On November 1, 1967 I sought the living God — coming out of a Unitarian background — and on November 2 I was answered by an overwhelming divine epiphany which I write about elsewhere. This happened at St. Michael’s Chapel at South Kent School, South Kent, Connecticut. About May 1, 1972, at St. Michael’s Chapel, a friend and I experienced the total opposite. The chapel happens to be named after the warring angel who defeats Satan in Revelation 12:7-9.
I was up late one evening in the dining room of the Old Building doing some work when my friend burst in, horrified, on me and several other seniors. He described to us in halting breaths how he had been waiting in the chapel for another friend to finish some work in the adjacent library. As he was, the communion bells rang out three times from the balcony. Thinking he was being spoofed by someone, he called out for the prankster to reveal himself. Silence. So he climbed the wooden stairs to the balcony, searched it, and nobody was there. There was no place to hide apart from where he searched, no other stairs, and all footsteps in the chapel were most audible. A sense of abiding and evil darkness overtook him, and he fled in horror down the hill to the Old Building.
I was the only one of the several seniors there who took him seriously (or was willing to admit it). [But too, many years later, I learned that the friend he was waiting for had a similar experience some weeks earlier. He was in the chapel late one evening, keeping track of some lower form students in an adjacent building. Then the chapel bell rang three times, no one on the campus heard it, and a dark and foreboding sense of evil came in.]
In my young faith, I believed there was nothing to fear, so I suggested we return to the chapel and investigate, pray. It was just past midnight, and as we came within 20-30 feet of the chapel, we both looked into the windows. What we saw was a darkness that was blacker than black against the diffused light of nearby buildings, pulsating, alive, extraordinarily evil and very angry at our presence. Another step and we stopped, having come against a terribly tangible but invisible wall of air that was thicker than thick, impenetrable and driving us back. All my critical faculties were alert, and the experience was as real as anything I have known with the five senses. My friend and I turned and fled. I prayed until 4:00 a.m., trying to understand it. Face-to-face with Satan’s presence.
One clue to what was happening is that the “witching hour” is known to happen from midnight to 3:00 a.m., when covens of witches (sometimes including warlocks), those into the deepest witchcraft, regularly meet to do their rituals and to curse their enemies, especially pastors and other Christians. They prefer certain days and seasons on their pagan calendars, related ultimately to astrological factors. This evil presence was gathering just before midnight when my friend was initially spoofed, and it was proximate to May Day, one such pagan holiday – but at the time I did not know to consider this element. As well, the Housatonic Highlands of western Connecticut and the adjoining Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts are well-known for concentrations of such activity.
I was blown away by the experience at the time. The chapel where the very presence of Yahweh descended on me in 1967 was the very chapel where this demonic presence bearing the mark of Satan himself assaulted me and my friend in 1972. The contest of the darkness seeking to displace the Light.
Across the years, I thought I had merely stumbled on such an evil presence. But only recently — and given a more complete biblical understanding of the devil — do I realize that this may have made me a marked man. Namely, I was genuinely naive about the nature of the devil at that time, and yet recklessly, foolishly bold as a believer in Jesus, coming to confront the devil. Satan is angry with any challenge. All that has followed is certainly consistent with this understanding.
In thinking this encounter was a mere passing event, my focus in college was on growing in biblical knowledge along with my academics, and courting a certain young lady. Then, in 1974, my wife-to-be, Nancy, and I got sucked into a cultish church. I review this chapter in my life in the January 10, 2018 blog, and the key element is that I had falsely believed that, since I loved the Lord, I could not be deceived. Then I was deceived in accepting certain predicates in joining this church. Nancy and I married in the summer of 1977, and we left the church on January 10, 1978, with twelve others (out of about 200 people). The fourteen of us were publicly reviled in an emergency church meeting for daring to leave (!). It was great freedom to leave, then off to seminary the following fall, when our first son was also born.
Now the church, then called South Hills Christian Center outside Pittsburgh, PA, was run by a prima donna, Norman James. But in truth, his wife Becky “wore the pants” as one former member, who knew them up close, later said. As we also learned later, she often called down curses on those who had left the church. That, by itself, is the devil’s handiwork. And some who left the church also called them Ahab and Jezebel. But I was nonchalant about this cursing reality, just as I was with the Satanic encounter six years prior. I trusted God in a naive way, not knowing the wisdom of Matthew 11:12 and Luke 16:16 against demonic territory.
Sometime in 1978 or 1979, my wife had a disturbing vision of me hoeing a field, doing work that needed to be done, but bent over low under an invisible and great burden. And with it was a vision of demons gleefully seeking to stick syringes in my back. In June of 1979, a virus struck my pancreas and destroyed all the beta cells, making me a Type 1 diabetic. There is no such history in our family. Over the years I just thought of this as happenstance, and due to an obviously insufficient immune system — though in every other capacity over the years, my immune system has been very strong. It is, and has always been a daily burden, and especially as I get older. But as I consider my naivete and folly in confronting Satan in 1972, and my sin of pride that allowed me to be deceived into this church cult, it is clear — not only biblically but experientially — that Satan can only take advantage of our weaknesses, whether passive or active sin.
