Digging in Deeper: Mark 5:2-5

“As soon as he got out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met him. He lived in the tombs, and no one was able to restrain him anymore–not even with a chain–because he often had been bound with shackles and chains, but had torn the chains apart and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

We’ve talked before about the interest people have long had in the spiritual world and specifically the demonic. There is enough out there that is nothing more than wishful thinking and unhelpful. When we encounter real information in the Scriptures, then, it is worth our time to try and learn what we can from it. When Jesus and the disciples arrived in Gentile territory they were met by a demon-possessed man. Let’s talk about how Mark describes this scene.

Marvel recently released a new television drama on Hulu called Helstrom. I’ve only watched a couple of the episodes and I’m not sure that I’ll watch many more. But I like the comic book genre of shows, so I at least gave it a shot. The specific comic genre is demonic-horror. The story is about a set of twins, brother and sister, who both have powers that allow them to engage in warfare against demonic forces in this world. Both are badly broken inside because of their terrible parents including a mother who is literally demon-possessed. The story is gearing up to fight some greater evil that either involves or is their father.

Well, because of the nature of the show, demon possession is an active element in every episode. Most of it is “real,” but in the first scene of the show we are introduced to the male lead as he goes to investigate a reported instance of demonic possession. It turns out to be a young boy who is merely twistedly tormenting his parents. The scene is instructive, though, because it portrays many elements that most people consider to be part and parcel with demon possession. His bedroom is in the house’s attic. When the main character walks in he is looking out menacingly from under his bed. He speaks threatening phrases in a weird voice and in Latin. When he comes out from under the bed his movements are jerky and unnatural-looking. He had also smeared demonic symbols all over his walls with his own excrement.

Now, the point of the scene is to deride this kind of fake demon possession in contrast to the “real” thing we witness in other elements of the show. The main character is astute enough to immediately recognize the difference. The irony of the broader picture, though, is that instances of “real” demon possession otherwise in the show feature many of the same thematic elements derided as obviously fake in that first scene.

In the bigger picture, most shows and films depicting demon possession rely on the same basic set of thematic tools. And all of them reflect that when it comes to the topic, most folks are just making it up as they go along, borrowing liberally from folks who came before them who portrayed it well in their view.

So, what’s the real thing look like? Well, personally speaking, I don’t have any idea. That’s not something I’ve ever encountered. I daresay that’s not something most people have ever encountered, particularly in anything like the form we find in media presentations of it.

Well, does that mean it doesn’t happen? Is this merely something that exists in the fantasy world of our minds? No. There is enough anecdotal evidence from folks who have experienced the real thing for me to have no trouble accepting that it is a real thing that really does happen. When, where, and how, are questions to which I don’t have the answers, but that it does is clear. It is clear if for no other reason because we see ample evidence of it in the Scriptures.

What we see here in Mark is a particularly graphic example, but not necessarily a category definer. Jesus encountered people possessed by demons who were being impacted by that in a number of different ways. In this case, the young man was apparently possessed by many demons. Because his situation was unique to him we must be careful describing demonic possession generally based on what we see here. That being said, we can see some themes that I think are generally descriptive. Each one is a point at which the demonic powers of this world are trying to corrupt the goodness of God in some form or fashion to cause us pain.

First, the man was isolated from the rest of his community. God designed us for community. There is life in community that we cannot find when we are isolated from other people. Isolation gradually kills our spirits. One of the first things demon-possession usually involves is an isolation of the person from others.

Second, the man was violently aggressive toward other people. This runs on the same theme, but may manifest itself differently. Our God is a God of peace. When the minions of the enemy attack, one of the first things they will do is seek to sow division among us. Violence from one person to another is one guaranteed way of accomplishing such division. This man’s community had tried to restrain him for his own sake and theirs, but he defied all their attempts leading to his isolation as we just covered.

Third, the man was destructive. This destructiveness was aimed at both others and at himself. When demons can accomplish nothing else, they will at least sow the seeds of destruction and cause as much as they can. If they cannot destroy others because of the isolation they have caused, they will destroy their own host. Because God is the Creator, this is the intended end of all demonic possession.

The real question that may be on your heart and mind, though, is what we are supposed to do about this. Well, first and foremost, we don’t go looking for this as if we’re going to somehow tackle it ourselves. That’s one thing nearly every media presentation of demon possession gets profoundly wrong. Shows like Helstrom snort derisively at a God who would allow this kind of thing to happen in the first place. Helstrom in particular features a tension between a Catholic nun who believes the power of God will be enough to overcome any demonic opponent and the male lead who believes no such thing, but instead trusts in the powers he has over them. The clear direction of the tension is her realizing she’s wrong and he’s right.

From the Scriptures we can say confidently the idea that we might be able to do something about demon possession ourselves is utter nonsense. We have no spiritual power of any kind in our own right. The power that subdues the demons is the power of Christ and there is no other similar power. In fact, in Acts we find a group of men who thought they could simply throw around Jesus’ name without Jesus’ power to drive out demons. This worked until they encountered one who saw through their folly and beat them to a pulp.

Second, and more importantly, what you can do about all of this is to place your life in the hands of Jesus if you haven’t already. As we’ll see tomorrow, demons are terrified of Jesus and won’t go near those who are protected by His name. In Christ demon possession will never be a threat to you in any meaningful way. And when you have experienced His saving power in your own life, share it with others so they might benefit from the Gospel as well. Tomorrow, then, we’ll dig a bit deeper into this power Jesus has. See you then.

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