Editor’s note: Throughout the month of May we will explore hard/weird/confusing/hilarious passages or verses in the Bible and try to make sense of them (or try to model how you make sense of them) to better understand God and the stories contained in scripture.
The story of Legion gives me nightmares. It’s about a naked, bleeding, demon-possessed man with super-human strength, who lives in a cemetery, intentionally cuts himself with stones, and haunts the region with his screams. I think Legion looks like Sasquatch, the Hulk, and Satan all mixed together.
In my dreams I walk toward the hillside at night, and I want to help him. I want to take him to a homeless shelter where he can get a shower, a meal, and a bed. I want to drive him to the ER and have someone look at his open wounds. I want him to get transferred to the Psych Ward. I want to give him a fresh start.
I walk up the hill in the moonlight driven to find him. When he jumps out from behind a stone my adrenaline surges. I see his crazed eyes, long, matted hair, and gray teeth. I see his naked skin smeared with months of dirt and blood. I see deep scars from all his self-harm, and dark bruises from all the chains he’s broken through. I smell him. He roars like a predator.
I realize I can’t help him. Obviously. Because he’s controlled by thousands of demons.
So I start to run. Over the tall grasses and broken rocks. Down the hill. And of course I fall, because this is a nightmare, and of course he catches me. I wake up with my heart racing, panting.
“They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He [Jesus] got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs.
And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.
Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. And they began to implore Him to leave their region.
As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
– Mark 5:1-20 NASB
Some people love horror movies. They roll their eyes and say, “Aimee, it’s just pretend.” Or I think that’s what they’re saying, because I have my hands over my ears, my eyes squeezed shut, and my knees tight against my chest while I’m humming, desperate for the credits to roll.
It’s not “just pretend” because I believe the Bible is true, and the Bible says there are demons. So demons must be real.
Thousands of books have been written about demons. To be honest, I haven’t read them, thank you very much. I did do some studies that were supposed to teach me how to have Victory over the Darkness, and cement my identity as a Valiant Warrior in the Kingdom of God, where Jesus Always Wins. But when I do those studies, they invade my imagination, and I end up with nightmares.
I know the story of Legion is not meant to sensationalize the mystique of evil. But sometimes I get stuck there. My mind wanders on that moonlit hillside, curious to know if there are other demons around. Maybe they’re not just in ancient Israel. Maybe they’re in Georgia. Maybe they’re lurking around my house right now. Maybe they’re after my kids. I stay there with the fear. I forget the rest of the story.
This story is in the Bible to reveal the power of Jesus. It’s right after the story of him stopping the wind and waves on the sea (Mark 4:35-41), and right before the story of him healing a woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years (Mark 5:21-34), and bringing a dead girl back to life (Mark 5:35-43). That’s a lot of miracles on less than two pages of the Bible. Jesus clearly has power over nature, demons, illness, and death.
I think my imagination hooks on the evil because it’s grotesque and dramatic. Jesus isn’t. He doesn’t hold a wand, wield a sword, quote ancient spells, or bellow war cries. Evil swells large and intimidating, and Jesus effortlessly pops it with a pin, using a couple questions or short commands.
I made myself read “Jesus Heals the Demon Possessed Man” 20 times, in efforts to face my fears about it. I have 15 pages of notes and questions. This morning I read it again and noticed something new: the demon-possessed man was waiting for Jesus at the shore.
He somehow subdued his 2,000 demons long enough to run all the way out of the tombs, down the hillside, across the sand, and to the water’s edge. He needed to get to Jesus. And Jesus was coming.
I’m not possessed by thousands of demons, thank God. But I sometimes feel powerless against my bad habits, chronic sins, and poor choices. My soul feels bloody, naked, and dirty. I want to hide in the tombs, away from people, shouting.
I felt that way today. Today I yelled at my child with my angriest face. And I muttered ugly things under my breath at my husband. I think I slammed my fist on the coffee table and swore.
I left the room and saw this story of Legion still open on my desk. I read it again. The truth seemed a long way off, like a boat on the horizon. I kept looking at it and realized what I needed to do. I needed to run. As fast as I could, with everything ugly battling inside me, and get to the shore. Because Jesus was coming.
A Couple Questions about Demons:
- Do you believe in demons? Do you believe evil is actively working against you? What about stuff like ouija boards, psychics, séances, and slumber party games like “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board,” and “I Believe in Bloody Mary”? Why are we sometimes intrigued by evil?
- Do you believe your prayers have power over demons? Jesus’ only words were, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” and “What is your name?” Do you believe it could be that simple? Lord, help our unbelief.
- In this story Legion is sent into 2,000 pigs. If all that’s evil inside you could be pulled out and sent away forever, what shape would it take? Zombies? Crows? Hyenas? Leeches? What was the first thing you pictured? Consider talking to God about that. He wants you healed and “in your right mind.”