Friday, July 10, 2009

Understanding the demonic in the NT

Read a great passage today explaining the essential meaning of the demonic in the worldview of the gospels. It's from Brendan Byrne's book "A Costly Freedom - A Theological Reading of Mark's Gospel":

In essence the demonic has to do with control. People in the ancient world generally and the biblical world in particular spoke of demonic possession when they felt themselves held captive from within by forces and compulsions over which they had no control - transpersonal forces that robbed them of freedom of choice, stunted their human growth, and alienated them from God, from life in community, and from their own individual humanity. This sense that the world, including Israel, has fallen under demonic control is pervasive in the horizon of discourse presupposed in Mark's gospel. Its prominence invites interpreters of Mark to relate the liberating activity of Jesus to all the various 'captivities' - personal, social, economic - under which people of our time labour and which they seem powerless to control or escape. The multiple forms of addiction that burden us as individuals and as societies - huge transpersonal forces that control us and make us slaves - can be seen as manifestations of the demonic.


Cameron said...

Interesting comment.

Now that I think about it, Mark (especially the first eight or so chapters) is all about setting Jesus up as the anti-demon. He casts demons out, he heals the sick and he even calms the weather. These are all signs of the kingdom, precisely because they show his mastery over the usurpers.

I don't think Mark is too worried about the nature of the demonic. He's more interested in the nature of this new King.

I think there's some value in using the term like the author of your comment does. It can be used to describe the way we have lost control over some of the things that make us human. The problem is that the term carries so much baggage.

The problem I see is that we often read the more explicitly demonic stuff through first century eyes yet the less blatant stuff through 21st century eyes. If someone is 'possessed' in Mark it is clearly the work of a demon (with or without red pyjamas). Yet bad weather is meteorological in nature. We end up with a 'demon of the gaps' theology, I guess.

When I read Mark I'm not so concerned about the sources of evil in the world because I am reading about the one who has finally come with power to subvert it. When I get someone in my office with absolutely no hope whatsoever I really don't have to know the answer, because I know Jesus has the power to change it.

That could sound a little trite and naive. But still, it's often the only thing that gets me going to work in the morning.

Nicky said...

This is a really great idea. Thanks to both of you for you comments. I read only last week a transcript of an ABC program called "Encounters," I think, where the person being interviewed was talking about how the Roman Rule was causing all sorts of people to "loose control over their lives". In our discussion we talked about how our governments today do exactly the same thing when they set up systems that rob people of their hope or ability to change their lives. I thought about all the people we see during the week through our Community Support - they have lost all hope in their ability to make things better. They are controlled by a lack of resources, by the next big bill that is going to throw their lives into chaos.

Salvation for these people can only come when we find ways that subvert government and non-government powers that continually rob people of their hope and resources to live whole lives. So many live with the ills that "possess" people who have been overpowered by life and end up with addictions, mental illnesses, loneliness and other "bad spirits."

I hope this makes some sort of sense and adds someting to this discussion. :-)

JDK said...

Great comments Cameron and Nicky - appreciate your input as always.

Regards, JDK