Summary: 1. Evil is real. 2. Jesus sought after radically evil people. 3. A radical conversion is necessary and available.
This powerful story of Jesus confronting evil is fascinating. If we had started the Scripture reading earlier in the chapter you would understand that Jesus and the disciples have just survived a terrible storm in a small fishing boat. The storm was blowing them in the direction of what they understood to be Satan’s territory. In their minds the demonic forces around them were trying to destroy them. When they land in this forbidden territory, the first thing that happens is that they are met by a man who is full of demons. Their name is their number — Legion, a thousand, give or take a few. The naive disciples who had never wandered far from home were feeling very far from home and threatened by their surroundings. The people of the Gadarenes were people who raised pigs — something that was “unclean” and forbidden for any Jew. They would not go near a pig, let alone tend them or eat them. But here they were surrounded by unclean pigs and a filthy, naked, raving lunatic possessed by unclean spirits. Not exactly the day at the beach they had planned.
This was a man whom the people of the area had tried to restrain, but they were unable to keep him under control. They had bound him with chains and posted a guard over him, but he broke the chains, and who knows what he did to his guards. He lived in the caves of the area — which also served as the tombs of the dead. No one wanted to go near the tombs, but made the tombs his home. Yet, when Jesus walked onto the scene, this wild and uncontrollable man became as gentle as a house pet. He ran up to Jesus and fell at his feet asking for mercy. Jesus delivered the man from the demons which had him in bondage, and the townspeople came to find the man sitting subdued at Jesus’ feet, fully clothed and talking like any rational person. The very one who had terrorized them was weak and helpless Jesus’ presence, and was eventually healed, made free and whole. They had not seen him like this for years — if ever. But in spite of this obvious miracle — this great good which Jesus had brought about in this man’s life — the people were afraid of Jesus and asked him to leave.
What a great story, full of surprises and a dramatic ending. Several truths present themselves in this story of Jesus’ encounter with evil. The first obvious truth is this: Evil is real. The temptation for us who are often still caught up in a modernist worldview is that we have explanations for evil. We read this story and we say, “Obviously this man was psychotic. [And the evil in his life had made him psychotic.] They just did not know about things like dissociative identity disorder, a bipolar condition, schizophrenic episodes, anti-social personality disorders or a diagnosis of being oppositionally defiant. If only he had some modern psychotropic drugs. It was probably his psychotic rant that scared the pigs and made them run into the sea.” We want to place this man in one of these categories that we understand, because in a culture where the existence of evil is denied, it is hard, if not impossible, for us to comprehend the reality of evil. I was a psychology major in college and I love to study it, but I believe Psychology has become the new religion of America. Think about it. We look to psychology to understand ourselves and life, to find healing, and to give us a purpose for life. It tells us how to live, and defines right and wrong behavior. So, because many consider it to be a science, when it comes to choosing between a biblical understanding for things or a psychological explanation , even Christians often choose the psychological model. I’m not saying that these psychological conditions do not exist, just that we sometimes allow the psychological model to trump the biblical model, and use psychological theory to explain away evil behavior and to dismiss people from personal responsibility for their behavior.
We are a culture that does not want to admit that evil exists, especially in people. There is always an explanation or rationalization for the things people do. Immediately after the Columbine school shootings we were trying to analyze Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. We did the same thing with the BTK killer and many others. What made these people do what they did? I read any number of theories, none of which addressed the issue of personal evil.
But this story in the life of Jesus makes evil very personal and real. The demonic spirits within the man did several things that a psychological condition cannot explain. First of all, they recognized the divinity of Jesus even though they had never seen him. This can only be explained in that they came from the realm of the supernatural and knew him intimately. Jesus talked to the demons and had a conversation with them. They told him their name and made a request of him. They understood that he was a danger to them and could return them to the Abyss. The reality of Satan and demonic activity is matter-of-factly talked about throughout the New Testament without apology. This is a part of our story in the Christian faith. Evil is never denied or explained away. It is always presented as a danger to avoid. The apostle Peter wrote, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). C. S. Lewis warned: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about demons. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” Both errors are equally defective. Whether we see evil nowhere or behind every bush, both are a distortion. We should not make too much or too little of it.