I recently read a book called The Angel of the Abyss by Hank Schwaeble. It’s the third in a series featuring a hard-boiled private contractor who has otherworldly powers. Specifically, he can dabble in the realm of demons and spirits, using a combination of his wits and rituals. The demons don’t like being summoned and/or manipulated but they are bound by the spells and incantations and can be forced against their will to do his bidding, though there are often disastrous consequences.
The idea of man exerting some control over the spirit realm is very tantalizing and has long held a place in entertainment. The most common manifestation of this fantasy is in witchcraft and sorcery, where one casts spells to summon the aid of unnamed spirits to carry out their wishes, such as turning the stuck-up pretty girl at school into a snorting pig. This power is particularly appealing to those who are ordinarily without the usual forms of power (physical strength, beauty, popularity, etc.). There are many levels of magic and wizardry but there is no question from where the power of witchcraft and sorcery originates.
Other stories, like The Angel of the Abyss, feature a different kind of infernal tampering. There are numerous stories about people possessing, often reluctantly, powers of communication with the demonic realm. The demonic crime-fighter John Constantine is a good example. Demons resent the human intrusion but are bound by the power of the rituals to appear/serve/obey/disappear/whatever.
What does the Bible say about this? It’s pretty clear that the only one who has power over demons is God Himself. Jesus had power to drive out demons and He imparted this power to His followers. Simply put, there is no power over demons without God’s direct influence. Rituals and incantations are stuff of fantasy. There are no Scriptural references to a demon being bound or controlled by words uttered from a mystic text or by circles drawn in the sand. There is certainly legitimacy to the world of witchcraft but that is a realm that is firmly controlled by demons, not one that can be used to control demons.
Of course, there is another unseen realm. Namely, ghosts. The Bible is clear that “it is destined for man to die once, and after that to face judgement” (Heb. 9:27 NIV). Job 7:9-10 says, “As the cloud disappears and vanishes away, so he who goes down to the grave does not come up. He shall never return to his house, Nor shall his place know him anymore.” Yet Saul was able to talk to the dead prophet Samuel with the aid of a medium in 1 Samuel 28. This goes against God’s command in Lev. 19:31, “Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God” (NASB).
Demons are very real. More importantly, Satan is very real. I recently watched a sermon by John Piper and he made a declaration that still rings in my ears. In his sermon, he was extolling the virtues of memorizing Scripture, and he said, “What are you hitting him (Satan) with? He is MILLIONS of times stronger than you. And he HATES you and your family and your marriage and the church and God.” So true. I can’t help but chuckle when I read stories where the intrepid hero outwits the devil or traps him or tricks him (the Sandman Slim books are prime examples). No mortal will ever outsmart Satan or his demons. No power apart from God can have any effect on them. This is all fine in the world of fiction, but it’s essential to not let this way of thinking creep into our reality, especially when our culture minimizes and even mocks the spirit world. The devil is not Al Pacino in a sharp suit; he is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.