“No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Wait, I thought Paul’s conclusion was that eating the meat that came from a sacrifice at one of the local pagan temples was not morally problematic? Now it’s demonic? What??
We actually get more clarity on Paul’s final position a couple of verses from now and there is no contradiction. I’ll deal with that in a subsequent post. What is worth reflecting on here is not Paul’s main point, but some of the broader implications for what he has said. Most notably, that the pagan sacrifices were demonic.
Demons have long had a place in human cultures. Every human culture and religion has given some kind of a place to them in their thought. Today various supernatural genre media offerings, regardless of platform, make at least some kind of mention of them. While there is a fair bit of variety in how they are figured, some of the consistent themes are that they are evil and opposed to what is good, they are the enemies of humanity, and they have some amount of power.
Today, in our modern, scientific culture, we really don’t know what to make of them. People still believe in them, but in polite company we may pretend we don’t. Because we are so unclear how exactly we should think about them, most folks fall into one of two categories. Either they ignore them completely and behave as if they don’t exist, or they obsess over them and see them and their power behind every single thing that goes wrong in life. Both categories are mistaken. We need to give the devil and his ilk their due, yes, but not a cent more.
The real question for followers of Jesus is what the Scriptures have to say about demons or evil spirits. The fact is, they are our only reliable source for any information about them. When it comes to this category of thought, if the Scriptures don’t say, neither can we.
So, what can we say? Well, more than I’m going to try and get into here. Whole books have been written on this topic. That being said, here are three thoughts that might help form a foundation for thinking about this issue: First, demons do exist. Paul wasn’t just blowing smoke here. Demons are a real thing. What’s more, given that there are no gods but our God, when people are worshiping one false deity or another, they are really worshiping a demon. They are ultimately playing around with demonic power and that’s nothing to mess with.
The second thing we can say from the Scriptures is that demons are spiritual beings who are opposed to God and His people. Jesus encounters demons several times during His ministry and every single one of these experiences is combative. Whatever it is that God desires for His creation, demons work for the opposite.
The third thing here is that demons do have some measure of power. What exactly are the limits of those powers we cannot be certain based on the Scriptures. We know that they can cause physical maladies of various sorts and seem to possibly be able to augment (or at least maximize) normal human strength, but we see no evidence at all of demonic possession granting any kind of other-worldly abilities as pop culture often portrays. What we can know for sure is that their powers are limited by God. They do not have more power than Him. They do not pose even a meaningful threat to Him. Consistently, whenever Jesus encounters a demon in the Gospels, the thing is terrified. It knows who He is immediately and knows further that He is the master.
In popular culture the battle between demonic forces and heavenly forces (a battle often framed with a noticeable and curious absence of God) is usually portrayed as close. This makes for entertaining storytelling, but it is not even remotely descriptive of reality. Demons are subordinate to God and when His power is present in us, they pose no threat to us either.
Ultimately, we can say that while we should have a clear understanding of the demonic realm based on the Scriptures, and should avoid any kind of activity that would involve interacting with it (anything related to the occult, for instance, or knowingly participating in idol worship like Paul was cautioning against here), this should not grow to the point of fascination or fear. When we are in Christ, no power of this world can overcome us. We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. In short, be aware that it is there, and rest confidently in the fact that in Christ it cannot harm us in any lasting, meaningful way.