Dear Tom: “What are your thoughts on people always attributing bad circumstances as an attack by Satan?” - Anne
Anne, thank you for asking me about this. What you’ve asked falls under the heading of spiritual warfare. Angels and demons are real entities. One serves God and the other rebels against him. The scripture would seem to indicate that angels and demons are at work all around us. However, does that mean that every bad circumstance is an attack from the enemy? Let me dig into this by asking four additional questions that your original question also implies:
- Is every unpleasant thing caused by a demon?
- What does it mean to be “under attack” by the enemy?
- Doesn’t fighting principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12) mean that there are demons everywhere?
- Can I order a demon to be bound?
Now, let me make two disclaimers right off the bat. First, one of Satan’s tools in spiritual warfare is possession. I have no experience in this realm, as far as I know. However, your question doesn’t deal with possession, per say, so I will leave that part of spiritual warfare for others to answer. Possession is beyond the scope of what I will deal with here.
Second, I have only a small amount of experience in dealing directly with the demonic (two instances, to be precise). But my experience does not trump scripture. What we can firmly know about the demonic is written for us in scripture and it is to scripture that we must go to learn how to deal with the enemy. Now, let’s deal with your question.
Anne, it’s most likely that you and I, and most people reading this, have probably never had an encounter with Satan himself. We are average people and frankly, I doubt that we rank that high. We may encounter demons, but probably not Satan himself. If scripture is any indication, then Satan usually targets people whom God holds in high esteem or who play a significant role in redemptive history. In the Old Testament we see Satan attack King David (I Chronicles 21:1), Job (Job 1:6-2:9), and Joshua the High Priest (Zachariah 3:1). In the New Testament we see Satan attack Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11) and Peter (Luke 22:31). There is one instance where Satan moved Ananias and Sapphira to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Now, we don’t know if Peter was using Satan’s name specifically, or in a generic sense meaning a demon. But, even these two people were close to Peter, who was high up the scale in terms of people of influence and power in the church.
All of this being said, are their demons around every corner, waiting to attack? The best answer that I can give you is that yes, there are demons wanting to mess with our lives. But, that does not mean that every bad thing that happens to us is a direct attack by a demon. In fact, I can find no place in scripture that tells us that every bad thing that happens comes from Satan, or a demon. In this sense, the thing to remember is that the secret to defeating demons is nothing simpler than obedience to scripture and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Now, this does not mean that at every temptation you are casting down Satan, or uttering a prayer of rebuke, or some such thing. Do you want to make a demon flee? Then heed this word: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Notice: Submit and resist. Obedience is the key to spiritual victory. It’s important to note that when it comes to dealing with demons directly, there is actually very little said in scripture. If we take the apostles as an indication, they didn’t deal directly with Satan like we see in the Gospels. It seems that if we look at their conduct as the model of spiritual warfare, that their obedience to Jesus was the primary way they defeated Satan and demons.
Sometimes, God uses demons to accomplish his purposes. Look at these examples:
“The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab the king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’” (II Chronicles 18:19-21).
Notice the tension in scripture between Satan moving David to number Israel (I Chronicles 21:1), and God moving David (II Samuel 24:1). These scriptures, at first look, might seem contradictory. But, in fact, they are not. They simply show us that God reserves the right to use anyone, even Satan, for his purposes.
Of course, the best example of this principle is God’s willingness to use Satan himself to drive Jesus to the cross, where he died for us and fulfilled God’s plan of redemption (Luke 22:3-6).
Now, let me deal briefly with the additional questions to help clarify my answer to you.
Is every unpleasant thing caused by a demon? No, I don’t think so. Demons are involved in a great many things. But there is enough sin in the world though our own nature to bring us all the trouble we could want. In the coming millennial reign of Christ, Satan will be bound in the pit for 1,000 years. Yet, the scripture seems to indicate that during that time there will still be sin. Sin isn’t wiped out until much later.
What does it mean to be “under attack” by the enemy? Very simply, the enemy wants you to disobey God. He desires for you to sin, and to make you ineffectual for the kingdom. Remember that Satan is motivated by one thing. He desires to replace God on his throne. “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High “ (Isaiah 14:13-14). This is Satan’s ultimate goal and everything he does is designed to accomplish this desire. By getting us to sin or to ignore God, or ignore scripture we effectually obey him rather than obeying God.
Doesn’t fighting principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12) mean that there are demons everywhere? While there are demon around us, notice what the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 6:12. Look carefully. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This tells us that there is much more at stake than what we perceive or believe to be happening on the earth. Our battle is in the heavenly places. And how did Paul do battle? After explaining spiritual armor he says, “That words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). There it is. The bottom line. The message of the Gospel, when shared, defeats Satan’s purposes, along with every other lower demon.
Regarding the spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6:14-18, the armor of God is practical, not magical. Look at the armor: Belt of truth (declaration of the Gospel), breastplate of righteousness (right living in the power of the Holy Spirit), shoes of the Gospel of peace (taking the Gospel to the world), and prayer. These are practical everyday things we should be doing. And it is in these practical, everyday things that we can see our adversary defeated.
Can I order a demon to be bound? You can’t bind demons. You don’t have that power. See this article on binding Satan for a deeper answer to this question. http://www.tomthinking.com/article.php?story=20171030205700312.
Instead of trying to bind Satan, what you can do is to pray and obey. When you pray and obey, Satan will amscray.
Anne, I hope this helps you understand more about the practical, daily aspects of spiritual warfare. I also hope that it sets your mind at ease that you don’t have to be afraid of a demon around every corner. Even if there are, you have all of the power you need in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, to obey the Lord and see the enemy flee. Jesus told Peter that Satan demanded him to sift him like wheat. Then he told Peter, “After you have turned…” meaning that he let Satan go after him. Sometimes we must endure demonic attack and wait it out. Either way, the enemy is defeated, even if we stumble.