Can Satan and Demons Read Our Minds?
Question from a reader:
I have read many of your books and they have truly blessed me. One concept I have read has bothered me as I have been unable to validate it in Scripture. That is the concept that Satan cannot know our thoughts and heart in contrast to God who knows all. Further that Satan can hear our spoken prayers but not our silent prayers...
I cannot find anything like this in Scripture and had some thoughts on the subject, namely:
1. Since God has infinite power, authority and capability, he could have created Satan, Michael, cherubs and other heavenly hosts to have any abilities he wanted them to have. It doesn’t seem we are told much about this. Seems like he could have created Satan to have the ability to read our minds and hearts if he had so desired.
2. Since the ability to prevent Satan from knowing our thoughts is such a strategic advantage for a Christian, seems like it would have been specifically identified for us, it would rank way up there in the “armor of God” or would have been taught by Jesus.
3. Seems like in order to manipulate us the way he does, Satan would have to have an “inside track” on our thinking, (i.e. read our minds) to know what tricks to throw at us, to know our weaknesses, etc.
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
On the demon mind-reading issue, here’s my opinion. First, we know demons aren’t omniscient, since they’re just angels, created finite beings, and angels don’t know a lot of things, including the time of Christ’s return (Mark 13:32). We’re told that God alone can know the future (Is. 46:9-10). Demons are personal beings who are self-contained and are limited in space and time, not omnipresent and therefore presumably not able to drift in and out of people at will. On the other hand 2 Cor. 10 and other passages suggest demons can influence our thinking. But can they read our thoughts? Well, we know Jesus knew people’s thoughts (Mt. 9:4; 12:25; Mark 2:8; Luke 6:8; 11:17). God knows people’s thoughts (Gen. 6:5, Ps. 139, etc.). But nowhere are we told Satan or demons know people’s thoughts.
That would just be a deduction, an argument from silence, except that in Daniel 2:27-28 Daniel says to Nebuchadnnezzar that no one speaking by any power but God could tell the king what he dreamed—that included “enchanters, magicians and astrologers” who could appeal to demonic sources. But apparently these demons could not read the king’s mind even to ascertain what he had dreamed, much less interpret it. So this is probably the primary Scripture that has direct bearing on the issue.
Of course, demons are in an excellent position to deduce what’s on our minds since they can see us from the outside. They know exactly what we’re reading, watching on TV, they overhear our conversations, see our physical responses, hear even our “private” words, and are no doubt skilled at reading our expressions. They see us when other people can’t, any time they wish. Now as far as putting thoughts in our mind or exercising powers of persuasion, I don’t know how that works—perhaps there is a form of telepathy whereby they send a message, plant an idea, without being able to read exactly what we’re thinking. I agree there’s demonic activity involved in distracting us during prayer, but I think they don’t have to be able to read our minds to do this. If we’ve had an argument with our spouse, if our child is sick, if we’re tired and under deadline, he can observe all that and somehow whisper his distractions. (The world and the flesh also provide their own distractions, even apart from the devil—and the flesh definitely does know what we’re thinking.) By hearing us and seeing what we’re taking into our minds, demons have a good idea the best things to pick up on in tempting us. That’s a critical reminder for us and our children that what we read and watch and look at and listen to provides either the Holy Spirit and righteous angels, on the one hand, or demons on the other hand, ammo in their efforts to wage war in our minds. If I have an enemy attacking me, it doesn’t make much sense to hand him a loaded shotgun.
I do think a clear understanding of exactly what we’re thinking is limited to the omniscient God who created us, died for us and indwells us. He is the Judge, the only one who knows all, sees all. I find that comforting. It also let’s me breathe a bit of a sigh of relief to know that the enemy of my soul doesn’t have unlimited access to my mind. He can bang on the door and yell in the window and shout his accusations, but he can’t invade the premises of my mind (which is connected with my brain, part of my body that’s God’s temple) because the Holy Spirit is in residence. But of course, we must be on the alert to wage war that demolishes Satan’s arguments, and we must not be unaware of his strategies. We don’t want to overestimate the power of demons in our lives, but neither do we want to underestimate it.
One other application of this notion is when we feel we’re under demonic attack, as I did recently. When a hopeless sense of dread and foreboding fell on me I called upon the blood of Christ to cover and protect me. I used to do this silently, but now I speak aloud. God hears me either way, but I want the demons to hear too, and the righteous warriors. Jesus responded aloud to Satan during the temptation. He quoted Scripture so the devil could hear it, perhaps also for the benefit of the holy angels. When we resist the devil, it may not always be appropriate to speak aloud (or to speak loudly anyway, e.g. at a restaurant or in church or at work), but as a rule I think it has merit. By verbalizing we give shape and expression to the weapons of spiritual warfare. A. W. Tozer entitled one of his editorials (and it became the title of one of his books), “I talk back to the devil.”