The Bible makes it clear that demons exist (see Deuteronomy 32:17; 1 Timothy 4:1; James 2:19), and even today we live in a society in which many people believe in angels. They know there are spiritual forces out there, and it’s not too hard to conclude that some might be malevolent. Where you see God working, sometimes those forces are more active, and that’s what was probably going on in Jesus’ time.
On this topic psychologist Gary Collins says, “My friends in clinical work have said that sometimes they have seen this, and these are not people who are inclined to see a demon behind every problem. They tend to be skeptical. The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote a bit about this kind of thing in his book People of the Lie.
“People who deny the existence of the supernatural will find some way, no matter how far-fetched, to explain a situation apart from the demonic,” says Collins. “They’ll keep giving medication, keep drugging the person, but he or she doesn’t get better. There are cases that don’t respond to normal medical or psychiatric treatment.”
Some skeptics prefer to dismiss the supernatural and explain away Jesus’ exorcisms as psychosomatic healings. To that Collins says, “Yes, that’s possible in some cases, but again you have to look at the whole context. What about the man who was possessed and Jesus sent the demons into the pigs and the pigs ran off the cliff? What’s going on if that was a psychosomatic situation? I think Jesus really did drive out demons, and I think some people do that today.
“At the same time, we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to a demonic conclusion when faced with a recalcitrant problem. As C. S. Lewis put it, there are two equal and opposite errors we can fall into concerning demons: ‘One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased with both errors.’”
Our society today is caught up in “spirituality.” That’s a term that can mean almost anything, but it does recognize the supernatural. Twenty-five years ago the suggestion of demonic activity would have been immediately dismissed, but today many psychologists are beginning to recognize that maybe there are more things in heaven and on earth than our philosophies can account for.
—Adapted from interview with Dr. Gary Collins
Taken from “Can Jesus’ Exorcisms Be Explained by Psychology?” from the NIV Case for Christ Study Bible from Zondervan (used by permission).