Mark 5:9–20 NRSV
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
When you have a quantity of demonic spirits with capability to possess a herd of two thousand pigs and they are all living in the same person, you have an impossible situation. But if there’s one thing we know from reading the Bible, it’s that nothing is impossible with God.
Jesus specializes in chaos. He walks right into the jaws of chaos and brings forth order. He did it earlier in the deadly storm on the Sea of Galilee. In today’s text, he takes on the chaos of unimaginable demonic possession. Imagine the storm on the Sea of Galilee with all its chaos raging inside of a single human being. That’s what he’s facing.
Before we go further into this Gospel, we need to ask ourselves a couple of questions. We need to take a bit of a reality check. First, do we hold to a biblical view of the world with categories for visible and invisible? Seen and unseen? How about natural and supernatural? What about demonic beings and angelic beings? The Bible does not set out to prove these dimensions of reality. It assumes them. Given the scientific age in which we live, many are dismissive of the biblical worldview as a relic of pre-modern times. I am not one of those people. I have neither an overly simplistic nor a highly sophisticated understanding of the categories inherent in a biblical worldview. That said, believing in an unseen reality strikes me as a fundamental requirement of faith and a prerequisite for biblical Christianity.
I trust in the veracity and the authority of the Bible. When Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit, I believe it. When Scripture speaks of demonic beings, I believe it. When Scripture speaks of angelic visitations, I believe it. While my understanding of such realities continues to grow, my faith in the biblical revelation of the nature of reality; past, present, and future; visible and invisible remains as fixed as the sun. This is not blind, easy, believism. It is the hard-fought, time-tested fruit of faith. Many God-fearing Christians remain agnostic on these matters, content to live out their lives with the conviction of a hung jury. While I don’t want to insist on belief in demonic spirits as essential to saving faith, I do believe that robust growth in the Christian faith requires one to lean trustingly into the biblical worldview rather than accepting the easy agnosticism of our age.
Here are the basic contours of my own developing theology of the demonic, all of which I see at work in today’s text. First, demonic presence distorts human identity. Second, apart from the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, human beings are defenseless against demonic forces. Third, the reign of Jesus (a.k.a., the kingdom of God) means the present power of the Holy Spirit to provide protection from and aid to prevail decisively over demonic forces (i.e., “Deliver us from evil”).
I am an appreciator of C. S. Lewis’s piercingly pragmatic take on Satan and demons in his classic book, The Screwtape Letters. Because I need to close, I’ll limit my references to two favorite quotes of the senior demon to Wormwood, the apprentice.
This first quote references the unintelligent lack of belief in the demonic by so many:
My Dear Wormwood,
I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. . . . I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.
The second quote references the uninformed lack of faith in the power of Jesus and his church.
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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