem. Galilee was known as the uneducated, backwoods superstitious part of Israel. Why is it today that the more uneducated and superstitious the culture is, the more demons seem to manifest. Why is it that there is less demonic manifestation in New York than there is in Africa? 

The whole idea of the word “lunatic” as we have it in the NT is that there were people who worshipped the Moon god and it made them what we call mentally ill.  Duncan Hester in The Real Devil, wrote: 

When we read in Acts 8:7 of unclean spirits crying out, the Eastern (Aramaic) text reads: "Many who were mentally afflicted cried out". This is because, according to George Lamsa, ""Unclean spirits" is an Aramaic term used to describe lunatics" (3). It should be noted that Lamsa was a native Aramaic speaker with a fine understanding of Aramaic terms. He grew up in a remote part of Kurdistan which had maintained the Aramaic language almost unchanged since the time of Jesus. It's significant that Lamsa's extensive writings indicate that he failed to see in the teachings of Jesus and Paul any support for the popular conception of the devil and demons- he insisted that the Semitic and Aramaic terms used by them have been misunderstood by Western readers and misused in order to lend support for their conceptions of a personal devil and demons.

Did Jesus Cast Out Legion or Clear the Mind of Mental Illness?

So let’s look at a challenging story of Jesus and the Gadarene Demoniac.

And crying out with a loud voice, he said, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." For he was saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" 
And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion, for we are many." And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, "Send us to the pigs; let us enter them." So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid."

If this man is demon possessed as we have been taught, by a Legion of 600-2000 demonic spirits, then how is it those demons can’t keep him away from Jesus. Why would they make him run to Jesus and throw him down at Jesus feet? Supposedly demon possessed people are possessed so that they can’t control themselves. So the demons can make him cut himself, but they don’t have the power to keep the man from going to Jesus?"

Jesus said it was an unclean spirit, singular, not plural. It literally says “he was saying indeed to him, you come forth, the spirit, the unclean out of the man.” Remember the woman with a spirit of infirmity. Proverbs 18:14 says, The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, But who can bear a broken spirit? Are we to believe that there is a such thing as a demonic spirit named broken? Are we to think there is an evil spirit called contrite? Jesus is speaking to the fact that the man’s spirit, his heart which in proverbs is frequently the companion if not the parallel…that is spirit/heart is unclean. This is a mentally ill man. After the fact the man is “in his right mind”. That is the end result. 

Mental illness was thought to be caused by demons (the spirits of dead people tormenting their minds). People thought that Jesus was mad and said this must be because He had a demon- “He has a demon, and is mad” (Jn. 10:20; 7:19-20; 8:52). They believed that demons caused madness. 

But how is it that a person in Africa maybe gets free of a demon of epilepsy through prayer, but in the US a little white pill heals an imbalance and the seizures disappear. Is a pill more powerful than the demon? 

Hester writes of a possible source of this man's condition:

Steve Keating pointed out to me that the madness may have been an infection in the brain of the trichina parasite, commonly found infecting the muscles of pigs - and transmissible to humans in undercooked pork. The infected man would likely have been forced by poverty to eat this kind of food, and likely associated his "problem" with it because of the prohibition of pork under the Mosaic Law. This approach is confirmed by medical observations such as the following: 
“Neurocysticercosis is the most common parasitic disease in the world which affects the central nervous system… A 25 year old, illiterate married Hindu male… presented with a three month history of gradual change in behavior in the form of irrelevant talk … On mental status examination, he was well oriented to time, place and person, cooperative, communicative and responded well to questions asked… Delusions of persecution and reference were present… he accepted the illness but attributed the cause to evil spirits… histopathology report of subcutaneous nodule confirmed the diagnosis of cysticercosis cellulosae…. Significant improvement in psychiatric symptoms was also observed following albendazole (an anti-parasitic drug) therapy. Delusions of persecution and delusions of reference were not found on mental status examination. Insight also improved; instead of attributing the illness to evil spirits, the patient accepted having a physical illness.” (“Neurocysticercosis Presenting as Schizophrenia: A Case Report”, B. Bhatia, S. Mishra, A.S. 

Why is his spirit-heart unclean?

Mental illness combined with religious guilt is often found in cultures around the world and one of the very common signs is self-destructive behavior like cutting ones self. Ask any professional who works in a mental hospital how much guilt-laden religious beliefs contribute to mental illness. A friend pointed out that with the whole idea of "separation" that the Western Church propagates, is it any wonder why the divorce rate is the same within church circles as it is on the "outside"? 

