I watched the 1997 movie, The Devil’s Advocate, on Saturday night. In this movie, Keanu Reeves plays a hot-shot lawyer, Kevin Lomax, who moves from Florida with his wife to work at a New York City law firm. The head of the firm is John Milton, played by Al Pacino, and Milton turns out to be Satan, and also Kevin’s father. What’s more, the law firm is connected with all sorts of iniquity in the world: arms deals, drugs, and the list goes on and on.
I first watched the movie several years ago. I was an undergraduate in college at the time, and what surprised me was that Satan and the demonic figures appeared to have no fear of the Christian religion. Kevin’s mother was religious, and she was reading the Bible aloud to Kevin’s wife, who was in a mental hospital. One of the ladies from the firm was also there, and this lady was simply standing there and calmly listening to Kevin’s mother reading from the Bible. This lady didn’t look bothered or disturbed at all. This lady turned out to be a demon, yet, there she was, unafraid to listen to the words of the Bible!
There were other things in the film that were similar to that. Kevin’s mother was telling Kevin about the time that she met John Milton when she was younger. She was attending a Christian crusade, and she was impressed because Milton knew the Bible backwards and forwards. Near the end of the movie, when Kevin tells Satan that the Bible says that Satan will lose in the end, Satan responds that Kevin has to remember who wrote the book!
Should I have been surprised by these scenes? Probably not. I listened to a preacher when I was younger, and this preacher said that Satan probably knows the Bible backwards and forwards, and that Satan would most likely enjoy discussing religion with people. And, in the biblical stories of Jesus’ temptation in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Satan did quote Scripture to Jesus.
But there was a part of me that did regard the Bible as a sort of talisman against evil, or that viewed the reading of the Bible as a place to find peace and refuge. Were not the demons in the synoptic Gospel stories afraid of Jesus? And yet, they were not always afraid of Jesus’ name. When some would-be exorcists in Acts 19 sought to cast out a demon from a person in the name of Jesus, the demon replied, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” (NRSV)? The demon-possessed man then attacked these men, and they fled from the house, naked and wounded.
There is another story, though. In Matthew 12 and Luke 11, Jesus tells a parable about a man who had been released from a demon. The expelled demon gathers some other demons to possess the man, and they find his “house” (perhaps a symbol of his inner being) empty, swept, and put in order. They then possess the man, and he is now worse off than he was before. In a Bible study group that I attended in college, and also in some commentaries that I read, I encountered the interpretation that the man got repossessed because he did not replace the demons with good things. We should not just get rid of the evil within us, the spiel ran, but we should also fill our minds with good things, like Bible study, prayer, and church. That will protect us.
I don’t want to make this post about exorcism or demon possession. I don’t really know why demons bother some people and not others. I remember talking with some Christians about the movie The Exorcist, and I wondered why the demon possessed that little girl, since she was a person of faith and had a cross (there I go again, believing in talismans!). A Christian reminded me of the scene in which the girl and her mother were using a ouija board, and the Christian was saying that the girl opened herself up to demons by so doing. I don’t dismiss that. But there are plenty of people in the world—-non-Christians, occultists—-who do not get possessed. I still stay away from ouija boards, though!
I will say this, and here I am not talking so much about possession, as I am about resisting the devil and his schemes. The devil is not afraid of the words of the Bible. But the devil cannot do much in persuading a person who is committed to doing the words of the Bible. That brings me back to Jesus’ parable about the unswept house: the words of the Bible may not scare Satan, but can Satan really do much to convince someone who internalizes those words and allows them to strengthen her?
Even in the Devil’s Advocate, Satan said that he cannot make people do something. Rather, what people do is their choice. It is our poor character that often makes us susceptible to Satan’s temptations.