Wildcats and hyenas will hunt together, demons will scream to demons, and creatures of the night will live among the ruins.
-- Isaiah 34:14
The fifth chapter of Mark's Gospel begins with the story of a man who faced some serious problems. Or perhaps a legion of problems is a more accurate description of his plight.
This tormented soul had been exiled from the community to live out his remaining days in a graveyard near Lake Galilee. The man was literally overcome by demons. And so total was his possession that he was able to repeatedly break the chains and smash the leg irons that the townspeople had used to confine him.
"No one could control him," Mark wrote. "Night and day he was in the graveyard or on the hills, yelling and cutting himself with stones."
And that would have been the end of the man's bizarre narrative. But then along came Jesus and His disciples from their voyage across the lake. Recognizing that Jesus was literally God in the flesh, the demons that possessed the man begged Christ to postpone their eternal fate and allow them to enter a herd of pigs that roamed the vicinity. Jesus agreed. And the demons immediately fled from their victim.
Fast-forward now to 21st Century America. Does it seem like "demons" are only found in ancient fairytales? When a celebrity, sports star, family member or neighbor faces the consequences of alcohol, drugs, anger-management issues or some other destructive force, it's not long before someone observes that the victim "struggles with their share of demons." That's often a figure of speech. But literal demons really can torment people.
The fact is that everyone has their share of demons in one way or another--even Christ-followers. And even though we've accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, asked Him for forgiveness and then received it, we still can slide back into those bad habits and behaviors that we thought we had left far behind.
So what's the problem? Doesn't the Bible say that becoming a Christ-follower makes us a new creation?
It does. But our transformation is a work in progress on God's timetable. Although it can be immediate, shedding our personal demons often happens bit by bit and day after day along our faith journey. What's more, keep in mind that the pathway is narrow, rocky and full of unexpected turns. And it's when we take our eyes off the destination and listen to our demons that we wind up in the ditch.
Let's finish by considering the life lesson of the Apostle Paul--the Christ-follower who authored much of the New Testament. In his 2,000-year-old lament that may sound uncomfortably familiar to modern ears, Paul complains that he continues to do the very things he despises. Yet at the same time, he fails to do the things he knows that he should accomplish.
If this great Apostle to the Gentiles had so many problems with sin and temptation, what hope can we garden-variety believers have of breaking free from our own chains? Well...quite a bit! As Christ-followers, we don't have to accept sin's dominance in our lives. It all comes down to our ultimate trust and dependence on a Power that's much greater than our enemies.
"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?" asks Paul. "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"