In 1988 I led the largest public policy petition drive in Massachusetts history for a ballot question that would have reshaped the national abortion debate in a profound and good way. But too, in organizing the whole state, I worked far too hard, and it added much stress at home. And apart from some modest prayer, I was naive as to what I was getting into, not considering the possibility of demonic opposition. But immediately after the petitions were submitted, we were hit with extraordinary demonic attacks that Nancy and I, and our two eldest sons, knew all too well (our third son was too young to know, and our daughter not yet born). I write about this in some depth in my book, Changing the Language of the Abortion Debate (available at johnrankinbooks.com). The reality of how I became a marked man, and targeted by New England witchcraft ever since, has been with me to this day. In Section Three of my book, Genesis and the Power of True Assumptions (available also at johnrankinbooks.com), I share the reality of how this continued in Connecticut after I moved back.
The key to all this, is that even in seeking to do the good, if we are bold or effective enough to merit the devil’s ire, he will exploit our unattended weaknesses and sins and seek to destroy us. In my case, it was the folly of unexamined naivete, pride, and trusting in human energy over and against serious prayer.
And then further, here I land on the greatest sin in life. It is worse than naive folly, pride, or in trusting in human energy without sufficient proactive prayer. The sin is that of impatience.
The flip side of our strengths is our weaknesses. I am sanguine, I love the Lord and I love people, I am an optimist, and the glass is always 99 percent full. My father, an optimist, called me a “tunnel-view optimist” from my early childhood forward. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. It has also been natural to be a risk-taker for the Gospel, but I was also blind to so many things, whether concerning evil and deceitful people, or simple practicalities in pursuing good goals. I have relentlessly bitten off more than I can chew in my enthusiasm for the reality of the Gospel. Yet, very much good and dynamic ministry has been achieved, Satan is displeased, and has only ratcheted up stress on me to catalyze further folly in impatience.
Over the years, a pattern developed and deepened. When the good I pursued did not happen on my assumed or explicitly impatient timetable, I would get frustrated. This happened hugely in the 1988 Massachusetts pro-life referendum drive. Had I been a patient and wisely prayerful man, we would have prevailed over the deceit of the Massachusetts Attorney General. He blocked it on a technicality that would have otherwise been understood ahead of time, and overcome. And when frustration sets in, anger follows, and folly multiplies. And my anger began to erupt at various places, especially under financial stress.
Now, my father was not into financial planning — he had a view, which I have had, believing that if you do the good, finances will follow. Not so. He was chief of hematology at the Hartford Hospital, with a general practice alongside. He simply loved caring for people. Hematology, from the late 1940s to 1990 was not high paying among doctors. And he did not bill about 40 percent of his patients, because they were too poor (many Black, Hispanic and White inner-city people). He never used a credit card and paid for everything in cash, only borrowing for the mortgage. He carried no debt, but also had no savings, health and life insurance, or retirement provisions. Only after my mother died young (age 54 in 1976, when my father was 58), did he change his planning. So, in my tunnel-view optimism, I had a similar assumption, but without a sufficient income most the time.
So, I would get angry under the duress of finances, or with respect to mundane items (I have cursed Microsoft, Comcast and Dell more times than you can imagine), or when simply pressed for time. It took me years to realize and confess that my anger was against the Lord’s timetable, against God himself. Even though I have always and naturally embraced his goodness and sovereignty, perhaps this also blinded me to the object of my anger.
As frustration for achieving good goals grew across the years, the anger became worse, and so bad that in the last two years I began to grasp it, and to pray and repent. But still, when I can’t pay my bills, meet the utilities or mortgage, even facing basic food shortages, I was only partially successful. And since 2008, when adrenal exhaustion began to set it (before diagnosed), and my work pace and income dropped, I was trapped. And when the adrenal exhaustion hit Stage 4 two years ago, as formally diagnosed, I was in deep trouble. And it had led to my crypto-genetic (unknown origin) stroke in 2014, which no doubt came from deepening stress, and my diabetes, for the first time, going out of control.
All this is due to my own sin of impatience, and thus a wide opportunity for the enemy.
In dealing with my adrenal exhaustion these past two years, I have had great success in regaining strength. But there were also two reversals emotionally, when my youngest son was in the hospital four times in nine weeks, and almost died (he is far better now); and when this January and February my whole computer system broke down, and I could do very little ministry, academic and financial work.
Nonetheless, I was okay, I thought, and in March, I was lecturing in Krakow, Poland, then flying to London, and up to Oxford for some academics. I got very sick just before leaving Krakow, and there was something demonic about it, but not readily identifiable. My strength started spiraling down. Limping into Oxford, I got my minimal obligations done, but on Thursday through Sunday, up to March 20, I was very sick, and could hardly leave my room for the bathroom. My diabetes raged out of control, but not due to my ratio of food intake and the insulin regimen. On Friday, face down on my bed all day, I was suddenly aware that I was being “sifted” by the devil. I cried out in prayer, I felt I weighed 400 pounds (not 180) and was dying. I called my wife at home through this entire process, seeking prayer. But no relief from the sifting illness.
