Demons, Trauma and Bad Stories

The Text for Context

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

Mark 5


I suspect that the fella in this story suffered from significant trauma. Bewildered and afraid, the townsfolk didn’t know what to do with this fella, so they discerned it as demon possession. This only served to stoke community fear and unsettle the community against this hurting individual - resulting in alienation and isolation (chains, and shackles, driven from town) and, yes...  more pain and more trauma for this soul.


Trauma expert Gabor Mate’ defines trauma as: “a psychic wound that hardens you psychologically that then interferes with your ability to grow and develop. It pains you, and now you're acting out of pain. It induces fear, and now you're acting out of fear. Trauma is not what happens to you; it's what happens inside you due to what happened to you.”

I suspect the “demoniac” in this story had suffered significant hurt; his behaviour was the trauma response.  I wonder if the rejection he received in response to his trauma-induced behaviours resulted in more trauma - one might say Legion (many) of trauma.

Jesus did something different.

Jesus took a different approach.   Jesus engaged the distressed person differently.  Instead of giving this person a wide birth, Jesus pressed in with love.  Something happened when this dear soul encountered Love-incarnate. In Love, there is safety, genuine space, and support to engage the source of our deepest pain (trauma).

The story tells us that the encounter with Jesus had a significant positive outcome. The text tells us as a result of this meeting; the man was “in his right mind.”  I’m pretty sure this wasn’t that he all of a sudden embraced a “biblical worldview” or gave intellectual assent to the Four Spiritual Laws.

The man encountered Love (incarnate) in a deeply profound way that allowed him to deal with his pain.  For the purpose of the story, this happened instantaneously, but my experience tells me lasting deliverance is rarely instantaneous.

This story illustrates whole-making when Love meets our brokenness in deeply personal ways.  Love in a healthy relationship/community can provide the ideal context for those of us who are hurting to begin to heal truly.  This healing takes time and is often measured in inches, not often in leaps and bounds, but the safety, compassion, and care in the context of love can offer genuine hope toward more wholeness.

It’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

If the reports are to be believed, and I think they are, there is an increasing cultural trend of depression, anxiety, and dis-ease.  We are more connected than ever, yet many experience isolation and loneliness.  More information and the exchange of that information, and yet more and more folks are experiencing a sense of estrangement from each other, the world,  its stories, and the way things work.

What if the problem lies in something more foundational? What if the very stories we tell each other, worship, and defend are bad stories that contribute to our collective trauma?

In his Right Mind?  This could spell disaster!

Again, this funny phrase - after the Jesus encounter, the man was said to be “in his right mind.”  We cannot assume that being in his right mind means he is now a good little consumer and church member - conforming to groupthink. Instead, in his right mind speaks of recovering his authentic self. Perhaps, in his right mind might better be understood that he could better see things as they really are - the stories, relational systems, and traditions and the way they might have contributed to his trauma.  

In the light of Love, this authentic self emerges from the graffiti of cultural dysfunction.  Connecting to his authentic self - in his right mind in love, he was genuinely free - for the first time in his life.

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The community responded interestingly - they kicked Jesus out of town. Weird.

Could we be more terrified of a person in their right mind than we are of the “demonized?”

Is it that in the liberation of this person, they lost their collective scapegoat?

Or scarier still - now, in their right mind, this person can better see what’s going on, the toxicity, and refuse to play the game. Moreover, what if this right-mind stuff is contagious???  A person this free is the biggest threat to a dysfunctional worldview.

“Get that Jesus out of here!  He’s going to disrupt everything!”

I wonder …

What are some toxic, trauma-inducing stories we tell in our religious and broader culture?

What might a Love-inspired, trauma-informed faith community and its stories look like?


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