I am afraid I am challenged to give some depth to James 2:19 which says: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” I am not in a position to provide my readers with a comprehensive exposition, just some preliminary thoughts. The verse has always confounded scholars and many consider it as an obscure verse, and so it has been for me for many years.
The only beacon around which I can navigate in this context is some thoughts which manifested in my tired mind a late evening. I am treating the subject at hand with the uttermost caution and humbleness. I perfectly know that I only see in parts, and that there are others out there who see other parts which might shed more light on this.
First of all we have to acknowledge that many Christians fear God even though John says there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I find it difficult to say that there are similarities between human faith and how demons believe. However, there is a huge difference between believing that God is one and that we are one with God. The first can instill fear, the latter casts out fear.
The key word I am given in this context is separation. Those who believe in separation, that is, the illusion that God is out there somewhere are those who might shudder. When the devil thought he could become like God, his mindset obviously must have been separation, that he had some sort of life in himself - that God wasn’t all in all – that he could sustain life by his own powers. That God is all in all can’t be grasped intellectually. It is a subject to faith only.
Perfect love is consummated in those who have entered a consciousness of union. Knowing that you are one with God provides the peace that transcends understanding. We do well believing that God is one, James says. If his statement is to make any sense in the greater context of our discussion he must be alluding to our oneness with God. The demons can’t possibly have a consciousness of union. Their only reality is separation by virtue of that this was the mindset that sparkled Satan’s rebellion.
It is the mindset of separation which motivates a Christian lifestyle where the main focus is how to please God. Paul Anderson-Walsh puts it like this: “Have you ever found yourself wondering, “Who is the real me?” Most of us have. Moreover, many Christians have to live with the added guilt which comes from a numbing sense that who we are is not who we should be. Consequently, we live our lives trapped in a cycle of performance, rotating between commitment, failure, condemnation, confession and re-dedication.” A consciousness of union is the only remedy against this cycle of performance.
A last reflection on why both demons and too many Christians shudder. When a person thinks that God judge downwards he will perceive himself to be in a precarious position. One wrong step and judgment is effected from above, that is, punishment. The demons rightly believe that God judges downwards. Their destiny is sealed. However, the gospel judges upwards. Jesus didn’t come to judge the world or to condemn the world, but to save. There exists no reason whatsoever to shudder in unconditional love. The issue is, however, that too many do not hear unconditional love. They hear conditional love which is something different all together, that is, the system of the world.
God judges upwards to bring life. We judge upwards to bring life to those God has given us.