Notice that Jesus addressed the man, not the "demons" in Mark., And Jesus asked HIM, "What is YOUR name?" HE replied, "MY name is Legion, for we are many." And HE begged him..." 

As he addressed the man his "Legion" said “are you here to torment us before the time”. With one swoop we discover where some of his inner struggle is coming from. This Jewish man was afraid of the judgment because of his own religious guilt! The Jews saw the occupation of the Romans as a sign of punishment from God… so what greater punishment for this religiously guilty man, to be occupied by a Legion himself. 

But Jesus is here. The man doesn’t need a Biblical one on one Bible study on demonology or told that they aren’t real. Notice that it says that Legion asked to go into the unclean pigs, so Jesus gave them permission. He gave them permission. Jesus didn’t cast them out. They just left. 

But why do they go into the sea and drown? 

First of all, if these pigs were infected, then it was also to protect the rest of the community. 

Secondly, and most importantly, for a Jewish man whose heart/spirit is unclean with shame, guilt, fear of judgment... what greater display than just like the Exodus story, all his enemies... the shame, guilt, fear of judgment... were drowned in the sea like the Egyptians?!!

 Why do you think this is?

1, Because Jesus is dealing with a man who believes in demons as real, who is mentally ill with symptoms of what we call schizophrenia. So Jesus is impacting his heart and healing his guilt with a visual demonstration.

2, God stoops down to our level of need. The man got a visual illustration, that the pigs, which were very likely the source of his religious guilt, were sent into the sea. Seriously you don’t think that demons are afraid of water do you, or that demons, if they were real, can drown. 

3, Notice that the man is in his right mind afterward. So either Jesus healed him or the source of his religious guilt is now gone and it clears his mind and heart of all kinds of guilt and shame. 

For this man, and many others, Jesus knew exactly what THEY needed at their level of either mental illness or superstition… because the healing and sound mind were more important than the method. As I said earlier, Jesus steps into our darkness at our level of understanding and meets us where we are at the root. The message overall that the man needed to see was that Jesus loved him, accepted him even in his mental confusion. 

The Challenge:

People always say to me "but what about this..."

So let me turn the tables today and ask you, "What about this?!"

When we went to India one year, I told our team our main job is to love the people. The pastors told us, we have many people who come here and preach to us, but we have never had anyone come here and love us like this. One of the ladies on our team would just take women in her arms who were experiencing what others would call demonic manifestations, and she would just hold them like a mother would her child, and they people would begin to sometimes yell for a couple minutes or they would start weeping uncontrollably… and then whatever was wrong with them stopped and they would be healed and free. No casting out, no rebuking, no confessing their sins so they could get footholds of the devil gone first. Just love. 

My pastor friend Shep, is a native of an African country and I asked him about possession there. He said all the charismatic churches there do deliverance every Sunday. But the same people come back every week. They manifest, they get relief and then come back. When he goes into those churches, he goes to the prayer line and communicates the gospel and the love of God, and those same people get permanently free. 

One time he was going to a village to preach outdoor meetings and the villagers said it was not a good idea for them to come there.  They said, there is a demon possessed man here that we have to keep tied to a tree.  Anytime someone comes here to try and preach, he goes wild and howls at the preaching and howls at the moon. 

So my friend Shepherd says take me to him. So they go to the man and he tells them to unchain him. Which they do. And Shep sits in front of the man and begins to tell him about the love of God and how God loves and accepts him and forgave him so long ago. And the man did not manifest anything. In fact, the man came TO his meetings and never had a manifestation again. And my friend Shep did’t cast anything out, didn’t bind anything… nothing but the pure unconditional love of God. 

See, sometimes mental illness is physiologically induced, in other words sometimes it is a chemical imbalance, sometimes literally a parasite. But from lots of research and experience I can tell you as an absolute fact, that religious guilt, shame and condemnation is most of the time the very reason FOR mental illness, because guilt, shame, and the idea of being separated from God creates a separation from reality in hundreds of different ways. 

I know this short message didn't answer all your questions. In fact, it may have raised a lot of questions. What about satan? What about the devil? Aren't demons fallen angels? If it isn't demons what causes wild spiritual experiences? 

I took the time to answer all those questions and more in a recent three day, three hour, teaching that I want to encourage you to check out. You can find the link and the information right here.