Modern Demons: Depressed and Dysfunctional
One factor of modern life has been the increasing awareness of diseases of the mind. We are increasingly aware of depression, anxiety and emotional dysfunction. It is all around us. It is within us and our families. No one is exempt. No one escapes. We know of someone in our family who is having deep emotional struggles right now and that person may be you. It may me. All families today take turns in facing enormous emotional crises. That is just the way it is. One in four Americas experienced serious emotional health problems last year. 25% of us faced serious emotional symptoms and trauma during the past twelve months.
The Journal of the American Medical Association, in June 2004, reported that 26% of Americans showed symptoms of emotional disorders last year, 18% experienced anxiety disorders last year. This was part of a pan-nation study of mental illness around the globe done by the World Health Organization. The researchers studied 60,000 adults in fourteen countries, and one thing is for sure: everybody around the globe is also facing high percentages of emotional disorders, although some nations are more open about their emotional trauma than others.
The article in Reuters said, “The level of impairment we found to be associated with serious mental disorders was staggering," said Ronald Kessler, Harvard Medical School professor of health care policy and principal investigator of the consortium. The report found that between 1 and 4 percent of the population in most countries met the criteria for a serious mental disorder, and these patients typically reported being unable to carry out their normal daily activities because of these disorders for more than a month during the past year. "There are very few physical illnesses that have impairments as great as these," said Kessler.
There are times in your life when you can become really emotionally broken and overwhelmed by anxiety. It is amazing to us how emotionally broken we or our family members can get. That is just the way it is.
Sometimes, the inner storms in life can become so strong that they blow us over. The inner winds are like inner tornadoes that break and bend everything in sight. (That is what the gospel story is all about.)
Like all families, when someone is going through really tough emotional times and maybe even contemplating suicide, most of us keep it quiet. We don’t tell many folks. Maybe only close friends. Maybe only family. Maybe our pastor. Maybe a counselor who is helping as we are sort out the painful emotional issues. Most of us keep personal trauma rather quiet and tell only our most trusted families and friends.
We pastors are not often professionally trained to be in depth counselors. We pastors are Bible preachers and teachers. We emotionally care for our members as shepherds gently care for their flock, but this is not the same as professional counseling. Sometimes professional counseling is needed to deal with the inner pressures and windstorms that have become so strong.
Also, as we approach the Bible stories for today, we need to remember that demon possession was the first century equivalent of mental illness. The person who was possessed by many demons was severely mentally ill. When a person was cleansed of those demons, the Bible said he was “clothed in his right mind.” Please don’t be spooked out by the language of demon possession and recreate scenes from movies similar to the Exorcist. Demon possession is a first century equivalent of serious mental illness, especially when the Bible says that person has legion of demons inside his or her mind.
It is with these images that we approach the gospel story for today. I should say, gospel stories, because the gospel lesson for today is closely associated with the previous story in the New Testament, where Jesus had cast out the “storm demons” that had been causing a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Let’s look at both of the stories, the story of the “storm demons in the lake” and the story of “storm demons in the human psyche.” The two stories are connected.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was often found hanging out in the villages on the shores of Lake Galilee or on the fishing boats in Lake Galilee. Jesus liked the small villages and waters of Lake Galilee. Lake Galilee was a big lake, about eight by ten miles. One day, the disciples and Jesus were out on a boat when a nasty squall suddenly hit the lake and the boat. The boat began filling up with water and the disciples were afraid that the boat would capsize. Meanwhile, Jesus was sleeping through the storm. Simon Peter, the eyewitness recorder from the Gospel of Mark, gives us some juicy historical details: “Jesus was asleep in the stern, in the back of the boat, and on a cushion.” Meanwhile, the squall had abruptly hit the boat and water was coming over the sides. The disciples shook Jesus by the shoulders and said, “Lord, don’t you care that we are sinking?” Jesus woke up and rebuked the waves and rebuked the raging wind, saying “Peace. Be still. Be calm.” The waters of the lake quieted down at Jesus’ command. The storm on the lake was stilled. The disciples were filled with awe and marveled saying, “Who is this that controls the wind and the waves.”
