The Spiritual Forces of Darkness
For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).
Even though we live in an “enlightened,” scientific age, there remains great interest in all sorts of forms of spiritual power. Popular movies and television shows feature witchcraft, zombies, and demon possession. Many times these forces work for evil; occasionally, some are represented as working for good. Yet most of these are just movies; not many people take these forces of darkness very seriously. Most imagine that such things are like vampires, werewolves, and other myths from a pre-scientific, superstitious age. People dress up as witches, zombies, and the like for Halloween; few imagine there is any actual reality behind it. It all just seems like harmless fun.
Yet the Bible takes a more serious view toward spiritual forces of darkness. According to the Scriptures, there is a spiritual realm and dimension of reality: we may not be able to see it, but it is still there (cf. 2 Kings 6:15-17, Acts 17:26-29). The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the angels of God all represent spiritual forces for good, seeking the best interest of the creation and humanity (cf. Romans 8:18-39). Yet, as we can see in Ephesians 6:12, the Scriptures also speak of the “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”: there are spiritual forces of evil as well!
We do not know much about the origin of these evil forces. It is generally assumed that they are angels or other spiritual beings who make the freewill decision to rebel against God and His good purposes. The most well-known such spiritual entity is Satan, the adversary, tempter, and accuser of mankind. He successively tempted Eve to rebel against God in the Garden and unsuccessfully tempted Jesus in the desert (Genesis 3:1-5, Matthew 4:1-10, Revelation 12:9). He brought accusations against the character of Job (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-6). He is described as the father of lies, a murderer from the beginning, having nothing to do with truth (John 8:44). Satan is generally considered as the “prince of the power of the air,” tempting and empowering those who do evil, both in terms of individuals and in terms of political and even religious entities (Ephesians 2:2, Revelation 13:3, 12).
The Bible also speaks of demons as spiritual beings who are under the authority of Satan (Matthew 12:24-28). In the first century these demons were said to have possessed individuals, and Jesus cast them out (e.g. Matthew 12:22-23). We do not know for certain whether demons can still possess people or not, but we do know they exist, shuddering at the acknowledgement of God’s unity and inspiring false teachings that seduce many (1 Timothy 4:1, James 2:19).
Throughout both the Old and New Testament God warns against participating in the black arts associated with these spiritual forces: magic, divination, mediums, and necromancy, all subsumed under the idea of sorcery (Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Galatians 5:19-21). This warning is not provided because they are all delusion and deception: the Bible tells us that idols really have no existence (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6), but makes no such declaration about spiritual forces empowering the dark arts. To the contrary: the Egyptian magicians performed acts using divination (Exodus 7:11, 22, 8:7), and the medium of En-dor conjured up the spirit of Samuel (1 Samuel 28:5-20). There is spiritual power in these forces; that is precisely why God warns against them and even commands death for those who practice them!
There are spiritual forces of evil around as assuredly as there are spiritual forces for good. Just because something is “spiritual” or seems “spiritually directed” does not make it right: Satan can deceive and appear as an angel of light (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14). There are spiritual forces of darkness arrayed against believers, and we must resist them, firm in our faith in Jesus (Ephesians 6:10-18). Let us take these dangers seriously and remain on guard!
Ethan R. Longhenry