I will never forget the first major crime story I covered. The images never go away, and maybe they aren’t supposed to. They snap me back to realities about my world.
A Seattle-area man had murdered his wife and kids, then traveled south to Tacoma, where he gunned down his in-laws. Then he killed himself. Well, maybe I have the sequence backward; I don’t recall the precise details of this crime, which took place in the mid-1980s. And it doesn’t really matter.
With seven people dead, The Seattle Times threw a bunch of reporters on the story. I was one of them.
I drove to the middle-class neighborhood where the man had lived with his wife and children. He had some mental issues, people said. But in the gaps amidst the darkness he managed to live a somewhat normal life.
I found the single-story home where the family had lived and stepped gingerly into the backyard. I peered into a window: the master bedroom. Disheveled bedding, streaks of blood extending from the headboard nearly to the ceiling.
I thought of the wife waking up only to choke on her last breath.
Then I walked farther, onto the back patio. Here the children had positioned two giant teddy bears, the kind you win at the carnival, in facing lawn chairs. One of the teddies was a fuzzy iridescent blue, the other pink. On a table was a toy tea service.
A teddy bear tea. I kind of lost it right there.
Those details never made it into the page-one story. But they stuck with me all these years.
Yeah, the guy had mental problems. So do a lot of people, but they never turn a deadly weapon on their fellow man, much less their own flesh and blood.
So why did he do it? And, while we’re at it, why did a young English student stalk and systematically slaughter his peers at Virginia Tech?
Now don’t scratch out too many hunks of hair thinking about it. The answer is simple: evil. Pure evil.
I’m not the first person to say it this week, and I don’t have any profoundly new thoughts to offer on the subject. But I also know that my worldview differs from that of many of my colleagues, who are wary of pushing beyond the usual physiological, psychological and sociological rationalizations for evil acts.
I have no difficulty accepting that supernatural forces of evil exist and influence men’s affairs -- which is what the historic Christian faith teaches me. A few years as a cops reporter served only to rudely reinforce my beliefs.
I noticed, for example, that violent crime seemed to victimize multiple generations in certain families. I couldn't count how many times I spoke with members of otherwise normal families who'd talk about a brother, a cousin, a sister, an uncle who'd been murdered in unrelated, seemingly random acts.
I spoke with several people, including a highly intelligent, college-educated friend of mine, who had remarkably similar stories about how crack cocaine would talk to them before they got high. Yes, talk to them -- softly, seductively, urging them to seek another hit. They were convinced that an evil spirit was attached to the drug. I've also seen individuals instantly freed from substance addictions when a minister prayed and rebuked evil spirits associated with that condition.
I have another close friend who can occasionally smell evil spirits; I know others who've seen them. These aren't crazy folks, and they don't make a big deal about their experiences, because they know how people can get sidetracked, imagining there's an evil spirit for every problem and a demon under every bed. These are intelligent, stable, hard-working folks I've known for years who aren't caught up in psychic hocus-pocus. (By the way, my friend says the spirits really stink.)
You won't hear this in church very often, but Jesus spent a significant chunk of his earthly ministry casting out evil spirits, or demons. His encounters with demons are a frequent occurrence in the gospels, and while he didn't engage in any Pentecostal histrionics with them -- he just cast them out -- his statements give us a few clues about this invisible realm of evil, which was accepted as a fact of life in his culture.
Frequently Jesus spoke of a cosmic conflict between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, and the letters of Paul and John develop this theme further. It was far from a clash of equal forces, though; Jesus was wholly triumphant over the forces of evil, and a believer can exercise spiritual authority over them as well.
According to the Scriptures, demonic spirits have their origin in Satan and his angels, who were thrown out of heaven for rebelling against God. They've already been condemned to hell, and since their time is short on this earth, they want to take down as many men, women and children with them as they can, eliminating their hope of redemption through Jesus Christ. They are bent on evil against man, the jewel of God's creation.
Jesus attributed some of the physical and mental ailments he encountered to evil or "unclean" spirits, but in the gospel of John he cautioned his disciples against concluding that all such conditions were the result of an individual's sin.
Do I believe that all addictions -- or mental illnesses, for that matter -- are caused by evil spirits? Of course not. They're just part of life in a world corrupted by Adam's sin, a world that's veered far from God's purposes. While on many occasions Jesus healed people of physical conditions by pronouncing their sins forgiven, the gospel of Luke mentions three distinct categories of people Jesus "cured": those with "diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits." Luke, by the way, was a physician himself.
Do these evil spirits force us to sin? According to the Scriptures, no. Instead, "…each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." In other words, the Devil didn't make do it. But through repeated, intentional sin, I can swing a door wide open and invite evil forces to come in and work further destruction in my life. I can give myself over to evil.
So, to summarize the biblical view, there is evil inside of us, as a consequence of original sin, and there is evil outside of us, in the form of demonic spirits. When these two forces join hands, it seems, the devastation multiplies.
Christians who are familiar with these forces -- that would be virtually all believers in the majority world, of Africa, the Orient and Central and South America -- speak of various levels of demonic influence, with possession being the worst. Severe demonic oppression can result in a person committing evil acts and not even remembering them afterward, something you hear of often among the worst serial criminal offenders.
I'm acquainted with some well-educated Africans in Christian ministry who've had many encounters with the evil realm. One man, a pastor from Botswana, prayed for a woman who'd been heavily involved in the occult. As he prayed to break curses through the power of the Holy Spirit, needles began working their way through the skin of the woman's arms. (Why needles? I haven't the slightest idea.)
I have observed demons being cast out on a few occasions, as well as other spiritual phenomena that I can't identify as easily. (I'll stick with the handful of instances in which I'm confident what I saw wasn't conjured up by an emotionally disturbed or exhibitionistic individual, because I've seen that too.) What I witnessed doesn't fit any natural explanation I could come up with.
(Oh, go ahead and reach for your own. But try to wrestle down your prejudices of Third-World people before you do.)
In a Pentecostal church in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, I saw a boy of about 10 drop to the floor during a service and begin speaking in a deep, guttural grown man's voice--yep, not unlike the "demon" voices you hear in horror movies. He spoke in fluent, complex English, employing biblical imagery and terminology, among people who were much more comfortable in their native dialect (generally Igbo).
At the same service I saw an adult woman fall to the floor and begin rolling around with such force -- no, she wasn't having a seizure, she was rolling -- that she scattered a bunch of plastic chairs in every direction.
In one instance in a Western country where I saw a demon cast out, a young woman writhed, arched and twisted with such strength that several men were needed to restrain her. She, too, spoke in a deep, growling man's voice, though I couldn't understand anything that was said.
I know it's challenging to one's worldview to consider that there might be a spiritual realm beyond the limits of time, matter and our ability to comprehend.
But to me, that's a smaller leap of faith than to say a young man killed without mercy because he didn't like rich kids. --Julie Lyons