Mark 5:3-4 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. (ESV)
Before we can truly grasp the mission of Jesus, we must understand the dark of darkness. Unless we acquire a true sense of how dense and impenetrable the darkness, we likely won’t see the beauty, glory, and value of his mission to redeem and save. We must see what some wish to deny – that Satan, demons, rebellion against God, and the evil activity that flows from all these, are all very real.
The demoniac of Mark 5 was living a dark life. Who could deny it? He dwelt among the tombs far from the light of truth and sanity. Though attempts were made to bind him and remove him from society, his darkened strength burst the chains. His life and heart were overrun with an insidious black cloud. What was true in his life remains true today.
The Dark Side Is Real
Just take a quick look at human history, where the darkness of the world and the soul are not hidden from sight. Blood and hate stain nearly every page of the history of nations. In every season of civilized life, people have been confronted with heartless, killer dictators. These include Nero, Vlad III, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Kim Jong-Il, and a throng of others, inflicting genocide on hundreds of millions, caring little whether their victims were men, women, or children.
History also reveals that, far too often, the greedy of the world notoriously suppress and abuse the poor, even if it means small children are used as tools for slave labor or die of malnourishment in the streets.
On the issue of race relations, South Africa and the Southern United States are only two of thousands of areas historically plagued with severe racial conflicts. The tragic results of these needless battles include countless murders and the cruel individual and institutional oppression of people because their skin color or culture varied from the group in power.
Shamefully, these types of activities are not difficult to find on the pages of history, nor are they difficult to find today. For example, it is darkness, not light, that leads a government to bomb its own citizens with chemical weapons, as the world witnessed on August 21, 2013 in Syria’s Ghouta chemical attack. It is darkness, not light, that leads a terrorist group like ISIS to capture whole villages of people, threatening their lives daily, and beheading or crucifying those who seriously oppose their tyranny. Even as I write this chapter, Egypt is retaliating against ISIS for the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, a gruesome act that was released on video for the world to watch.
But tyrannical governments and mad terrorist groups are not the only ones committing such atrocities. It also happens on the level of our individual lives. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 16,121 homicides in the USA during 2013. It’s unimaginable that such a huge number of people willingly and consciously took the steps necessary to end another human life without justification. How is it possible?
If that statistic makes you gasp, and it should, then the average global murder rate will make you faint. According to the Global Study on Homicide, produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there were an estimated 437,000 intentional homicides worldwide in 2012! For the sake of grasping the sheer size of that number, imagine that all those murders occurred in Miami, Florida. The entire population of the city would have been completely wiped out, plus 20,000 beyond that. In other words, every year enough murders occur globally to obliterate the population of a major city. That can only be true in a very dark world.
Of course big numbers are very impersonal. We can will ourselves to look away from them because they don’t represent people we know personally. This changes, however, when murder happens near you, or worse, to one of your own family members.
McCalla, Alabama is the small town my family calls home. We, along with the other residents of our community, recently felt the darkness of brutal murder first hand. The killings occurred less than a mile from where my children attend elementary school. Here is a heart-wrenching paragraph from one of the news articles covering the unimaginable crime:
On July 1, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office obtained warrants. . . charging the 47-year-old [Steve] Hutcheson with four counts of capital murder in the deaths of Hutcheson’s wife, 49-year-old Doris; his daughter, 14-year-old Kimberly; and son, 12-year-old Peyton. The fourth capital murder charge addresses the murder of a child under the age of 14. Hutcheson’s wife and daughter were each shot twice in the head and face area, authorities said. Peyton, it appears, saw it coming. He was on the couch, and then rolled to the floor after having been shot three times, in the neck and face. (Carol Robinson, “Body of McCalla Triple Homicide Suspect Identified,” AL.com, July 9, 2015).
When this sort of event happens close to home, to children who attended the same school as your children, then the darkness of murder becomes more than a statistic. It becomes a haunting reality.
