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Jesus Christ and the Reality of Spiritual Evil
At a dinner hosted by the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists (AMCAP) Ron Poulton asked those at his table this question: “How do you deal with the problem of unclean spirits in your practices?” He describes their reaction:
“Quiet came to the table almost immediately. One of the psychologists looked puzzled and asked me to say more. When it became clear to them that they had not misunderstood my question, their responses came quickly. The overarching conclusion common to all the responses was that this was a subject outside the domain of their common discourse and professional world view. It held no prominent place within their practices. I was surprised by their resolute opinions that there was no such problem. . . The first response was: “At the time the scriptures were written, the people mistook mental diseases and biologically based defects for possession by evil spirits.” (Understanding Spiritual Evil in the Context of Psychotherapy, Ron Poulton, p. 1)
This belief is sadly becoming almost as widespread as it is untrue. It is a dangerous idea, and it gives Satan so much power, for he and those who work with him thrive in anonymity. They want to be in the darkness. The stated response in bold above is exactly what the adversary desires people to believe, and Nephi foretold that many Latter-day Saints in the end-time would succumb to this false lie:
“And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” (2Nephi 28:22)
Think of it, wouldn’t he and those who follow him be the most effective in their efforts if their victims did not believe they existed, or at least seriously doubted their abilities and power. A conspiracy is most effective when people do not believe it exists. Remember the screw tape letters? In letter 7 to his nephew, Screwtape (the more experienced devil) writes:
“I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. . . I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that he therefore cannot believe in you.” (The Screwtape Letters, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, p. 203-204)
A few questions that subscribers to the idea that people mistook mental diseases and biologically based defects for possession by evil spirits should consider are these: Who do you believe Jesus Christ is? Is He truly the Savior of the world? Are the things that He speaks and does actually true? Does He know the true causes of sicknesses and suffering in this world? And are the ways that He himself goes about curing these correct? Do you really believe in Him?
It is an interesting idea that “people” used to believe in spiritual evil. . . Are we forgetting that naturally Jesus Christ, who “knoweth all things” (D&C 38:2) would be included in that category of “people” who believed such ideas about devils and evil spirits? His mortal ministry is full of examples where He cast out devils and evil spirits:
“And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.” (Mark 1:35)
“Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.” (Matthew 12:18)
“And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.” (Mark 1:30)
“So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.” (Matthew 8:32-33)
“When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.” (Mark 9:25)
“And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ.” (Luke 4:41)
He gave his apostles power over devils and unclean spirits: “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:6-7) And his disciples did so: “And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils and anointed with oil many that were sick, and they were healed.” (Mark 6:13-14) He also taught that casting out devils would be a sign that follows those who believe: “And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.” (Mark 16:16-17)
In the Book of Mormon we read accounts of several ancient prophets who foresaw the Savior’s earthly ministry and then prophesied accordingly. Nephi records his vision: “I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; and the angel spake and showed all these things unto me. And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out.” (1Nephi 11:31) King Benjamin likewise prophesied: “And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.” (Mosiah 3:6)
We also find in the Book of Mormon, accounts of devils and unclean spirits being cast out, as well as the identification of casting out devils as a sign that will follow those who believe. Mormon recorded concerning Nephi son of Helaman: “And in the name of Jesus did he cast out devils and unclean spirits; and even his brother did he raise from the dead, after he had been stoned and suffered death by the people.” (3Nephi 7:19) Mormon also testified: “And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.” (Mormon 9:24)
[As a quick aside with the Book of Mormon being quoted. . . Those who think the ancients were mistaken in their belief in devils and evil spirits must somehow find their way around Joseph’s statement “that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth.”]
In our dispensation He has spoken openly on this subject, and also gave the same power to his servants. He even goes so far as to permit casting out devils without his direct permission, meaning it is something those with authority trusted to them can do freely, along with healing the sick according to the faith of those being ministered to: “Require not miracles, except I shall command you, except casting out devils, healing the sick, and against poisonous serpents, and against deadly poisons; And these things ye shall not do, except it be required of you by them who desire it, that the scriptures might be fulfilled; for ye shall do according to that which is written.” (D&C 24:13-14)
Again he notes in our dispensation casting out devils will be a sign that would follow those that believe: “And these signs shall follow him—he shall heal the sick, he shall cast out devils, and shall be delivered from those who would administer unto him deadly poison.” (D&C 124:98) “And these signs shall follow them that believe— In my name they shall do many wonderful works; In my name they shall cast out devils,” D&C 84:65-67) After testifying that He is a God of miracles, signs, and wonders to those who believe, He promised: “And whoso shall ask it in my name in faith, they shall cast out devils; they shall heal the sick; they shall cause the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk.” (D&C 35:9) The first miracle performed in this dispensation by the prophet Joseph Smith was casting out a devil.
It seems Jesus would agree with Brigham Young, who observed on one occasion “I know very well that, whether we are active or not, the invisible spirits are active.” (JD 7:239) And on another: “You never felt a pain and ache, or felt disagreeable, or uncomfortable in your bodies and minds, but what an evil spirit was present causing it.” (JD 4:133) It appears very clear from the records we have that Jesus Christ believed in casting out devils and evil spirits, and has been insistent on granting the power to cast them out, and bringing the miracle of being freed from these to all those who will believe. His life and the accounts in the scriptures we have stand as clear evidence of such facts.
Yet many prefer to believe in a disabled, disengaged, unorganized, and powerless devil if they choose to believe in one at all. It seems easier, and less scary to believe that he could never actually hurt us, or afflict us, or torment us, or possess us, but merely tempt us to do wrong.
As brother Poulton observed in his paper: “Unfortunately, it appears that some are satisfied to express belief in God and Christ, but shrink in embarrassment at the doctrine they revealed of an equally and immanent adversary.” ((Understanding Spiritual Evil in the Context of Psychotherapy, Ron Poulton, p. 13) Brother Mendenhall similarly wrote: “It seems that modern psychotherapy, modern medicine, and possibly even church members have reduced Satan to just stories from the Bible and from early church history. I have talked to many people that feel it is not something you are really bothered with unless you are extremely evil. . . If we persist in this belief, Satan will win many souls.” (Doug Mendenhall, Conquering Spiritual Evil, p. 15)
Think of how many mental, emotional, and physical illnesses could be cured if we believed in the reality of spiritual evil and acted upon that belief with faith. How many struggle with depression and anxiety could be won? How many pornographic or immoral addictions could be overcome? How many inklings and temptations of same gender attraction could be eliminated?
Jesus Christ is our exemplar in all things. He is who we should look to in discerning truth from error. To say that people were confused and mistook mental and emotional illnesses for possession by evil spirits is to clearly lump Jesus Christ into the category of those who were misled. For He himself believed, and still believes, in highly organized and powerful spiritual evil. It is a reality, and the more we know, and the more belief we hold, the greater power from Him we will have in overcoming it.
Suggestions for Application:
Seek out a priesthood blessing for yourself, and those you love whenever you are afflicted.
Ask the Lord directly to teach you more about this subject.
Ponder over the approaches you are taking in seeking healing for mental, emotional, and even physical struggles. Consider that your struggle or the struggles of those you love could largely be due to spiritual evil, which is overcome through Jesus Christ and His priesthood.
Follow Brigham Young’s invitation to “study evil, and its consequences” by downloading and reading the following handouts: