WARNING: Highly subjective and potentially offensive content. If you can deal with that, read on.
"Jesus and his disciples sailed to the Gerasenes' land, which is across the lake from Galilee. As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a certain man met him. The man was from the city and was possessed by demons. For a long time, he had lived among the tombs, naked and homeless. When he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down before him. Then he shouted, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" He said this because Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had taken possession of him, so he would be bound with leg irons and chains and placed under guard. But he would break his restraints, and the demon would force him into the wilderness. Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "Legion," he replied, because many demons had entered him. They pleaded with him not to order them to go back into the abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs. Jesus gave them permission, and the demons left the man and entered the pigs. The herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned. When those who tended the pigs saw what happened, they ran away and told the story in the city and in the countryside. People came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone. He was sitting at Jesus' feet, fully dressed and completely sane. They were filled with awe. Those people who had actually seen what had happened told them how the demon-possessed man had been delivered. Then everyone gathered from the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave their area because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and returned across the lake. The man from whom the demons had gone begged to come along with Jesus as one of his disciples. Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return home and tell the story of what God has done for you." So he went throughout the city proclaiming what Jesus had done for him." Luke 8:26-39 (CEB)
Give me sin. Give me darkness. Give me weakness. Give me hatred. Give me evil. I can handle these topics. But DON'T give me demons. Few things give me more uneasiness than demons. I just don't know what to think about them. Perhaps the problem is, unlike this passage in scripture, I've never witnessed a demon fleeing from a human body into the bodies of swine. Perhaps the problem is I'm not really sure about things I can't see. Perhaps the problem is I just don't like the idea that something could have so much control over a human without their consent. Perhaps it's a little of all that.
To say the least, this passage gives me pause. I'm not 100% sure of what to make of it, but I'm gonna try. Lets start with things this scripture tells us about the nature of demons:
- they are embodied (take possession of bodies)
- they are embodied multiple times (many times it took possession of him)
- they are strong forces to be dealt with (person with demons has to be restrained)
- they cause people to do things to harm others (why else would a person with demons be chained and guarded?)
- they cause people to be alone, separated from other people (they forced him into the wilderness)
- they can work together (many demons in one body)
- their preferred residence is in a body rather than in "the abyss"
Again, I'm not sure I've ever seen a demon, at least not a little horned devil, or a spirit that inhabits a body, as many horror movies would have us believe are the manifestation of demons. But I can think of some actions that fit this description. It seems that these demons:
- are systemic and repeating -- they can be passed from one body to another and they happen over and over again
- are difficult to overcome and may even have to be overcome multiple times
- separate a person from loved ones, making them alone
- come in groups
- do harm to a person and others who come in contact with that person
Two things in particular come to mind -- addiction and abuse. For now, lets stick with addiction.
Those who experience addiction experience the desire to participate in whatever activity compulsively, repeatedly. Addictions are extremely difficult to overcome and they continue to be a struggle throughout a person's life -- it's not like once it goes away it's gone for good. Addiction returns. Addiction can create a sense of loneliness, misunderstanding, and separation from loved ones and it is also strongly tied to other issues like depression. Addiction causes hurt to those who come in contact with it.
Now, this definition is not actually as nice and tidy as I make it appear. In fact, there are reasons NOT to think of addiction as a demon. My main problem with thinking about addiction as a demon is that it seems to make things black and white in terms of what people can do about it. In this scripture, it seems clear to me that the person inhabited by a demon has very little, if any, control over his own body, which leads to the conclusion that either the demon can be completely in control or God can be completely in control, but the human has very little control. This argument seems like there's no space for me to interact in my own story, and that makes me a little uncertain because I truly believe that God doesn't do all the legwork -- I have to be involved too. But if I really do have zero control that leaves me with two options: If I'm an addict and it's because a demon has inhabited me, then I have no responsibility for my actions because it's the demon, not me. On the flip-side, if I'm an addict and God can take control, then why hasn't God taken control?
Do you see yet, why this topic gives me such a pain in the brain?!
So, I'm just going to have to deal with the fact that I don't have all the answers. Maybe demons are something that plague us all. Maybe they are things like addiction (even "small" addictions like food addiction, shopping addiction, sleeping addiction -- I don't know, I just made that last one up). Maybe they're not. You'll have to come to your own conclusions about that one.
But here's what I do see happening in the passage. Through Christ, God helps a man break a pattern, a system that has become a much a part of his life as breathing. Through Christ, God relieves a man's pain, if only for a while. Through Christ, God puts right relationship between this man and his community. Through Christ, God is present to this man and changes his life.
That's some really good stuff. And yet, I still find myself in the position of the community onlookers, seeing the God's power and love, and being afraid of what I don't understand. I find myself full of questions instead of answers, because, you see, I can live with life as I know it, but I'm scared of what life might look like if God healed my demons. Would I be healed forever? Would they come back? Would life be better? What would I have to do differently? These are the questions that plague me. These are manifestation of fear inside me. Maybe, just maybe, these are my demons. What are yours?