The language that Jesus used to control the “storm demons” on the lake is the same language that Jesus used for casting out the “storm demons” in the demoniac in the next story. Just as Jesus controlled the wind demons in the squalls on Lake Galilee in the first story, so also in the second story, Jesus controlled the mental demons of the man possessed with a legion of demons as he wandered among the tombs on the shore.
The story goes like this. Jesus had just healed the demons in the winds and the waves. The disciples and the boat then went to the other side of Lake Galilee, to the southeast shores of the lake, to an area known as the Decapolis. Decapolis is a Greek word. There were lots of Greeks living in that region. In the Greek language, deca means ten; polis means city. Keep in mind that this was a Greek region composed of ten cities.
There was a man there who was really emotionally disturbed. The gospels tell us that he had a legion of demons. A Roman military legion consisted of thousands of men, so this man had hundreds or thousands of demons in his mind. In other words, he was deeply distressed. He didn’t wear any clothing. He didn’t live in a house but in the tombs or graveyard. For a time, his arms and legs had been tied up in chains and he had been under guard. In other words, this man was really unbalanced. There are times in our lives when we can become really messed up psychologically, and this man was really emotionally sick.
When Jesus and his disciples landed on shore, they immediately were confronted by this crazed man. He looked and acted bizarre, like he was deeply mentally disturbed. Jesus commanded the unclear spirit to come out of the man just as Jesus earlier had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the wind and the waves on the lake. The crazed man cried out, “What are you doing with me, Jesus?” It was the demon talking in the man. Jesus asked the demon, “What is your name?” The demon replied, “Legion,” for the man had a legion of demons, had thousands of demons. In other words, he was very emotionally disturbed. Jesus commanded the demons to be released from the crazed man. The demons did and entered a bunch of pigs. These pigs ran down a steep bank in a frenzy and drowned in the lake.
The Greek herdsmen were astonished at the scene. The herdsmen were Greeks, not Jews. Jewish herdsmen raised sheep, not pigs. No Jewish herdsmen raised pigs. To raise pigs would have been against the Jewish religion but it was not against Greek religion. The Greek herdsmen were astonished at what happened and ran to a city to tell what had occurred.
When the people came out from the city, they found the man who was sick not calm and peaceful and sitting at the feet of Jesus. The Bible says, “He was clothed in his right mind.”
The Greek people of this Greek city were afraid and asked Jesus and the disciples to leave. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the healed man begged Jesus that he might go with him. But Jesus said, “Go back to your home and your friends and tell them how much the Lord God has done for you and how much mercy the Lord God has showered on you.” So the healed man returned home, praising God throughout all the cities how much God has done for him.
That ends the story, one of the best stories in the whole New Testament.
How does this story relate to us? It is a seemingly crazy story. How does this seemingly crazy story relate to us, this story with its demon possession of a mentally disturbed man who ran around naked among the tombs of a graveyard and was actually so violent that he needed to be chained up like a wild animal? What does this story have to do with you and me twenty centuries later?
Jesus wants to heal our inner anxieties. We all have inner anxieties that simmer and simmer and sometimes become stronger and stronger and stronger. Our inner anxieties grow and grow and grow. Our inner anxiety can grow so large that we become emotionally paralyzed and begin to rant and rave like we have lost our mind. That is what probably happened to the man in the story. That is what happens to us.
We as human beings can get emotionally distraught and sometimes, we can get really disturbed. We know that. It happens to us. It happens to people all around the globe. It is amazing how emotionally disturbed we human beings can become.
The Bible is here to tell us that our God is our heavenly Father who wants us to be healed, not only of simple diseases but also of terrible, awful diseases. God our heavenly Father wants us to be healed of simplephysical diseases such as the common cold, the flu, and runny noses. God our heavenly Father wants us to be healed of the worst possible physical diseases such as pancreatic cancer, rare childhood leukemia, and any other complex and nasty physical disease that infect and want to destroy our bodies.
