In today's world demons are often relegated to the realm of Hollywood fiction. What is the truth?
Let us understand the power of evil.
We will look at Jesus' healing of a demon possessed man, the spiritual dimension in psychotherapy, and the struggle, freedom from evil and living a free life.
The Crazy Gerasene
We don't often experience demon stories on the street like those in the Bible. We institutionalize the mentally ill. They blamed mental illness on demons. At the opposite extreme, we often blame it all on physical causes. However, ask someone who works with the criminally insane or otherwise mentally incarcerated and many will tell you that there is an mysterious and little-understood spiritual dimension to psychopathology. While some of these people are diagnosed as having physically caused organic brain syndromes, others are not as easily explained by the physical alone, such as schizophrenia and psychotic disorders. East of the Sea of Galilee a mentally ill man lived among the tombs (Luke 8:26-39). Jesus did not make a scientific diagnosis but asked a question, commanded the impure spirits to leave and gave them permission to enter a herd of pigs.
A spiritual dimension in psychotherapy
Some dismiss the Bible’s demon stories as ancient ignorance. Carlton Cornett writes that ‘For a professional pursuit that prides itself on its uncompromising search for “the truth” of psychological functioning, psychotherapy has often gone to seemingly absurd lengths to avoid considering the possibility that the spiritual dimension deeply affects human life.’1 Jesus made no apologies for his dealings with a man with obvious mental problems. We would perhaps diagnose it today as dissociative identity disorder (multiple or split personality). The causes are controversial but some experts are open to the idea of demon possession. Some even argue for possession syndrome as a separate category of mental illness found more often in non-western cultures.2 Rather than dismiss Bible stories such as the Madman and the Pigs (Luke 8:26-39) as mere fable, perhaps we ought to be more open-minded.
When evil possesses
We have all done something wrong in our lives, even if it was only a passing bad thought. What happens to people who allow wrong thoughts to go too far? Ordinary mischief turns into outright evil. As we go down that road too far, who is there to bring us back from the brink of destruction? In modern terms evil can and does possess people all around us. It is a dangerous downhill path towards insanity. We witness it in public among murderous world leaders, terrorists, drug addicts and greedy industrialists who enthusiastically destroy their families and the environment in worship of the “almighty dollar”. Not every nut job ends up as a drooling wreck living in a graveyard (Luke 8:26-39). The insanity around is is widespread and varied, but there is a common solution to it all: Jesus.
Struggle, Announcement and Living Free
Like many biblical stories the tale of the Lunatic and the Pigs (Luke 8:26-39) can be broken down into three similar scenes.3 Here we could call them the struggle, announcement of freedom and living free for a former madman. A consistent biblical theme is liberation coming from divine and not human resources. In the struggle between worship of dead idols and the living God, Elijah challenged 450 prophets of Baal and God gave victory. God delivered Israel many times from her enemies. In the Gospels, we see Jesus as the deliverer from all human bondage. After deliverance came living free. Living free involves taking the announcement to others who are captive. Just as Elijah and Moses announced freedom so to do all who have been set free. We who are free must tell others what God has done.
The story of the Crazy Man and the Swineherd (Luke 8:26-39) is also everyone’s story. We all experience crazy times struggling against wicked forces. From the moment of birth we have fought to survive against evils. Success in life is an up and down struggle against the unyielding forces of evil that seek to possess us: steal from your sibling, lie on a test, get high, experiment with sex, steal from your boss or employee, lie to your clients, lust after someone else’s spouse or house and cheat your neighbor out of a just result. In our story against the insanity of this world, we have often tried to do it alone and failed. At times, we have asked for God’s help and in those moments, we have had a story of victory to tell to the whole world.
The world of demons is a very real world that we ignore at our peril. At the same time Jesus gives us victory over evil and the power to live a victorious life. Let's live that freedom and spread it to others.
1Cornett, Carlton. The Soul of Psychotherapy: Recapturing the Spiritual Dimension in the Therapeutic Encounter. Simon and Schuster. 1998. vii.
2Spiegel, David. Dissociation: Culture, Mind, and Body. 1994. American Psychiatric Press, Inc. 131.
3Brueggemann, Walter. Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe. Abingdon Press. 1993.