A few of you reading this post are familiar with the biblical account that I am about to discuss. Others of you have never heard the account before. For the latter, I will walk you through the story. For the former, I hope to show you something in the account that you have never thought about. The account to which I am referring is recorded in the Bible, the Christian scriptures. This account takes place in the country of the Gerasenes, located on the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus had been teaching a large crowd and when he finished, he instructed his disciples to set sail across the Sea of Galilee to the country of the Gerasenes. When they arrived at the other side, they were met by a man who is described (in various bible translations) as “demon-possessed”, “possessed with a devil”, “possessed with devils”, etc. (I believe this word “possessed” is a mistranslation. I have more to say about this, but I will save it for another day). This man ran around without clothes. He was homeless; living among the tombs in the cemetery. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and cutting himself with stones. He would be driven to go out to the solitude of the desert. He was violent and the people were scared of him. They had tried to restrain him with shackles and chains yet he kept breaking free from his restraints. Ironically he was able to get free from his physical restraints but couldn’t free himself of his psychological restraints that had held him as prisoner in his mind for years.
This man would have been characterized by those who knew of him, as someone who should have been institutionalized for his extreme behavior and the symptoms he was exhibiting. I wonder if anyone accused him of being attention-seeking?…but I digress. I believe he would be diagnosed by the mental health professionals today as having several concurrent mental illnesses that would require therapy and a cocktail of medications for treatment. From the description he may have suffered from anxiety, depression, self-harm, PTSD, and schizophrenia, just to name a few. They would have deemed him as a risk to himself and others and possibly (depending on funding) would have him admitted to a mental health facility for in-house treatment of his illness. According to the account given in the bible, the only way they thought they could deal with this man was to bind him with restraints. When that didn’t work, they simply gave up and steered clear of him. Did nobody care about the man? My guess is that some did and they were doing everything they knew to do to help him (mental healthcare was basically nonexistent at the time). Having said that, sometimes, even today, we don’t have enough answers but we are doing the best we know how. On the flip side, I’m sure that there were others who laughed and made fun of this man and his unfortunate condition. More than likely most people probably learned to ignore him altogether as they went about their busy lives. But should that really surprise us (after all aren’t our small problems much more important than the very serious problems of others)? That sounds cold, but it’s honest.
Perhaps this man reminds you of somebody you know, or maybe he even reminds you of yourself (to a lesser degree of course). I know there are many out there who suffer from many of the same mental torments as this man. And like this man, many are misunderstood and even maligned and rejected. It is a cruel thing when the world kicks you in the teeth when you are down. Unfortunately people have a cruel and evil nature, even good people. Fortunately many people overcome the evil nature with goodness and kindness. The man living among the tombs in this account was not born the way he has been described, he became that way over time. Those changes may have been gradual or they may have been sudden, likely triggered by trauma. One thing I know for sure is this man didn’t choose to be this way and he desperately wanted to be free of the anguish and torment. Does that describe you? The beautiful thing is the way the story ends; the man is completely free from all of his mental illnesses, psychological torments and the sea of darkness that was inside him. Notice that he didn’t “come to the realization” that that’s just who he was, the hand that life had dealt him. He didn’t accept his condition and “make the best of it”. He also realized, as soul-crushing as the thought is, that he could not fix himself or free himself no matter how determined he was to do so.
If this man had resigned himself to the fact that he was meant to suffer with mental illness and it was just a part of who he was….things would have turned out very differently that day. If this man had been convinced that he could handle things on his own with positivity and tenacity…things would have turned out very differently that day. But instead, this man realized he needed help from a source greater than himself. He was at a point of desperation. He had exhausted all of his resources, both external and internal, and things had not gotten better. He felt total rejection from his peers; nobody stood by his side. He was serving out a life-sentence of torture, torment and anguish. He had been given a life-sentence in the confines of his mind, without the possibility of parole. Only death would free him from his imprisonment.
A man appeared and debarked, along with his followers, from a small boat. This man seemed different. There was something about him. One could sense the power and authority that emanated from him. The man living among the tombs sensed it. He immediately felt a spark of hope. “Could this man help me? Do I dare to allow myself even entertain the possibility?” he thought to himself. In the end, he decided that he had nothing to lose and ran as fast as he could to the feet of the man that may be able to completely change his life.
How did Jesus end up crossing paths with this man anyway? It started when Jesus was teaching on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. When He finished teaching there He told His disciples to ready the boat to cross to the other side of the sea. Not having been told the purpose of their crossing, the disciples, along with their teacher, headed across the water. On the way, while Jesus is sleeping in the boat, they ran into a major storm and were in fear for their lives from the ferocious winds and waves. When they woke Jesus, He calmed the storm and they continued on across. Interestingly, directly after the encounter between Jesus and the man in our account, Jesus and His disciples headed back across the lake. The only reason Jesus went across the water in the first place was to meet the need of this man. I believe either the man, his mother, or some family member had been crying out to God to help him, and God, hearing the cry, sent Jesus to set this man free! The depth of God’s love that was demonstrated to this man is beyond comprehension.
The man ran to Jesus and bowed down at His feet and the demons that were inside the man cried out to Jesus asking, “What business do we have with each other?” Jesus didn’t answer their inquiry. He didn’t have to. He is the son of the Most HIgh, the one who created these very demons. They are subject to Jesus and His authority. In spite of the demons’ initial question, they had already figured out what “business” He had with them; He was there to kick them out of the man. Not surprisingly, they didn’t want to leave the man. At the very least, they didn’t want to be sent into the abyss, where they would be held until the end of the age. That is why they begged to be allowed to enter into the herd of swine. Jesus granted their request and they left the man and entered into the herd of swine. The pigs suddenly felt the torment that the man had been living with for years and they immediately ran down the steep bank and into the sea where they drowned. The most amazing thing about this encounter was the result; once the man was no longer filled with demons, he was instantly restored to his “right mind”. After the root was removed, the problem vanished. This man lived the rest of his life in freedom; free from the plethora of mental illnesses that had plagued him for years. His torment was finally over and he had a new lease on life!