I had to leave for the airport Sunday morning. I arranged for the taxi Saturday night (to the bus station), and the details were clear: 6:45 a.m. at Wycliffe Hall, 54 Banbury Road. “Yes, we know where it is.” It took me hours, through the night, to pack my bags. I told them I was sick, and would wait inside the building until they pulled up. They did not show. I called, and the driver could not find it. They asked me to wait outside. But I was deathly sick, and it was -3 celsius and snowing. I started to get angry. I went to wait outside, and it took another 18 minutes and two phone calls, and I had to go onto the street, and try to flag the cabby down, who was 100 yards down the road. In the process, I cried out, “What have I done wrong Lord? Did I not set this up ahead of time to prevent me waiting in the cold? Why should I die because of their negligence?”
Then my anger seized the worse control of my life ever. I cursed the Cab company and the driver in foul invectives. And as I did, my whole body started shaking, and started shooting fire from every cell, and my eyes were full of lightening shooting off in every direction. It was like a transformer exploding. Then I said loudly: I REPENT. I experienced what James says in 3:6 of his letter, describing a tongue out of control that curses men made in the image of God: “… and sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” The hellfire stopped as I repented, and had you pushed me slightly, I would have collapsed.
The cab driver arrived, a Muslim man with the style of beard said to imitate Muhammad — long and untrimmed, but with a shaved upper lip. He was in Pakistani dress. I struggled to get my bags into the cab, and at the train station, as I was so weak, I fumbled with my billfold to pay the fare of 6.2 pounds. As I pulled out a 5-pound note, he looked at me with great mercy and changed the fare to 5-pounds. Once in the bus, I was just praying to get home alive, as I had to fly first back to Warsaw (hub for Polish airways), then to Newark, then the 150-mile drive home.
Then amazingly, when the bus crossed past the Oxford City limits, a huge demonic oppression tangibly lifted. I was immediately and surprisingly struck by this reality. And only then could I say in prayer, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” and as I prayed that all the way home, step by step as God gave me the strength. As a pastor friend in Oxford says: “Oxford is a city full of demons.” There is a history in place. And yet with many strong believing churches. No question that the demonic assault was territorial in nature, and here is my observation: Satan brought his greatest strength against my deepest weakness and almost killed me, seeking even to overcome a strong heart. And how do I know that apart from this experience? It turns out that I had a burgeoning heart attack, stopped the moment I said: I REPENT. The electricity of my heart went wild. I have always had a strong heart, and after my stroke in 2014, my EKG was excellent as was my blood pressure (that is why it was labeled crypto-genetic). But this May, at my physical, my EKG showed an infarcation sometime since the last EKG, which is where there is a severe oxygen cut-off to my heart, a prelude to a full heart attack. I knew it exactly, and told him so. And it was completely stopped the moment I repented of my hellish anger.
Since March 20 (the spring equinox, a pagan holiday[!]), I have rested, and am steadily, if not always evenly, recovering my strength. The anger that almost killed me — under Satan’s strategic pressure — is 99 percent gone. I am praying for the final 1 percent to eviscerate as well. I REPENT. As James also says: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (4:7). And since April 28, the leading of the Holy Spirit has multiplied in proportion to my freedom from impatience. 46 years of a battle with Satan has hit a victory threshold, and going forward, I know the devil will try new strategems. But in the Name of Jesus, I am much better equipped to shut them down.[Addendum, November 13: In teaching a class on Genesis 1-3 this fall, I did a fresh translation of the whole text. Whoa! As it reads in every English translation I have seen, the second half of Genesis 3:1 says, “And the serpent said to the woman …” But one word is omitted. The real translation is this: “And the serpent said angrily to the woman …” To translate this accordingly begs the question of the identity of the serpent and of his anger — easier to ignore than dive into the theology of demonology in the whole Bible. Then, a shocker in the midst of the curse on the man in Genesis 3:19, where it is usually translated: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food …” The curses on the man and the woman take their strengths and reverse them into weaknesses and painful suffering. The text actually says: “By the sweat of your anger you will produce your food …” In the subsequent “burning hot” anger of the murderous Cain, likewise for his bigamous and murderous descendant Lemech, its percolating reality in the nature of evil preceding the Flood, in the idolatrous nature of Babel, to the war between Hagar and Sarai that leads to the warring anger in poor Ishmael’s soul against all his brothers, Isaac on outward, and now to the war between the nations that came from them, to the deepest realities of Sodom and Gomorrah as profiled across the whole Bible, the anger of the ancient serpent is overwhelming in its poison. Now consider: The anger of the man in Genesis 3:19 is a frustration of the curse as he seeks the good — provision for his family — and it is not an anger that seeks to dehumanize others. But its cognates do, and I know this painfully well. How therefore can dehumanizing anger among men be addressed unless its source, and the frustration of the curse in pursuit of the good, are first addressed? This is at the core of spiritual warfare I now conclude.]