At Issue At Issue Index    Spiritual Warfare Index    Previous   Next 

Engaging the spirits: 
An Adventist's Perspective on Fighting Spiritual Battles

by Yvon Caza

Chapter 4: Harassment or Possession or Illness

Differentiation Between Harassment-Oppression and Possession

It is important that those who confront Satan and his angels in any kind of ministry of deliverance determine first (by earnest prayer and heart searching, subjectively, and a careful examination of the victim, objectively) whether the individual seemingly possessed is simply manifesting the symptoms of a natural illness (epilepsy, for example) which might be a form of mere harassment, or whether the individual is in fact subject to direct demonic control.

It would be unspeakably cruel (for at least 3 reasons) to suggest to an emotionally disturbed or sin-laden person, in the absence of clearly coercive evidence, that he/she were "possessed" when, in fact, such a person was not demon-controlled:

1- It would only serve to make the suffering of a sensitive person more keen— and unnecessarily so. 2- It could, unintentionally, provide for an unstable person an excuse in evading personal responsibility and accountability for his/her actions and problems (not only thereby reinforcing deviant behavior but also retarding the chance for recovery). 3- It might serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy, actually operating in the form of hypnotic suggestion, weakening the resistance of the individual and making him/her subsequently more susceptible to actual possession!

We recognize that often it may be difficult (if not impossible) to determine whether an individual is possessed, or merely the victim of demonic harassment.93

Natural Illness or Supernatural Possession?

Many sincere Christians, unfamiliar with human physiology, are greatly surprised to discover that certain of the more gross, abnormal, bizarre forms of behavior often superficially associated with "possession" are often also present in certain kinds of mental illness in which demon possession does not appear to be a factor. We speak of such things as: foaming at the mouth; noisy, obscene blasphemous utterances in unnatural, altered (and often guttural) vocal registers, or shrill, spine-chilling screams; falling into trance-like states; and violent bodily seizures in which the unfortunate victim may suddenly be thrown to the floor, or violently against wall or furniture. All of these symptoms, sometimes seen in genuine cases of demon possession, are also common responses of victims of various "natural" mental disorders. Thus the ignorance of an individual concerning the nature and operation of nature’s laws could (and often does) result in that person’s seeking to explain these phenomena by means of the spirit world, and thus finding demons where none exist.

(Perhaps at this point it is also worth noting the contrary truth: Some individuals who are genuinely "possessed" may exhibit perfectly normal, natural behavior— and thus are enabled to do Satan’s bidding all the more effectively.)

We quickly grant that all mental (as well as physical) illness is a by-product of sin, and may be said, in the ultimate sense, to be caused by Satan. But a knowledge of certain forms of mental illness is extremely helpful, because apparently some mental illnesses are primarily caused by biochemical, environmental, genetic factors; abuses of alcohol and/or other drugs; and, simply physical illness (Again, in some instances, Satan may also become involved more directly.)

Unquestionably some mental illness is a genuine manifestation of direct demonic control of human neurology and physiology. But because there is no evidence that all mental illness involves demonic possession, it is crucially important that those who venture to grapple with the phenomenon of demon possession should, if possible, first have an intelligent awareness of the many and varied determinants of normal and abnormal perceptions, auditory and visual hallucinations, normal and anomalous physical sensations, speech mechanisms, emotional experiences, and thought processes before attempting to deliver a victim believed to be demon-possessed.

In actual practice, interestingly, there are comparatively few conclusive, telltale evidences of supernatural activity in cases where demon-possession is suspected.94

Some Reservations About Casting Out Devils

Casting out devils is found throughout the pagan, Jewish (Mt 12:27; Acts 19:13), and Christian world. When Jesus commissioned the 12 (Mt 10:1-8) and the 70 (Lk 10:1-17), He did not exclude Judas from having this gift, even though he was not fully surrendered to Christ.95 So having this ability is not necessarily a sign of being a genuine believer:

(Mat 7:21-23 NIV) "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Satan has deceived many in the manifestation of casting out of devils:

By such fanaticism as we have lately had among us in California in peculiar exercises and the claim of power to cast out devils, Satan is seeking to deceive if possible the very elect. These persons, claiming to have a special message for our people, would charge one and another with being possessed of an evil spirit. Then after praying with them they would declare the devil cast out. The result of their work testified of its character. I was bidden to say to our people that the Lord was not in these strange exercises but that such exhibitions would deceive souls to their ruin unless they were warned, and Bible truth would be perverted.96

There are many testimonies referring to the Mackins who, as part of their ministry were casting out devils. The following are a few exerts:

You have even supposed that power is given you to cast out devils. Through your influence over the human mind men and women are led to believe that they are possessed of devils, and that the Lord has appointed you as His agents for casting out these evil spirits.97

I was shown that it was not the Spirit of the Lord that was inspiring Brother and Sister L, but the same spirit of fanaticism that is ever seeking entrance into the remnant church. Their application of Scripture of their peculiar exercises is Scripture misapplied. The work of declaring persons possessed of the devil, and then praying with them and pretending to cast out the evil spirits, is fanaticism which will bring into disrepute any church which sanctions such work.

I was shown that we must give no encouragement to these demonstrations, but must guard the people with a decided testimony against that which would bring a stain upon the name of Seventh-day Adventists, and destroy the confidence of the people in the message of truth which they must bear to the world. The Lord has done a great work for His people in placing them on vantage ground. It is the duty of the church to cherish its influence. Precious are the words, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). The words of inspiration carefully studied and prayerfully obeyed, will thoroughly furnish unto all good works.

As a denomination we need to look more continually to God for guidance. We are living in an evil age. The perils of the last days are upon us. Because iniquity abounds, Satan presumes to bring in all kinds of delusive theories upon those who have tried to walk humbly with God, and who are distrustful of self. Shall self-confident, fanatical men come to these humble souls assuring them that they are possessed of evil spirits, and after praying with them, affirm that the devil is cast out? Such are not the manifestations of the Spirit of God, but of another spirit.98

One would readily agree that "not all forms of gross human behavior are directly instigated by Satan, nor are they— in and of themselves— necessarily conclusive evidence of demon-possession. Ellen White strongly denounced the practice in her day of certain church members who went around declaring certain persons as possessed of the devil, then prayed with them, and then pretended to cast out evil spirits. She called such work fanaticism, and said it would destroy any church which sanctioned it.99 "We are none of us to seek to cast out devils, lest we ourselves be cast out."100

Since we humans cannot handle evil spirits,101 we should leave it up to God to dispute with Satan: "Bear in mind that it is none but God that can hold an argument with Satan."102

Bear in mind that it is none but God that can hold an argument with Satan. The sentiments of the enemy are to be met with a plain "Thus saith the Lord." Human infirmity, I am instructed, will not be able to resist the devil… Flee from this unequal conflict.103



93 "Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Ministry" and Seventh-Day Adventists: A report of the Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, 1983, p. 22-23; see also p. 21.

94 "Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Ministry" and Seventh-Day Adventists: A report of the Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, 1983, p. 24-25; see also p. 26-28.

 95 E. G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 717.

96 E. G. White, Mind, Character, and Personality, Vol. 1, p. 40.

97 E. G. White, Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 376.

98 E. G. White, Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 46-47.

99 "Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Ministry" and Seventh-Day Adventists: A report of the Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, 1983, p. 58.

100 E. G. White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 13, p. 324.

101 E. G. White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 9, p. 66.

102 E. G. White, 5SDABC, p. 1083.

103 E. G. White, RH 09-06-06.

At Issue Index    Spiritual Warfare Index    Previous     Next