When we read about Jesus exorcising demons in Luke 8, how might it help deepen our faith journeys?
Jesus said to his first disciples: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). Even today God’s ways are more complex than any of us can bear. But not everyone has trouble grasping the same thing. Demon possession and exorcism, for example, fit easily into the worldview of Jesus’ first disciples, yet these are hard for many Americans to grasp today.
I’m an ELCA pastor serving on the island of Madagascar. Here Lutherans exorcise demons daily. For example, an 11-year-old boy I know started having “fits.” He would scream, run away and hit those around him as he flailed his body uncontrollably.
Leaders of the Malagasy Lutheran Church immediately concluded that he was possessed and exorcised the demons. He became calm and was restored to normal life after a week or so of exorcisms and spiritual nurture.
In the midst of it all, I asked one elder why she thought the boy had been possessed. She explained without hesitation that it was because his father beats him. The boy’s emotional and physical suffering, she said, weakened his mind. Satan took advantage of this weakness to enter and torment the boy’s mind. She went on to point out that exorcism might only cure the problem temporarily. The father’s behavior had to be dealt with, or Satan would continue to weaken and torture the boy.
You and I might explain the causes differently. But there is logic in the explanation and the treatment is effective. In Madagascar prayer in Jesus’ name is the most powerful force in the universe. Malagasy Christians, like their animist neighbors, believe their world is in chaos, suffering the effects of many spiritual forces. Humans are almost powerless on their own. They need spiritual help.
The New Testament perspective isn’t so different. Paul says “the whole creation has been groaning” under spiritual torment (Romans 8:22). Christians wage their struggle against “spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan is “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30), and humans need spiritual “armor” (Ephesians 6:13-17) that comes only through faith in Christ.
In Luke 8 alone, Jesus shows his authority and power in three different areas: over nature (calming the storm, 8:24); over demons (freeing the demoniac, 8:33); and over disease (healing the hemorrhaging woman, 8:44).
Jesus reveals himself as the ultimate power in life—and calls us to trust and follow him as a small child follows his or her parent. Spirit possession, exorcism and spiritual battles are as concrete for many people in this world as science is for others.
Yet Jesus is above all powers, be they spiritual, natural, political, medical, etc. This is an offer of hope for those who seek to trust Jesus in the face of so much we can’t control. No matter what the issue that torments our consciences, Jesus’ power is greater.
Paul’s confidence can equally be ours when we learn to trust that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). As we lean on Jesus, we may yet learn many mysterious truths that we were unable to bear yesterday.
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