Perhaps even more frightening, for every one person who actually carries out a murder, there are likely a thousand who would murder if they could. The darkness and hate is present in the heart (Matthew 5:21-22), and there is a deep desire to end another person’s life, but they either lack the bravado or the ability to carry out their wishes. Often these people murder as best they can – with their words. They pierce their victims with verbal bullets of hate and venom. Whether it is the father screaming irrationally at his children or the fiery rants easily found on social media sites, many wish death (or at least severe harm) on others.
In the area of human sexuality, the thick darkness of the human soul is smothering. Statistics indicate that every second there is an average of 25,300 people viewing pornographic material online and roughly 35% of all downloaded material is pornographic in nature. Pornography is a billion dollar global industry and one of the most lucrative businesses in the world. Yet it shamelessly glorifies and celebrates the twisting of human sexuality, transforming women from human beings with souls to mere objects of dark pleasure, all for the sake of sick entertainment and astonishing profits.
Tim Challies, a Christian blogger and author, has written extensively about the impact of internet pornography on our culture and in particular on young people. He writes:
The sexuality of a whole generation of children is being formed not by talks with their parents, not by reading the kind of book I was given as a young man, but by professional pornographers who will do anything – anything! – to fuel the increased desire for increased depravity. (Tim Challies, Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn, 11.)
But it gets even worse. Of the millions consuming internet trash, many take it much further than mere viewing. Prostitution is the next level of this depraved sexual ethic, and it continues to be a rampant practice in all parts of the world. The market for the product of human flesh has led to the rise of an unthinkable sex-trafficking industry, leading to the exploitation (and often kidnapping) of tens of thousands of young girls and boys. In the brothels of major cities worldwide, bleak darkness reigns supreme.
Human sexuality is also twisted in many other ways, primarily through the practices of fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. Unhindered sexual experimentation outside of marriage and the practice of homosexuality are now considered culturally acceptable practices in the USA. Even many married couples openly permit themselves and their partners to freely engage in adulterous relationships, not to mention the millions who cheat in secret.
This prevailing loose and free sexual ethic has caused uncountable amounts of pain and suffering. It is responsible for a national and worldwide epidemic of broken families. It is also responsible for the rise of the most brutal mechanism ever used to break families – the abortion industry. In the USA, approximately 2,900 women per day decide to terminate the image of God within them in order to solve the problem of an unwanted pregnancy.
Additionally, darkness plagues the lives of tens of millions of people who are addicted to a variety of high-inducing substances. These include illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, and even food.
Addicts are destroying their bodies, relationships, and souls at astonishing rates. According to the CDC, in 2012 over 9% of all Americans age 12 or over had used an illicit drug within the past month. Annually in the United States, it is estimated that some 88,000 people die due to causes related to alcohol abuse. And in 2013, there were 43,982 deaths due to drug overdose.
Eating disorders – whether in the form of gluttony or intentional starvation – can also create very dark ways of life, as many who struggle in this area can attest. Millions have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and other self-starving disorders. Millions of others habitually gorge themselves well beyond what their bodies need, only to then purge themselves through vomiting, taking laxatives, or other methods; a condition called bulimia nervosa.
These eating disorders are dangerously unhealthy and can even be deadly. People who suffer with these dark conditions typically have a severely unbalanced view of the importance of body image and are constantly worried about keeping their weight below a certain threshold. Ironically, the fleshly desire to make one’s body appear attractive can quickly lead to the deterioration and decay of that same body. No wonder the Bible mentions gluttony and self-starvation as major sins against the body and the glory of God (see Proverbs 23:20-21, Philippians 3:19, Colossians 2:20-23, and 1 Timothy 4:1-5).
When we look beyond all these dark realities, we find there are many others. For example, a huge number of people struggle with emotional darkness and loneliness, often falling into a smog of depression, which is essentially a type of slavery, a darkness that captures souls and refuses to release its victims. Because depression is notoriously difficult to define, and because it can be easily exploited or hidden, it’s extremely difficult to ascertain accurate statistics about it. However, the statistics we do have point unmistakably in a certain direction. Namely, a remarkably high number of people are burdened under the dark clouds of oppressive, uncontrollable sorrow. It is no surprise that prescription antidepressants and antipsychotics are routinely among the best selling drugs on the market.
In addition to all these areas, I mustn’t neglect to mention the darkness of passivity and inactivity. Hundreds of millions of people living in this bleak and dark world are willing to do absolutely nothing about it. Thankfully, there are many who do strive to brighten up the world in different ways and for different reasons, but far too many people don’t. Their tendency is often to shelter themselves from it, hiding within the relatively safe confines of their homes and neighborhoods. They only enter into risk-free relationships with others, and they do all they can to avoid brushing shoulders with the darkness of the world. This is the sin of omission, when people don’t do something that they should.
There is a secular version of this passivity, pictured by a fearful ostrich with his head buried in the sand. And there is a religious version, exemplified by the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, who stood high and mighty, looking down their holy noses at those stuck in darkness. What the ostrich and the Pharisee may not realize, however, is that they are also living in darkness, aiding its multiplication by attempting to avoid it.
All of these examples demonstrate that darkness is real, and our world is plagued with it. The claim that human beings are basically good is an obviously false one held only by blind idealists.
For those more interested in facing the facts as they really are, the Scriptures have much to say about the dark condition of the human heart and of the world in general. The Bible teaches us that behind the darkness of human activity, there is a spiritual realm inhabited by dark beings:
Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
We mustn’t naïvely avoid this fact: There are “rulers,” “authorities,” and “cosmic powers” that rule over “this present darkness” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This is where the real battle is fought. These rulers and authorities are various types of demonic powers and forces of darkness, invisible to the eyes but very much active in the world. Commenting on this verse, John MacArthur emphatically states, “Our greatest enemy is not the world we see, corrupt and wicked as it is, but the world we cannot see.”
The phrase heavenly places refers to the spiritual realm that surrounds us. It does not refer to some far off, unreachable place. These are real powers that bring havoc and chaos into our lives right here and right now, especially as our fallen human flesh so readily and willingly embraces the darkness.
It is certainly possible that you are reading this book as a person trapped in the very darkness I have been describing. Maybe this darkness surrounds you like a thick, black shroud, creating daily sorrow for your soul. Are you plagued with an addiction, a heart of hate, greed, depression, disease, or a twisted sexual ethic? Are you one who is content to sit in passivity rather than struggle against these forces of darkness?
You might be reading in order to find a way to break out of the chains that bind you and find freedom from the strangling grip of sin. If this is true of you, it is very important that you see the darkness for what it is and not try to sugarcoat it. Every person is engaged in a spiritual war with a brutal, cruel enemy who seeks to devour our souls. To pretend otherwise is to be consumed.
The Dark Side Is Powerful
Once in my backyard, my brother and I placed boxing gloves on our hands. If my memory is accurate, Chris was seventeen and I was fourteen. He was nearly twice my size, a football player and weight-lifter, while I was bony and twig-like (still am). I thought boxing would be fun and so did he.
I had what seemed to be a decent strategy – don’t get hit. My theory was to basically win with speed, be quick on the feet. Chris had his own strategy – wait until I slowed down a bit, then hit me very hard in the face.
At first it appeared I was winning. I ducked, spun, shifted, and danced. Every once in a while, I would move in close and gut-punch him, then quickly move away before he could pound me. This went on for about a minute. That minute was long enough for me to grow overconfident. I began to underestimate what a punch from Chris would mean for me. I was feeling I had the advantage, that the battle was as good as won.
That’s when Chris got what he’d been waiting for. He landed a punch somewhere in my face area with great force. It felt like a lightening strike, complete with skull-rattling stars. All I remember was laughing through an overconfident smile one second and being flat on the ground the next. His punch literally picked me up off my feet and turned me backwards, landing me facedown. Needless to say, he won.
People often have a tendency to underestimate their opponents. They feel they have enough power to overcome and that victory is assured. The major mistake I made with Chris was not carefully understanding my opponent and his crushing capabilities.
This was the same mistake made by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series, where they took on the Miracle Mets of New York. The Orioles were stacked and loaded with stars who could pitch and hit on the highest level. The Mets, on the other hand, were a young expansion team who had never won more than 73 games in the seven years they had been in existence. All the experts had picked the Orioles to crush the Mets, but that is not how it turned out. Baltimore had severely underestimated the power of the New York squad, and as a result they endured a tremendous and legendary defeat.
People make this same mistake when it comes to spiritual warfare. They underestimate the power of darkness and its ability to crush. They assume a little darkness won’t hurt them, thinking it can be controlled. They don’t understand the power of possession, of being held firmly in the grips of an evil that has made its way inside. They don’t understand the power of oppression, being smothered by an external atmosphere of darkness. They pretend darkness is their friend, that it means them no harm, or that they can pull free from it easily if they desired.
However, darkness is incredibly powerful. Satan is boxing without gloves and so are his demons and the systems of the world that follow his ways. Without considering how crushing these can be, people nonchalantly step into the presence of death and decay, unprepared for the tsunami of devastation coming their way. They walk into a storm of wickedness that is overwhelming in strength. If they do come to realize the power of darkness, and decide to leave it behind, they frequently find it impossible. Like a rat in a trap, they are unable to escape, stuck and gasping for life.
This is what had happened to the demoniac in the land of the Gerasenes. He was captured and possessed, essentially living as a zombie, not a real person. Here was someone who was once a human being, but for all practical purposes, not anymore. He still had a human body, but his humanity and sanity had been snatched away. A powerful opponent had overtaken him and forced him onto a path of destruction.
The people of the town thought they could subdue and capture this evil enemy. Nobody wanted a raving lunatic tromping through their tombs and over the hills. Mark tells us they attempted to place chains on him, believing shackles would contain him. Luke adds that the people often placed a guard over him, attempting to hold him at bay (Luke 8:29). But he tore the chains apart like paper, and the guards were insufficient to halt his tortuous rampage.
The Appeal of Darth Vader
In The Empire Strikes Back, evil is embodied in the towering figure of Darth Vader – a merciless killer and ruthless dictator. His son is Luke Skywalker, a good guy who doesn’t yet know that his father is the worst villain in the entire imaginary galaxy. As a Jedi-in-training, Luke honestly believes he can defeat Vader, badly underestimating the strength of his opponent.
In the cloud city, they fight. Sabers shine and crack as young Luke puts forth a valiant effort. But the villain eventually overtakes him, severing one of his hands in the process. Holding on for dear life, Luke angrily glares while Vader speaks (as evil often speaks). He invites Luke to join him and combine their strength together. But when Luke refuses this invitation, Vader retorts, “If you only knew the power of the dark side!”
When Vader made that statement, he was right. To be clear, the Star Wars saga is a fictional story, framed within an imaginary pantheistic worldview, where evil and good are mere illusions that ultimately balance one another out. That means these movies do not portray an accurate representation of how things really are. But even still, when it comes to that one statement, Vader was correct. Luke had underestimated the overwhelming power of the dark side, and his life-threatening injuries proved it.
What about you? Are you aware that there are evil forces that want to subdue, cripple, and destroy you? These forces are not mere fictitious movie villains, but actual beings who seek your ruin. Furthermore, do you understand that when these things attack, they are much more powerful than you?
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (ESV)
Lions are extremely powerful, but keep in mind, this is only a simile – the devil is like a roaring lion. In reality Satan is much more powerful than a mere lion. Peter makes this comparison because lions are known for ripping into the flesh of others, having no pity when they tear the skin of their prey. They easily overpower a gazelle or zebra. Satan attacks in the same way, but on the spiritual level. This soul-tearing figure is your enemy. It’s best not to step into the backyard with him, with or without boxing gloves. He will win the battle. You don’t stand a chance on your own. Thankfully, you do not have to be on your own.
This post is Chapter 3 of the book Drowning Swine.
Read Drowning Swine Online
Click the chapter links to read now
- Jesus the Missionary
- Here Be Demons (and Pigs)
- Darkness Is Dark
- Among the Tombs Crying Out
- Darkness Kills Itself
- Who’s the Boss?
- Team Affiliation
- Naming Your Demons
- Fighting Fire with Consuming Fire
- Why God Made Pigs
- The Idolatry of Economy
- Holiness, Sanity, and Missions
Appendix: Synoptic Harmony