In the Gospel for this seventh Sunday of Easter, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) In this week’s Gospel for the Ascension of the Lord, Jesus outlines the signs that would accompany those who believe, and among those signs, Jesus said, “In My name they will drive out demons.” (Mark 16:17)
Both of these statements of Jesus not only acknowledge the existence of evil in our world, they also make it clear that God is obviously aware of this evil presence and, being aware of it, He apparently also permits it. Consequently, Jesus is not only asking for protection for His disciples, He is also asking that they be given power over this evil.
You have to wonder why? If sin and evil is so abhorrent to God, and if God is aware of the existence of this evil in our world, why does God allow this evil to continue to exist, and why would God give this evil permission to attack anyone?
But before we begin to question the ways of God, we first must remind ourselves of what God said to us through the prophet Isaiah. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are My ways above your ways and My thoughts above your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
I recently spoke with a woman who had just been freed from a very abusive relationship. She told me about all of the physical, mental and verbal abuse she had endured. When she had finished I said, “You have to explain something to me, because I don’t understand. You are an intelligent and well educated woman. Why would you, or any woman for that matter, allow anyone to treat you that way. You know it’s wrong. You knew you were being abused. Why would you stay? Why would you permit that treatment to continue as long as you did?”
She said, “Because an abusive relationship doesn’t start out that way. Evil is very seductive. You’re told exactly what you want to hear. You’re treated exactly how you want to be treated. The controlling behavior begins very gradually. The verbal and physical abuse follows and gradually increases in intensity. I stayed partly out of love and partly out of fear. But now that I am free and able to look back on my experience, I realize just how seductive evil is. It learns your weaknesses till it knows exactly which buttons to push.”
I said, “Many women in this world are suffering from abuse. If you could speak to every one of them, what would you say?”
She said, “To anyone who is in an abusive relationship, I would say please get help and get out. I know it’s hard. I’ve been there. I’ve been controlled, hit, screamed at and worse. But there is life on the other side. You are awesome just the way you are. You are not someone’s puppet. Please get help and get out.”
Evil comes in many forms. But it always attacks the individual. God may permit evil to exist. He may even permit this evil to attack us at times, but He permits this so that we might turn to Him in prayer, and renew our trust and confidence in Him and be reminded of the love and concern He has for us.
St. John Vianney, for example, was persecuted by demons. He was attacked, sometimes physically and, at other times, emotionally and psychologically. He was verbally mocked, scorned, and abused. He was pulled from bed in the middle of the night and, on one occasion his bed was even set on fire. “The demon is very cunning,” he said, “but he is not strong; a sign of the cross soon puts him to flight.”
So, how does all this relate to those who are battling evil? Can they be freed, and if so, how?
Mark 9:29 tells us that when the apostles were unsuccessful in driving a demon out of a boy, they asked Jesus why and Jesus replied: “This kind can only be driven out by prayer and fasting.”
These, therefore, are our primary weapons when dealing with evil. Jesus said prayer first, because prayer is the first and most important weapon. Prayer unites us to God, and draws us closer to Him. We can do nothing without Him! Fasting is self-explanatory. We fast from food in a spirit of prayer and sacrifice.
Jesus said, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” So to anyone who is battling evil in any form, I encourage you to turn to God in prayer and remember, God loves you, for “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)