Here’s the first, great truth about demons. They lie.
They lie to us and they lie about us; they lie about God and about themselves. And this leads us to the second great truth about demons: All that they do, they do out of envy.
The demons envy humanity because while we are both creatures. Originally, the demons were angels, created to be God’s messengers to us; we were created in His image and called to acquire His likeness. While we are both called to serve God, in Christ God serves us—He suffers and dies for our salvation—and so, in Christ, the angels also serve us.
All this inspires the demons to a fierce and vicious envy.
There is for the fathers such a thing as a virtuous envy if I can use the phrase. I see some good thing in you, wealth or beauty or moral virtue. Desiring that good thing, I turn my hand to honest labor to acquire for myself what I see in you. Seen in this sense, as virtuous, envy is the source of healthy competition in work, school, sports and the spiritual life.
Things are otherwise, however, for the demons. For them envy isn’t virtuous but vicious.
They see in us the good things that God has bestowed upon us by His grace and in His great love and they desire not to possess them for themselves but to destroy them in us.
This is third great truth about demons. They are vicious not only toward us but toward themselves. They hate us because they hate themselves. They see their angelic call not as a great gift but a curse; not as freedom but enslavement.
Demonic and vicious envy acknowledges the good in others only insofar as it must to despoil and destroy. Put another way, where they can, demons will destroy and where they can’t destroy, they will degrade. And when they can’t degrade, they will trivialize. There is to the demonic a perverse humility; they will settle for a small coldness between us when they can’t inspire a great hatred; they will settle for spitting in the soup when they can’t cause a famine.
This is the great irony and tragedy of the demonic life. No matter how hard the demons try, they can never quite free themselves from acknowledging—however unwillingly—that goodness of God’s gifts to His creatures and so the goodness of God Himself. Try as they may, the demons can’t triumph over the goodness of God or undo the beauty of His works.
And this brings us to another truth about demons, or rather about Hell.
Hell is nothing more or less than believing the lies of the devil and participating in a life of demonic and vicious envy. And Hell is not reserved for the life to come. It is something that I can and do experience here and now when I give myself over to lies, or envy or self-hatred.
But these are not the only truths about demons. Or rather, there is a finally, greater truth about Jesus Christ that the demons, despite themselves, can’t every really deny.
Jesus Christ has come to liberate us from the tyranny of demons.
As we hear in the Gospel, Jesus vanquishes the power of the devil and he frees man from the demon’s grip. This is good news, but it is good news with a sober implication for my life. Apart from Christ my life is ruled by demonic lies, vicious envy and self-hatred.
Looking around we can see the presence and the consequences of the demons. They have marred human work, marriage and family life, and culture.
But bad as all these are, worse still is when demonic envy with its lies and self-hatred invades the Church.
What makes this so unspeakably horrible is that it is in the Church where we should expect not so much the absence of the lies, the envy, and the self-hatred in people’s lives. Rather what we should see are people who actively and forcibly struggling to overcome the demonic powers. When a demonic ethos hold fast among Christians—whether in a community or the human heart—angels weep and men and women of good will are driven to despair.
Looking at myself I realize that I am rather more willing than I wish to acknowledge to do the work of demons for them. Worse, I am a bit too unwilling to do the work of Christ. That this makes me no different from the rest of the human race is not an excuse; much less is it a consolation.
What it is, or should be, in a spur to deeper ascetical struggle and a reminder of that I must have compassion on my neighbor since I am no better. And it reminds me that I must forgive him the harm he does me in remembrance of the harm I have done him.
And this leads to the last great truth about demons.
We defeat these powerless and pathetic creatures not through anger, much less force of arms, but by compassion and forgiveness. Of all the things the demons hate, after themselves they hate mercy the most. To love mercy, to practice compassion and to offer forgiveness, is to forswear the lies, the envy and hatred of demons. If only they would accept it, divine mercy has the power to make demons once again angels, even as it has made sinners the sons and daughters of God.