Just because we don’t see arresting manifestations of demonic activity in the West doesn’t mean that we don’t daily encounter spiritual powers of evil. Being culturally conditioned to look for the spectacular blinds us to Scripture’s portrayal of how anger, resentment, and jealousy make us vulnerable to demonic influence and spiritual evil.
Consider Genesis 4:1-8:
Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him (NIV).
Consistent with his pattern throughout Scripture, the Lord prefers the sacrifice of the younger brother (Abel) over that of the older (Cain). The text doesn’t say why, and there may not be a reason beyond the Lord’s way of working that subverts human expectations.
It is likely that the Lord intends for Cain and Abel to enjoy the Lord’s blessing along with one another in the face of this unexpected arrangement.
Cain, however, is angry and despondent. This is a precarious situation because his growing jealousy makes him vulnerable to Sin.
The Lord speaks to Cain and offers him encouragement and a warning. The way of goodness is to enjoy blessing along with Abel. If he goes down this road, he will find blessing.
But if Cain nurtures his resentment and allows his jealousy to grow, he’s in a very dangerous situation. The cosmic power of Sin—an active agent of destruction—is seeking to overtake Cain. He can resist it, but spiritual evil finds its way into a person, overtaking them, through unchecked anger, growing jealousy, and the cultivation of resentment.
The result, tragically, is the first murder.
Paul may have this episode in mind when he writes, “do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26-27).
You might think that angry people and relationships dominated by resentment are so common that demonic involvement seems outlandish. Goodness, you can hardly call it a church these days without some good cliques, factions, petty jealousies, and long-standing conflicts!
But consider how irrationally we behave when we cultivate resentment. We can’t think straight and our desires for revenge and vindication become overpowering. We become violent and abusive.
Think about the devastating, long-lasting, and far-reaching effects of unchecked anger and jealousy. Communities have been destroyed and reputations have been ruined.
And if you’ve ever had to resolve a complicated conflict where resentments have grown so that people are entrenched in their grievances, you just might begin to imagine that it is likely that evil spiritual powers are involved.
According to Scripture, the demonic is indeed at work in the mundane. We are vulnerable when we cultivate anger and nurture resentment and jealousy.
15 thoughts on “The Demonic in the Mundane, Pt. 2”
Thanks Tim. Powerful and clarifying. Your writing is clear and your thoughts uplifting.
A few years ago I was in a church setting that was caught up with demonic activity in very surreal and Hollywood ways. i remebmer telling our pastor that i felt demonic activity was more prevalant in the subtle ways anger, jealosy, gossip, unforgiveness and manipulation sabotaged community and distorted the testimony of the body. He didn’t get it.
Anyhow this is good New Testament theology. Love it.
I’ve only seen two alternative errors of over-reading the demonic and total denial, and in evangelicalism, it’s far too oriented by the spectacular, sadly.
I see the 2 sacrifices as The Lord’s work( Abel’s) and Cain’s as his work.
Cain worked hard accomplishing his, God made Abel’s animal. That might not be an accurate theology, just an idea I’ve thought was accurate.
I’ve heard similar things, Patrick, but the text is quite open and undetermined. That seems to me to be reading lots of Christian theological development into Gen. 4, which is probably inappropriate. It’s an interesting exercise to read other interpretations of Gen. 4 that work from other frameworks, and which also handle the text fairly. The focus on the sacrifices might be inappropriate and cause readers to miss what’s really going on.
Walter Moberly has an excellent article on this in Hebrews and Christian Theology. Kendall Soulen handles it briefly in his book, The God of Israel and Christian Theology.
This – be angry but do not sin – is again from the Psalms, Psalm 4:
רִגְז֗וּ וְֽאַל־תֶּ֫חֱטָ֥אוּ אִמְר֣וּ בִ֭לְבַבְכֶם עַל־מִ֜שְׁכַּבְכֶ֗ם וְדֹ֣מּוּ סֶֽלָה
(This is the Letteris edition – I have a 1946 publication used by a Canadian in Israel during the war, and owned by my current choir-mistress! I am painfully creating an electronic copy in my database with the te’amim.)
I am in the process of trying to decipher the music – and am just working on Psalm 4 (pdf A href=”http://www.gxmain.com/bmd/Psalm%204%20Hebrew.pdf”>here)
The instruction to Israel is the same as the instruction to the Gentiles, and historically it seems to be equally difficult to follow and equally requiring the assistance of the Most High to accomplish.
Paul quotes that passage in Eph. 4, Bob, and it largely makes the same point. Anger is indeed incited in the human heart when we’re wronged, when there’s injustice, etc., but letting it become settled so that it leads to sin or cultivated resentment is huge.
Sorry for the typo (pdf here)
You raise an interesting questio:, how do we distinguish between weakness of the flesh and demonic influence? ( or for that matter, the allure of the world …and demonic influence)?
(This based on the idea Jesus was temped three ways, weakness of the flesh (hunger), the offer of the world, and Satan seeking to be worshipped)
Since all sin leads to death, is there merit in making such distinctions? If not, why talk of demons at all?
Truth and Grace … in our home church we just finished a powerful series on the weapons of warfare(Ephesians 6 God’s Armor) available to Christ followers. This article shines out to show me that I have the possiblities of the flesh to become/have become trapped due to my disobedience to walk by the flesh rather than the spirit.
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Coming from my training & work in biblical reconciliation, colleagues and I have noted that there are signs which should clue us into spiritual influences of the demonic in conflicts. One of those signs is an obstinate determination to be unresolved with another, unless the other allows the one person/party to “rule over” them. This becomes the most visible when, in the course of the argument, what was presented as “the issue” or the problem transmutes into something else just as it would seem that there could be some ground upon which to discuss. The party/person influenced by interests other than God’s seems “rational”, yet the responder always feels as if their attempts to gain clarity and peace fall short. Over time – sometimes months or years, even – all peacemaking initiatives transmogrify into something else altogether which ultimately resembles the “fall down and worship me” that Jesus faced down in Matt. 4:9
Americans often don’t recognize these moments and challenges because we’re more steeped in modern educated and “rational” responses than we are in seeking a solid relationship w/ God-in-Christ, as we meet God in Scripture. I recall speaking w/ one of my Fuller profs about a specific church conflict I’d been asked to review & respond to leaders on. Our discussion was totally focused on how I might help the leaders even to perceive that they were engaged in a power encounter. Both of us had spent time in mission work in the 2/3 world, and had been taught to discern the demonic and respond “in Christ”.
The church leaders’ strategy was geared to respond rationally and calmly, with documented research (!), to every new challenge and anti-gospel grenade this man threw at them & the congregation – all disguised as “purer gospel”. The enemy loves tangling believers into knots of doubt, uncertainty, “need to answer” or “defend”, because as long as we’re doing that (in our human power & knowledge), we’re not moving in faith, trusting God to empower us with the Holy Spirit and reveal all that needs to be revealed as our hearts are humble and trusting.
If we don’t even know how to stand in Christ, in the full armor of God, how on earth will we know what fiery darts are hitting us from what direction?
Great piece, Tim — exegetically, practically and pastorally. In fact, the elders at my church came across your blog (and they were not led to it by me, either) and have referred to its insights in navigating through some issues at our church.
Be encouraged — your study and work is having significant impact for the Kingdom.
Good to hear it, Todd, and great to hear from you!