The Bible is here to tell us that our God is our heavenly Father who wants us to be healed, not only of simple emotional diseases like low grade anxiety, low self esteem and fleeting moods, but God our heavenly Father also wants to heal us of the worst possible mental diseases such as deep suicidal thoughts, the worst of human depression, and emotional paralysis where we can do nothing but sit like a zombie like a vegetable. God wants to heal of our worst emotional disasters.
Our God, our heavenly Father, loves us as much as any father loves his human children. We fathers and mothers love our children no matter what, and when our children are very, very emotionally disturbed, we parents want our children to be healed. God is the same. God wants us to be healed of our emotional diseases, not matter how simple, no matter how serious, they may be.
Sometimes, and far too often, life can be permeated with great evil that is almost beyond human comprehension. In that moment, we as human beings are tempted to give up. But God does not give up and Jesus does not either. Into a situation which is overwhelmingly evil, where a person or a society is permeated with a legion of devils, Jesus goes there to bring his healing and peace. There is no situation so bad that Jesus does not bring his healing power. That is what this story is all about today. Jesus went to the worst possible situation of emotional suffering and healed the man. Jesus did not give up on him. Nor does Jesus give up on us either.
That is what this story is about. Jesus came to heal the worst possible mental disorders in the first century and God still wants to come and heal the worst possible mental disorders in the twenty first century. That is just the way Jesus is. That is just the way God, our heavenly Father, is. There is no emotional situation so bad that Jesus cannot bring his healing.
Healing begins with your heart and mine. In your heart and mine, God is that inner voice within that says to us, “Find help. Find healing. Find people who can help you.” That is the voice of Jesus inside of you, inviting you to begin your healing process within.
Talk things over with a friend or family member. Not just one friend or one family person. Share honestly and openly what is happening to you right now with a few trusted people.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book LIFE TOGETHER, talks about the ministry of listening. He suggests that Christians have minimized this ministry of listening. Jesus Christ was the great listener and we Christians are also called to be sensitive listeners as well. Bonhoeffer wrote, “We should listen with the ears of God, that we may speak the Word of God.” The word of God that is most often spoken in these situations is a divine Word of forgiveness, acceptance and love.
Find a right counselor. There is the right person out there who can help you. God can use that person to help heal your soul.
It may be that you need drugs and the right pharmaceuticals. In the past, the Church and Americans and our family and friends were often somewhat prejudiced against the use of helpful drugs for our emotions. Then, we as a nation and church went through the stage of where we were using drugs easily and as a short, simple and sweet solution for our problems. “Take the right pill and your problems will go away.” With the help of trusted family and friends and counselors, find the balance and the right medications if you need them and don’t be ashamed of taking them.
It takes time to heal. It takes time to get into an emotional mess and disorder and it takes time to heal. It takes time for a garden to grow, for a tree to blossom and for strawberry plant to produce strawberries. And it will take time for you and me to heal as well.
Be assured of this: Jesus wants to heal our hearts, souls, and psyches and not only our bodies.
I like the end of the healing story today. The man who was severely sick was healed and at the conclusion of the story, he was sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed in his right mind. The people around him were afraid of Jesus’ healing powers and they asked Jesus to leave. As Jesus was getting into the boat and was about to leave, the healed man approached Jesus. The healed man wanted to get into the boat and go with Jesus, his healer. But Jesus said, “Go back to your home and tell others how God has healed you.” And the man did. The Bible tells us that he went home to family and friends, proclaiming the good news of his inner healing to all.
There is still power today when we go back home to our family and friends and tell how the Lord Jesus Christ, the power of God, has been the source of healing in our lives. We share our story of God’s healing powers in our own lives, healing our anxieties, healing our depressions, healing our marriages, healing our inner despair, healing our low self esteem, healing our alcoholism, healing our addictions. There is power when we tell the story of God’s healing in our own lives or lives of our family.
At the heart of the story for today is its conclusion: a healed man shared with his friends and neighbors that Jesus had healed him. I do not believe that the healed man knew how Jesus healed it. That was and is not the issue. The issue is that a man believed that the Lord had been the source of his healing and he shared his deeply held conviction with others.
The witness of the Church is most powerful when people personally share with their family, friends and neighbors their deeply held conviction that the Lord God is the source of their inner healing.
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