Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. – 1 Samuel 16:14This verse packs a one-two punch that provokes two very troubling (and very challenging) questions.
Question 1: Can a Christian lose the Holy Spirit (and salvation)?
The simple answer here is “no”. It is important, first of all, to draw a distinction between the work of the Holy Spirit before and after Jesus. In the Old Testament, the presence of God’s spirit represented his power and endorsement on a chosen leader for Israel (prophet, priest, or king)—and it would come and go. It was God’s way of saying “This is my guy, I am working and leading through him”. God is here choosing a new king and so the Spirit of the Lord leaves Saul and anoints David (16:13).
In the New Testament, we see a shift when Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit on all his followers after he departs (John 16:7, Acts 2:33). The Spirit is spoken of in the New Testament as a promise (Gal. 3:14), a seal (Eph. 1:13), and a guarantee of what is to come (2 Cor. 1:22). To put it simply, the Holy Spirit was a temporary presence on leadership in the Old Testament, while he is now a permanent presence on every believer.
Question 2: How can God send harmful, tormenting spirits on people?
While this is a troubling idea to consider, it is not the only time we read of an account like this. The story of Job, for instance, records his torment by a harmful spirit as well (and not just any spirit, Satan himself). Yet the book of Job allows us to peek behind the curtain to understand such situations a little better.
First, it shows us that God does not “sic” demons on us like a pack of dogs, rather he at times gives them freedom to act. In this way, God is not an active accomplice to any evil done.
Second, it shows us that God is sovereign over the entire universe, Satan and the demons included. This should give us great peace in knowing that the evil forces of the spiritual realm cannot take an inch more than God gives them in his wisdom and sovereignty.