A friend recently asked me a question of a theological nature concerning the film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. It seemed like I ought to see it before attempting an answer, so I did. Now I’m not going to offer a review of the movie here (though I’ll say it was fairly well done, despite a few flaws), but I’ll try to hazard a guess at what God was doing in her case, since this film is based on actual events.
The first attempt at an exorcism failed, and shortly thereafter Emily received a vision of Our Lady, giving her the choice to come immediately to heaven—or to remain in the grip of the devil and suffer more, for the sake of witnessing to the reality of the supernatural, of God and the devil, so that many would believe because of her. Out of love for God she chose to remain. This, I think, is that about which everyone has a question. Would God really ask someone to remain in a state of demonic possession, even for the good of other souls? Could that be for the good of souls? Would He stand by as his archenemy destroyed the body and mind of one of his beloved children? Aren’t there better ways of witnessing to the truth, more in keeping with God’s love and holiness?
If what are presented as the facts of the case really are facts, and if Emily’s testimony is true, then God did ask and permit just that. One thing to keep in mind (and I have to keep telling myself this in other situations as well) is that God’s ways are not our ways. If you asked me whether or not I’d do it that way, I’d say no, but then I’m not God, to your eternal relief. God is not bound by our notions of what’s appropriate or not, reasonable or not, desirable or not, even theologically correct or not (though for the last one we at least have some assurances concerning divinely revealed dogmas).
I would have to ask another question. I know people who suffer terribly for Him, offering it all for the good of souls. Their bodies are contorted in agony like the possessed Emily, and sometimes even their minds are tormented, tempted to suicide, etc. God allows them to suffer for the sake of souls. It is different, but is it totally different, that in the case of the possessed the devil is the instrument of their suffering and in the others it is simply physical or mental illness? God is the Lord of all; sicknesses and demons are all under his control. Who’s to say that He can’t use the normal course of physical infirmities (or specially send some), or use the malice of the evil one to accomplish the same purpose? (God used pagan armies to inflict judgment on his people, so that they would turn back to Him, and then later He punished the pagans for hurting his people.) He might even find it better to beat the devil right when the old boy thinks he’s got his victory locked up.
But if you asked me for a definite answer, I guess I would just have to say that I don’t know. There’s a lot I don’t know, and the whole area of mysticism, and especially that which involves dealing with demons and possession is practically devoid of rules and predictability. You just can’t say that it always works this way or that. Sometimes we simply have to accept that there are mysteries we may never understand, but we just have to go with the light we have, with what has been revealed for us to believe and to do for our salvation. But if the movie has been a wake-up call for some people to realize the seriousness of this life and its spiritual realities and warfare, then Emily’s brave sacrifice still is bearing fruit.
As a little aside, an odd thing happened right after I finished watching the video. A warning notice from my anti-virus program popped up, one which I’d never seen before. It read: “Check your protection against unknown threats.” I indicated that I would, but it popped back up again. It wouldn’t go away. I clicked on “close” and it would go for a second and come right back. Finally after many attempts, it disappeared. I did a scan and nothing suspicious showed up. Maybe it was not really meant for the computer at all. So say a prayer for me!