When I was in seminary, I once wrote an exegesis paper about Mark 5. Specifically, the story abut Jesus and the demon-possessed man. It is an intense episode. My paper ended up not clearly outlining a main theme, and as such did not go over very well with my professor. All the same, this scene in Mark 5 is still quite a story.
Reflecting on this chapter, we could talk about the name of the demon ("Legion"). We could reflect on the strength it seemed to give the man it possessed. We could talk about the whole episode with the pigs...and the reaction of the people to what happened. We could certainly talk about those things. Indeed, each of them could warrant their own conversation.
Instead, though, I would simply like to reflect for a moment about a larger question: the existence of the demonic and--more importantly--the spiritual world.
To the contemporary Western mind, such questions are largely the stuff of fantasy fiction and horror movies. Scary, yes. Real? Well, that is another question. The scientific mind and the physical world occupy most of our attention, leaving little room for any other kind of reality. This story from Mark 5 is simply ignorance, fabrication, myth, metaphor, or some combination thereof. It isn't real. It can't be. And so we might be tempted to move on to other parts of the Bible that align more with our own understanding or worldview.
The spiritual world implied by the existence of the demonic, though, is not something that I wish to simply rule out. To do so would, I think, call into question not just the evil depicted here, but its cure as well. Claiming that the demonic does not exist can also lead to a rejection of any kind of spiritual existence. To that end, I would wager that increasing numbers of people are coming to this conclusion--in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. I understand that, and the reasons for it. But that does not mean it is the only option.
Even now, individuals, cultures, and societies across the world continue to use a spiritual lens with which to examine reality. They see in biblical stories such as this one something affirmed in their own lives. They see a spiritual world. In so doing, they confront us with a challenge, implicitly asking us if we are simply going to reject all that as childish superstition or ill-informed activity, or if we are willing to consider that we might be missing something.
Such things, of course, do not comport with the technocratic world many of us inhabit. With the systems by which we calculate and experiment. With the laboratory and the spreadsheet. All this has a hard time allowing for the spiritual world. It just seems made up.
But, of course, there is Mark 5. Jesus and the demon meet. The spiritual conflict is at hand. And there is more to consider on this theme--both in the Scripture and elsewhere. All around the world even now such confrontations are assumed to occur daily. Are we, with our sanitized view of existence, to simply reject these things out of hand? Dare we move past what we do not immediately understand? Have we always been able to explain what we ourselves have experienced? Must the steady march of science be our only source of knowledge, or are there additional paths to understanding?
These are questions worth asking and spending some time considering, for in them we can learn to look ourselves searchingly in the mirror and begin to address what we really believe. What doubts we have. What we really think about life and its meaning. And in the exploration, we may just find there is more out there than we had ever considered before.