The Gospel of Mark and Polytheism: Healing the Demoniac
by Ron Clark, Portland, OR
Polytheism is a word we do not think about to often. The word means “many gods.” The term suggests that an individual believes and worships more than one God or Lord. We do not meet many people who are polytheists, here in America, so most of us understand worship as a one on one relationship with a god or divine being.
Balance is a word we do understand. Balance means that everything is equal, in harmony, or in order. Balance in a polytheistic world meant that everything, good or evil, had its place and location in the world. Worship was not about praising one God, it was about keeping all the gods happy. Balance was not achieved through peace and harmony, it was achieved through manipulation, power, control, and covering your bases. This, above all, must have been exhausting.
In Mark 5 Jesus came to an area that had this form of balance. In a polytheistic society you kept the evil forces on your side (unless you wanted to curse someone) and the good forces on your side. It was even important to keep evil at bay, out of sight, out of mind. Hence we have a demoniac running around outside the city and howling around the graves and hills (where shrines tend to be). He is separated from the city. He could not be controlled so they let him run outside the city and become self destructive (Mark 5:1-5). This is convenient. Keep the bad guy with all the demons outside the city and we can continue in peace. This was balance. Yet, Jesus had a way of disrupting balance. A commitment to one God tends to do that. Just as King Josiah disrupted everyone’s system of balance, so Jesus came to seek and save (not drive out) those who are lost. Jesus exercised complete control on the demoniac and gave the many evil spirits permission to destroy the pigs (see what I mean by upsetting balance). In the minds of the people, the demons are now in the water and you never know what will happen next. His power was so strong that the people were afraid of him and begged him to go away from the whole region (Mark 5:17).
I could never understand why they did this—other than maybe they were afraid he would affect more livestock. Actually, he disturbed their nice, controlled, and balanced way of life. As long as they had a man they could call evil, they could send him away and go about their normal existence. Hearing the howls of the demoniac reminded them that evil was outside the camp and far from their safe environment.
My wife Lori and I have been in ministry for over 17 years. We began working with women and children who were victims of domestic violence in 1992. We learned to protect them and the theology behind their suffering, pain, and empowerment. In 1998 God moved us to Portland where Lori continued the work with victims and I learned how to help the abusive men. The batterer intervention counselors (most of them secular) taught me to have compassion on these men and understand how to help them by calling them to accountability. After a couple years of this training I again read the story of the demoniac. I came face to face with my own fears of these men and the realization that they are convenient demoniacs in our society.
We do not have room for these men in our cities. We drive them out, along with pedophiles and sexual addicts. I am not making excuses for their behavior--I am questioning whether we have a nice system of balance set up. As long as we demonize them and send them away we don't have to believe that evil is still among us. While they howl outside the city we publically warn people to beware of these evil creatures, not acknowledging that we all have the potential (living in a different family or place or lifestyle) to be evil, controlling, and abusive. I have had to acknowledge my own tendencies for power and control and struggle with sexual temptations as a man in a socieity that degrades women and children.
Are we any different than the citizens of Gerasa? And yet the command is still the same. "Go and tell everyone what the Lord has done for you..." The demoniacs of our age are still to be held accountable. Abusive men are called to display repentance to all and validate those whom they have destroyed by their language, fists, and attitudes rather than jump on the boat and flee with Jesus. Pedophiles must return to face their sins, their victims, and show people that repentance is more than a statement, it is a life long committment to Jesus. Sexual addicts must face the pain of those they hurt and show that women are not objects, but humans worthy of respect and love who are created in the image of Almighty God. The Savior is the same. He goes where we fear to go and has a habit of upsetting our nice balanced system of evil and good. He reminds us that evil (not flesh and blood) is to be confronted, challenged, and driven away. That all forms of evil should be faced and those under its power healed so that they can be "sitting, clothed, and in their right minds." He challenges us to embrace the demoniac and call him to repentance and health. He calls us to stop seeing evil as geographical or social and accept that it is pathological. He calls us to search out those howling among the tombs and give them a reason to sing. My Jesus loves us all and all of us includes all of them!!!!!
What think ye?