Twenty-six years ago, I was standing in line for Alien Encounter with my eight-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and nine-year-old son, Jon. Elizabeth was lecturing Jon on courage. Jon had been asking me, “Daddy, will I be OK?” He wanted my judgment. Elizabeth didn’t think she needed it.

Alien Encounter was an animatronic “ride” at Disney World. They would strap you into a seat and feed you a story. The president of XS Industries explained that he would now beam himself into the room from the other side of the Galaxy and materialize in the transportation module in the front of everyone. A startled technician suddenly yelled, “I’ve locked onto another planet in our transmission path… Oh no, It’s an alien! It’s carnivorous!” A dragon-like creature appeared to materialize in the glass tube in front of us.

In that moment , I look at Jon. He looks at me. I smile. He’s OK. He knows it’s a lie.
I look at Elizabeth. She won’t look at me. She’s looking at the thing in the tube.

Suddenly there’s a supposed power outage. “Get the alien back in the tube before it eats somebody!” yells the technician. Then we each feel a puff of warm moist air on our neck. Some warm fluid drips on our faces. We hear the sound of something feeding on something. And Elizabeth screams, “We have to get out of here… NOW!”

I looked at Elizabeth and started screaming, “Elizabeth! Look at me! It’s not real! It’s not real!” But she wouldn’t look at me. She was trapped in a lie. The puff of air was real. The warm water was real. The plastic shaped like a beast in a tube was real. But the lie was not real. And yet, lies can kill, and people who believe lies often do kill. Nightmares are not real, but they are very real for the one who is dreaming the nightmare and so is trapped in their own lies.

1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh.” The flesh always desires to exalt itself. Maybe this whole world is like Alien Encounter, except that we’re the aliens, for this world — or at least the world we perceive — is not our home. And we need the Word of our Father to wake us from the illusion that it is.

1 Peter 5:5, “Be clothed with humility toward one another. Be humbled… having cast all your cares on him for he cares for you. Wake up. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in the faith.”

Along with my wife, over the last 30 years, I’ve prayed with many people struggling with demons and witnessed our Lord’s victory over evil. In at least four of these people, something other than that person has often taken over their body, spoken to me, and I to it, while that person later had no recollection of what had happened. In two of those people, over the course of many years, the thing that spoke, claimed to be Satan (the devil), and Jesus confirmed that this was so.

People have often said, “Don’t share those stories. They shrink the church. People think you’re mentally ill. And they freak us out.” Yep. I totally get that. But Peter just wrote “Wake up! Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion. Resist him.” It’s hard to resist him firm in your faith if you don’t believe he exists. And he does. But maybe, in a weird way, he — the Evil One — also doesn’t?

Evil is a problem, philosophically and existentially. How could the Truth make a lie? How could the Good make evil? How could the Light make dark? How could the sun make a shadow? Well, it can’t. And yet, perhaps, the sun could make the earth, then shine on the earth, and cast a shadow called “night.” Perhaps the moon, which is normally a “faithful witness” to the sun, could occasionally eclipse the sun and thereby cast a shadow. Perhaps God could make man, and man — Adam — would cast a shadow… at least until Adam and all things were filled with light, and there would be no more shadow. When Jesus bore our sins on the tree, the sky grew black. And yet, it revealed the glory of the Light. Light is eternal. The Shadow is not.

It’s a problem philosophically and existentially. We’d all like to deny evil. And yet, we’re constantly confronted by evil. Paul implores us to “abhor what is evil.” We must not hate Republicans, Democrats, crooks, and thugs, but we must hate evil. In one of his novels, C.S. Lewis talks of a strange joy that came from at last finding out “what hatred was made for.”

God is “the Good.” God is “I Am.” Jesus is the Word of “I Am.” The devil is the “evil one.” Perhaps the devil is “I Am Not.” And perhaps the process of creating Adam (humanity) in the image and likeness of God might involve an encounter with a shadow in space and time?

Whatever the case, a demon appears to be a created spiritual being that has fallen prey to evil, and, if so, must be redeemed. In my experience, the devil is different. If he is a created being, I will rejoice in his redemption. If he is nothing but shadow, I can hate the dark by shining the Light.

My encounters with the evil one have been utterly horrifying, for it’s obvious that he wants to devour us the way a lion wants to devour its prey; he wants to make us himself. And yet those encounters have also filled me with hope, for it’s obvious that Jesus wants to make us Himself the way a bridegroom wants to make his bride his own body — He wants us to freely surrender to Him in the light of His sacrificial and unending love.

My encounters with the evil one have helped me to love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. And love my neighbor as myself, for we do not know all that our neighbor is battling, and all of us “know not what [we] do.” And my encounters with the evil one have helped me to have hope, for they have revealed my Helper — the One who has utterly conquered the evil one with the glory of His nature; He is the Light of Love. He not only endures all that we suffer, but He transforms all evil into Good, just as the darkness of Good Friday is transformed by the Light of Easter.

The devil once manifested in the most horrifying form to my wife and the friend for whom we were praying. But as we cast all her cares onto our Lord, the evil one gradually shrank down to a little chattering man standing on the coffee table. At that point, Jesus walked into the room, picked him up, put him in the pocket of his robe, turned, smiled at us, and said, “With fear, you put flesh on the evil one.”

The lie of the evil one is that you must create yourself, justify yourself, and so save yourself; it is that you are your own caretaker. The Truth is Jesus. His name means “God is salvation.” He is our caretaker, our Helper, our Husband. And when we see that although we took His life on the tree, He has always freely given His life on that tree, we will freely surrender to Love and freely choose to love as we have been loved. Death and Hades will be no more. And we will be home; we will be “finished” in “the image and likeness of God.”

Jesus once said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Like Peter, I’ve learned that we all listen to the lies of the evil one far more than we know. And Peter once walked on the raging sea as long as he looked at Jesus and until he looked on the wind and the waves. But even when he had sunk into the Abyss, Jesus came and pulled him out.

Jon looked at me that day 26 years ago and actually enjoyed the ride.
Elizabeth didn’t look at me and endured a bit of hell.
But for me, what happened next is an eternal treasure.

We walked out into the sun, sat down on a bench, and my eight-year-old “don’t need a daddy” daughter sat on my lap, wept into my neck for 15 minutes, and hugged me tighter than she ever had before. I can’t fully explain the problem of evil, but my best guess is that it has something to do with that hug.

A year later, she wrote me a poem: “Dads that are always there for you… Dads that will be there to go on the big rides… Dads if they were not there, the world would be blank. – Dads.”

You have the very best Dad.

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