Today’s piece is shaped by a recent Washington Post article offering a psychiatrist’s perspective as one who, on occasion, has needed to differentiate between mental illness and supernatural phenomena, such as demonic possession and its milder form oppression to the point of church exorcism.
As Christian writers, we can consider this subject broadly in two ways. First, how we treat evil in our works. Second, how we might distinguish mental illness and matters more exclusively of a spiritual nature. After all, imagination matters, especially when how we craft images can affect our audience’s views on significant matters.
The inspiring post:
Personally, I care about this in part because I wish contemporary Lutherans were better equipped toward those experiencing spiritual terror. It is a real spiritual condition, addressed at length in that grand opus of books, The Book of Concord. People experiencing spiritual terror are in need of the Gospel even more than they need us to sympathize or understand. They are in need with a real, significant need that is much more than an adjustment in our perspective.
In addition to spiritual terror, which is not necessarily related to demonic activity, there is evil at work in this world under countless garbs. How we understand that affects how we interact and respond to people, as well as how we write about things in such a way as to depict truth.
Back to exorcism. Lutheran author is not a genre. Some of you write in the genres of horror or suspense. It’s not my field, although I did think it neat that I grew up hearing stories about the Lutheran family with possessed bunkbeds or something out in Horicon, WI.
There are Lutheran exorcisms—I even managed to get my hands on a copy of the Lutheran exorcism rite used in Horicon. There is an ancient exorcism included in Luther’s Rite of Baptism. Additional exorcisms are admittedly in a state of pastoral discretion and general—if hushed—discussion.
I do not mean to suggest all Lutherans hold the same understanding of need, rite, practice, or anything else. Still, unexplainable things are gaining publicity in both secular and religious circles.
Skeptics of modern possession might start by reading something like this:
(An interesting book I read years ago, however I fail to see how a person could trust another mere mortal’s opinion of the situation, especially one shaped apart from theology/God’s revelation. I have the odd experience of knowing a woman forced into exorcism, without warning, betrayed by those she trusted, when she in no way needed it. Human perception can be a crazy thing.)
Lutherans may be interested to know about several recent Lutheran books addressing the topic for your research or reflection:
Then there are theses. Numerous theses. And let’s not forget what Bugenhagen, Luther, and Chemnitz said on Demonic Possession and Exorcism!
Once Luther remarked, “You proud devil, you would gladly see me set up a ceremony with you, but you will not experience that. I won’t do it. Do what you want, I will not give up.” 🙂 He advocated exorcisms consisting of the simple things of the Church: creed, prayer (especially the Lord’s Prayer), and Scripture.
Anyway, exorcism is an interesting topic which, at heart, should be about those in need of Jesus, whether they suffer directly or indirectly in . “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Lastly, may those otherwise afflicted also receive God’s mercy through His servants and His gifts.