“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.” Charles R. Swindoll
I wouldn’t normally quote Chuck Swidoll on this site but he has a good point don’t you think? In these next few posts I want to take a look at “demons.” Doesn’t that sound exciting? Of course, like so many other “traditional views,” I will probably surprise you and hopefully stretch your understanding. As always my only goal is to have you engage your mind of Christ and see what God has to say.
Before I go to far down the “cow tipping” path, I should say that evil is real, just take a look around. The voice of accusation (the satan) is real, just listen to all the voices against a supremely and absolutely good God. The influences of the distributors of fortunes are real (daemons), just look around at all the dysfunction and dereliction we see everywhere. Where do they come from?…that is a great question and we probably won’t answer that question definitively. Still you might find that fallen-human constructs have a much greater influence than you thought before.
If you want to take a little journey I say we start with a few stories, one from my life and one from the life of Jesus. Here we go…
We’re you ever teased as a kid? Who am I kidding? Maybe you are still teased today. Did you ever pick on another person? Did you ever pick on someone as part of a group? Did you ever make fun of someone so you would “fit in” or “go with the flow” or “be popular?” I experienced both sides of that nastiness and it was horrific. The moment of climatic confrontation, which is inevitable, was always a “whole new level,” an “over the top” or “beyond a normal human response.” You could say that “the demons showed up” when the victim and the abusers had a confrontation. In my experience, the victim of abuse or teasing or rejection was often left with deep wounds that “possessed” them and “controlled” them. Some of those hurts and terrors persisted and grew and took on a “power” of their own that must be dealt with. OK, maybe a personal example for clarity is in order.
I was in 6th grade. My brother and I were the new kids in our neighborhood. We had a pretty thick southern drawl and now lived in a town that was more “sophisticated.” So, as you can imagine, we were teased for being different. There was one kid who led the pack when it came to teasing and we had to see him every morning at the school bus stop. When the verbal abuse wasn’t enough, he would pick a fight. He would go after my younger brother and I would try to defend him. Of course this kid was bigger, solid, mean and cruel. I got my butt kicked often. The abuse took a toll. Fear, amplified by certainty and inevitability (he wouldn’t go away) became a “voice” of terror that “haunted me” day and night. My only escape from fear was to imagine his impending doom. The need for justice gave birth to a new “companion.” This new voice was “revenge.” The voice of “anger” joined the party and became one of my best friends.
One day I did get even. Same sequence, same bus stop, same bully, different me (us). This time a rage rose up inside of me that said “I’ve had enough.” Before I knew what happened I had a pencil in my hand, I was on my knees and this meat-head was smacking me about the head and shoulders. Then I did it (or something inside me did). I took the pencil and stabbed this kid in his calf muscle. He let me go and went running home to mommy. Please don’t panic. What I thought was a mortal wound barely made a scratch. I think the shock of my demonic outburst scared him more than hurt him.
Later I came to my senses and really regretted attacking that kid. He left us alone after that morning. Of course he called me crazy and warned everyone about my need for an exorcism. On some level he was right. I held onto those companions called anger and vengeance and range for some time. For much of my life I had to deal with anger issues.
I didn’t know Jesus then like I do now. He has really set me free from all the unwelcome voices . I wonder how different that 6-year-old kid’s experience might be with Jesus in the middle of the whole thing. He was there no doubt working in the background, but what would happen if He “stepped out of the boat” right in the middle of that “darkness?”
Wait a minute, let me think about it…oh yeah, He did just that on one occasion we can read about.
Luk 8:26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.(ESVST)
Check out the whole story when you get a chance. The narrative sounds more like a Stephen King movie than a Jesus compassion moment. I say we use our mind of Christ and look a little deeper.
A literal reading of the story: a demon possessed man (or men in another gospel) in chains living in a cemetery has demons cast out of him by Jesus. These demons go into nearby pigs who then run into the sea and die. The village hears about what happens and they are really scared. The possessed guy is all better and wants to leave the village with Jesus. Jesus tells him to stay with his people instead of leaving with Him in the boat.
Imagine for a moment (using our mind of Christ) that this crazy guy is crazy because the people have abused him all his life. What if the voices he hears are a result of endless torment at the hands of village tormentors? Can you imagine the possibility that someone this demented would manifest multiple personalities and schizophrenia and conversations with thin air and rage and anger and violence and sharp pencils in kids legs? Have I gone too far? Am I reading into the story, or am I seeing a truth that Jesus intended? Maybe we are seeing through allegory and time into the timeless human condition? OK, I admit that might be too deep.
I could be interpreted as “minimizing” this story and removing the “supernatural” aspects. Hang out for the next post to see how I am not minimizing but showing it is bigger than we think. Let me suggest, for now, that his condition is still demonic just maybe people and their cruelty had something to do with it.
In the next post we’ll go deeper. For now let me leave you with something to ponder.
How much “bigger” and more “impactful” is the story when we open our aperture? Maybe we can start to see the “why” of the story. Maybe we can see how interdependent we humans really are? Maybe we can get a glimpse into the greater human condition and how Jesus sets us free from our fallen condition and behavior and dysfunction and demonic tendencies?
How about the fear of the villagers? That has always perplexed me. Jesus heals a guy with all this stuff and the people are afraid and want Jesus to leave? That just sounds odd. What if the villagers were afraid because of what they had done to this guy? Now there is a new twist. Can you see the scene? Here is this guy “delivered” and he is in his right mind. What if the villagers are afraid because this guy might want to get even? What if they abused him and rejected Him and now he is in a position for vengeance and some pay back?
And now the beautiful part. Jesus tells the man to stay and share what He has done for him. Jesus not only delivers the man from his “demons” but now this same man can bring healing to his abusers. He forgives the offenders. He releases the guilty. What if this is an opportunity for the previously rejected to bring forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration? What if instead of getting even he gives love? Can you see it now? This broken and rejected man gets to be Jesus to his oppressors, his enemy, the sin of his people against him.
Can you see now how this story is an example of what it looks like to “be like Christ?” Think about it. We kill Jesus and He forgives us. We reject Him and He restores us. We beat Him and He reconciles us. We hate Him and He loves us. We make Him the ultimate scapegoat of mankind and He doesn’t count our trespasses against us. Once this demoniac is free from the lies and filled with the love of Jesus, he forgives like Jesus. Now can you see it? More in part two.