I'm not sure which I prefer.
For Bethany, who has grown up here, for whom Bislama was her first language, there devils are everywhere. They are part of her play, part of her school and much of her fear.
Children in Vanuatu talk about devils in much the same way Australian children talk about monsters. They are under the bed, in the small dark room, always ready to eat you up. Parents use them as a tool to frighten children into obedience. Don't go there, there's a devil. Don't do that, a devil will get you.
So how do I respond? Do I just say, 'there's no such thing as devils?' Doesn't the bible speak of devils as real beings? There are real evil spirits and they have a real effect on people.
This is where I have come in my thinking.
1. Devils are real in as much as we mean evil spirits or demons, not the monster under the bed.
2. The worldview Bethany is learning here, which includes devils, may be more spiritual, but it isn't more christian. It is profoundly unchristian. Christians in Vanuatu struggle to rid themselves of this worldview as much as Christians in Australia struggle to rid themselves of secular humanism and materialism.
3. Devils have power, but it is not the power Bethany is learning to fear. Bethany is learning to fear devils because of their supposed power to do her physical harm, to make her ill or to otherwise make bad things happen to her. She is learning to fear devils for the wrong reasons. The Bible teaches that nothing happens to us that does not come from God for our good (Romans 8:28). We need to trust God, not fear the devils. However, we need to have a right fear of the power of Satan to tempt us to doubt God's goodness and to lead us into sin. God has given us everything we need to fight this temptation, including, and most importantly, his Holy Spirit, which dwells within us. If we have forgotten this power of Satan, and fear only physical harm, then Satan has already won and the battle with sin is lost.
4. Jesus has complete power and complete victory over the devils. Jesus has authority over demons (Luke 4:36; 11:14-26). They must submit to his every word. They can do nothing he does not want them to and they can never take us away from him.
So, I tell Bethany there are no devils that live under the bed or in the dark or in the house or anywhere else. They don't have forms which take up space. They cannot hurt her.
And when I pray with Bethany, I also say;
"Help Bethany this day to remember that Jesus is stronger and more powerful than all the devils. Help her to remember that Jesus loves her and holds her in His hand, and no devil can hurt her or take her away from him."
"May your Holy Spirit who lives in her keep changing her so that she loves you more and does what is right and good and does not do what is wrong."
And I read her Romans 8:38-39;
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neigher height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Any thoughts? Have I left out anything obvious? What would you say to a young child about this issue?