Thursday, February 18, 2016

Devils are not thoughts, but actualities

Wild Card Discussion based on: Calvin Institutes: The Created and Humanity Created, 1.14.19.

Devils are not thoughts, but actualities 

The notion that devils are nothing other than the frame of the mind comes about just as the notion that angels are nothing but “good inspiration or impulses which God arouses in men’s minds. These notions Calvin refutes by using scripture to defend the existence of evil forces, the devil.

The unclean spirits mentioned in scripture are those who have changed from their created forms. They are also called apostate angels. Which names: unclean spirits and apostate angels point not to human perceptions but the reality of being. Apostle John also compares the children of God with the children of the devil. John accordingly also adds that “the devil has sinned form the beginning.”  John’s comparison of the children of God and also the devils sinfulness from the beginning also alludes to the fact that the devil is not just human imagination but a reality.

In the same vein, Jude again sets a good archangel Michael against the devil. In the scripture again, satan appeared with the holy angels in God’s presence leading to the devil tormenting Job. Jesus also encountered the devil in many instances as written in scripture, Matthew records that the devil God’s judgment called on Jesus to depart from them. Also, Jesus also tells the devil to depart into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.


By these scriptures, Calvin concludes that it will be pointless for anyone to believe that the devil is only a frame of the human mind because scripture amply proofs that the devil is a reality and a created being.

10 comments:

  1. Great idea for a wild card discussion, Kwasi. Yes, if we take the Bible seriously at all, we must accept devils, at least as a non-corporeal being. I think in modern times we tend not to take demons too seriously. Yet, we must also realize that a devil may not do anything that runs counter with the will of God. Nevertheless, I think they can be a powerful force for evil.

    I often wonder if the power of the devil resides not so much in creating active malice, but in creating a callousness in people that can allow them to hurt others with a degree of disregard, or to stand by while it is happening (Nazi Germany for example or Soviet Russia, especially under Stalin).

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    1. How about the evil in Hitler and Stalin? I think part of the reason I have not focused on Satan per se, is because it seems to relinquish the person who is doing the harm from taking responsibility for his or her actions. "The devil made me do it." I agree with you that the devil can do much harm by stoking up apathy among people.

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    2. Yes, there is active evil especially in 20th century history, and I think we should hold individuals responsible. I think there is a distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission. Hitler and Stalin were actively evil, and those who allowed their evil orders to be carried out are also culpable. In other words, I agree, we cannot put the blame on the devil in a practical sense. The influence of the devil may be present, but individuals who succumb to it have no moral or legal defense...at least in my mind.

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  2. There's a weird trend in contemporary America related to this topic: young people, who report declining belief in God, actually report increasing belief in demons: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-wilson/most-americans-1829-years_b_4163588.html. What might Calvin say about this?

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  3. I was fascinated by this section of the Institutes and was surprised that Calvin made the case that Satan is a real being. Calvin is so against superstitions in the other sections concerning praying to the saints. At times it seems Calvin is writing this part of theology to convince himself, compelled by standing on the ground that all scripture is true and trustworthy. Ground I deeply wish to stand on as well!

    But as we learned in our OT studies with Dr. Schlimm, the snake is the garden is never said to be more than a snake in the story. However when we use the Bible to interpret the Bible, the snake is 'the father of all lies'.

    In this section (as in other sections like Providence) I think Calvin is teaching above his pay grade,seeking to explain what no mortal human can know for certain.

    At the end of this section XIV 19 Calvin writes(my paraphrase) "What I have tried to accomplish is that godly minds must not be deceived into thinking that they do not have an enemy who is first the enemy of the Lord." This I believe to be true.

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  5. There is an underlying notion that many of the demon possessions that Jesus encounters during his ministry were merely psychological disorders that Jesus cured. I feel very differently because the authors of the Gospels give detailed accounts of what the demons said to Jesus and their knowledge of who Jesus was revealed His divinity over them. Not only do the Gospels specifically illustrate times when Jesus talked about the spiritual forces that are out there but the Gospels also depict conversations between Jesus and the demons as well. I feel that just underwriting things as psychological disorders greatly diminishes the interactions that Jesus had with the dark spiritual forces and it only plays into the work of the devil to completely nullify his presence in the overall spiritual battle that is still happening in our world and lives today.

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  6. This is a great wild card topic. My first trip overseas was to South Korea, where I found physic readers, card readers, and other unexplainable things I saw. I think that when we read about such things, our minds form opinions and stereotypes that are difficult to discard. I also had a very similar experience in Haiti when I was blessed to visit that country. It wasn’t until moving to Louisiana that I realized there really are people who believe in voodoo. When evil things happen and evil people act, the non-believers are also producing answers. It seems that Calvin writes enough details to try and answer every single idea or thought that is contrary to his own view of Christian Faith (or would it be better to say Reformed understanding?).

    Given the time period the Calvin was writing, I do not find it odd at all that he would place emphasis on demons, evil, and satan. Thank you again for tackling a hard subject. It is tough to talk about the things that make us uncomfortable.

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  7. I do agree with Calvin that devils are actualities. 1.15 states "If we are minded to affirm Christ's Kingdom as we ought, we must wage irreconcilable war with him who is plotting its ruin." (pg 174). So, I think what Calvin is saying is that devils are more than just mere thoughts that we have to do evil. And while we can't blame our evil ways on the devil, once we choose to disobey God , he is there to "..entangle men's minds in errors, he stirs up hatred, he kindles contentions and combats, everything to the end that he may overturn God's Kingdom and plunge men with himself into eternal death." (pg 174).

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