William wasn’t exactly a slouch. He had earned two PhDs, one from Harvard. He arranged to speak with me via Skype in what we call a Personal Spiritual Encounter session. At the time of our meeting he was in France doing research for a major corporation. Not exactly the kind of person you’d expect to be suffering from an early midlife crisis. But he was, and his condition was desperate.
In fact, William was depressed to the point of considering suicide. With his career in full swing, he was contemplating an early exit from life. Oh, and William professed to be an evangelical Christian, one of those rare intellectuals who claim to be “born again.” He had a loving and supportive wife and grown children who were successful in their own right. What could possibly have driven him to the point of such despair?
The standard psychological, therapeutic model likely would have included medication to deal with his sense of hopelessness. Nothing’s necessarily wrong with that. Cognitive behavioral therapy might have suggested that William take a more rational approach to the facts of his evident success and focus on the good he’d accomplished. That too could have helped. But already William had tried everything, and still he was no better. At that point, who’re you gonna call? An exorcist?
In this case, yes. In William’s words, “I figured that someone who knows as much as you do about demons, who deals with the extreme edges of evil, might have insights that standard psychological intervention and typical pastoral counseling would not consider.”
But I didn’t do what William expected; I didn’t whip out my cross and holy anointing oil. I first talked about his life as any good counselor would. But my focus was more specific. I wanted to know the dynamics of the family in which he was raised. I reasoned that if the devil had anything to do with William’s melancholy it must be rooted somewhere in the messages he got while growing up. That’s not Freudian; that’s plain wisdom.
It didn’t take much conversation for me to discover that William’s mother was a key factor. She had inherited a lucrative family business and her husband, William’s biological father, went along for the ride. Mom made all the important decisions and controlled the money.
William described his mother in bitter tones. She was controlling, manipulative, and domineering. He could never please her. No achievement was good enough. No accolade led to an “atta-boy.” Mom was cold, emotionally sterile, and commanding to the point of mapping out William’s entire career path. Here he was in his late 40s, doing exactly what mother wanted—and hating every moment.
After about 30 minutes’ interaction we hit upon a defining moment in William’s life. When he was eight and had shown some interest in music and the arts, he had skipped across the room singing a tune he’d learned on TV. His mother sternly stopped him. “Don’t you have more important things to do?” she scolded. “Enough of that foolishness. There’s no future in filling your head with tunes. Get back to your room and study. You’re going to be a great businessman someday, just like your grandfather.”
William never hummed a song again, at least not when Mom was around. But his musical moratorium couldn’t quiet the raging sense of anger inside. He grew to hate his mother—and he grew to hate his mother’s God. That’s the other factor.
Mom was religious to a fault. Everything was done in good order and with pious rectitude. William’s baptism was a society footnote. His confirmation was attended by all the extended family. She did frown on the zeal he expressed when, as a teen, he started hanging out with more charismatic types of Christians. But as long as he was religious, she was happy. For William, however, even though he prayed to receive Christ as his personal Savior at a small Pentecostal church he’d visited, God was never as close as he desired. And there was no way of finding the Lord’s will for his life. Everything in his future had been carefully laid out in the matrix provided by Mother.
As William spilled out to me all these heart-wrenching details of his early life I could see him getting more and more agitated. He began swearing. His anger escalated. Profane, vile words spewed forth. According to William, he’d never had this conversation with anyone. It had never been safe for him to tell another person how much he despised his mother.
Gradually, William’s personal emotional venting morphed into a more demonic sort of vileness. On my computer screen, I could see the behavioral changes that alerted me to a more demonic element in his words and expressions.
Moments later I was confronting an evil spirit of Hate. The demon claimed a right to William; the spiritual opening had come from his severe anger toward his mother. The demon laughed heartily, so proud of how he had used Mom to warp the normal love of a child for his mother and turn it into something diabolical.
I walked William through several stages of healing ministry: emotional ownership of his bitterness, forgiveness toward his mother, the breaking of curses of generational control, and then the expulsion of the demons which had so cleverly turned a biological heritage of potential greatness into self-loathing and self-destruction.
There is much more to William’s story. My purpose in the telling about him is to introduce you to the concept that dealing with demons involves more than formalistic prayers or shouting vociferously at supposed evil entities.
Confronting demonic forces should involve a willingness to more deeply understand human behavior and uncover the clever ways that the devil wends his way into our lives. I call this process “cracking Satan’s code.” It’s much like the way a cryptologist pores over minute details to decipher the underlying message that is hidden to most observers. In the process there is an ultimate question to be answered: Are the problems of the individual in question the result of life in a fallen world, or is the devil at work in devious and seemingly undetectable ways?