In Matthew 8, Mark 5 and Luke 8, there is an interesting vignette familiar to many Christians. It is the story of Jesus and the demoniacs. Jesus and his disciples sail across Galilee to the region of the Gadarenes during a furious storm—a storm in which Jesus amazes his band by calming the waves. According to Barclay’s commentary, when they arrive on the other side it’s still night and they land in an area of tombs carved into the cliffs. Barclay paints a spooky picture of the madmen living amongst the tombs in the moonlight.
I happened on this incident again recently in Matthew and some things jumped out at me that I hadn’t noticed before. For one, I didn’t recall that there were two demon possessed men. I had remembered the story as just one. I recalled it as one because in Mark and Luke’s retelling of the tale there is just one demoniac: Each of the three synoptic gospels varies slightly in some of this incident’s details. I find the variations fascinating, and I believe in God’s good plan the discrepancies were meant to be there for our benefit.
“Son of God” they shouted, “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” . . .The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
I find it interesting that the demons acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. That goes along with Satan challenging Jesus as to who He is in the wilderness temptations (Luke 4:3)–Satan, of course, knew perfectly well who He was. And isn’t it interesting that evil, supernatural beings acknowledge Jesus when there are billions of humans who can plainly see the Creator thru His creation and still steadfastly refuse to see Him (Rom. 1:18-23). We do not see the real Jesus because we are blinded by Satan. I’ve written two books in the genre of spiritual warfare: One is about the Wilderness Temptations (how we face the same ones as Jesus) and the other about Satan’s favorite tricks. They are both available from amazon.com under my name, Carl Geo. Austin.
Using the term “torture” in the same sentence as Jesus is a jarring conflation to say the least. Does it mean they thought Jesus was going to judge them early and cast them into the lake of fire before the end of the age? It seems to suggest that they know their “appointed time” is coming and perhaps even approximately when.
This story suggests that short of human possession, demons might be fairly comfortable inhabiting animals, particularly swine—an animal reviled by Jews. I’ve known a few dogs and cats that seemed possessed by evil spirits. It seems apparent that demons need to have a home to be really comfortable. Then we also have the question of the tidy but vacant soul: Recall Luke 11:24-26: “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” This parable can be interpreted both as a metaphor for the effect of empty “home improvements” on the state of one’s soul—or it can be interpreted literally. In a higher sense, it’s not enough to rid oneself of the bad but one has to actively seek the good—one doesn’t just stop sinning but has to fill oneself with the good, noble, pure, etc.—fruits of the spirit, lest evil will return more truculent than before.
However, in a Screwtape sense, perhaps not inhabiting some person or animal was dereliction of demonic duty. Maybe they would get in trouble with the archdemon—be written up and get sent to the Sahara or the Antarctic. At the very least it suggests that demonic spirits, like vampires and zombies need hosts—empty minds, like fresh blood to feed on.
“He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they pleaded with Him to leave their region.”
Does it not seem odd that after Jesus had performed what was in a sense a community service that the whole town, like some angry lynch mob, came to out to beg him to leave? It would suggest maybe that they liked being the way they were–that they didn’t want to be rid of familiar demons. Or perhaps they were worried that Jesus had a power that could send them rushing headlong into a type of suicide–the death of their egos. In Luke’s version (8:26-38): “…they were overcome with fear.” There is a type of sin that is so habitual that it becomes comfortable—my personal favorite: judging and condemning others. Perhaps it was reassuring to have tormented souls around who they could feel superior to in comparison: “I may be a sinner, but look at old so-and-so. He’s downright crazy, and evil to boot.”
Sometimes I think I have people who fill that role in my life—all of the evil, moronic, lowlife jerks I compare myself to. I wouldn’t like to think so but I probably do. If I stay focused on the speck of dirt in my brother’s eye, I don’t notice the two-by-four in mine. In any event, I have my own personal, comfortable demons. They don’t possess me, but they’re there, hovering around in the ether, disembodied voices in my thoughts telling me what’s wrong with both me and the people in my life, how I can’t do anything about it and how everything will always be the same—hopeless. But I’ve learned where they originate and I’ve learned to ignore them. And when I’m really sharp I answer them with Scripture like Jesus did. Or if a verse doesn’t come to mind, I answer by praising the Lord. This is what the devil and his demons least want to hear.
In his commentary on Mark 5, Barclay states: “The Gerasenes banished the disturbing Christ—and still men seek to do the same.” So, what are the familiar demon voices with which you’ve become comfortable—the zombie part of your ego that refuses to die? The part of you that wants no part of Jesus in your life.