There’s a show that I really like to listen to on the radio from NPR as I’m driving or as I’m doing things about the house called This American Life. If you’re not familiar with it, it is a radio program that presents three or four stories all revolving around some central theme. There are a few episodes that really stick out in my mind and one of them was an episode called “The Devil Inside Me.” This episode revolved around stories about people struggling with inner demons or experiences that haunt the way they live their life. The show separates into “acts” or story segments, and the second act of this particular episode was a story entitled “Vox Diaboli.” This act was simply a series of confessionals that people gave about the “inner voice” that pushed or urged them to keep on living in a habit that they had become accustom to. One of the people interviewed had this to say:
I remember realizing just how finely calibrated the voice was to every nuance, every part of my feelings. Including the feeling that I didn’t want to smoke cigarettes. And it’s just like, “Might as well have another cigarette, cause this is it. Tomorrow you’re gonna quit..” Tomorrow something would happen, and there was a good reason to smoke that day. And then it was, “Oh you already smoked today, so today’s not the day you’re gonna quit. So, smoke another cigarette.”
Now let me say before I go any farther, I’m not bringing this up because of the particular vice this gentleman struggled with. It’s because of his struggle that I mention his story. This struggle with our inner demons can feel all too real, and it can be about a number of things that we wish or want to be different about ourselves. Another interviewee said:
Go back to bed for just five more minutes. In five more minutes, you’ll feel great. And then I’ll get up five minutes later, it will be like “Eh, I mean you don’t need to iron the skirt. If you don’t need to be ironing the skirt, do you need to be wearing the skirt? Maybe you could wear a different skirt, and then you could sleep for ten more minutes.” And that seems like a reasonable negotiation.
At the beginning of the story, each one of them described this inner demon as a real voice. They said it was something other, something that spoke in the back of their minds. This idea that you could even have a negotiation like this woman described is not something that is foreign to me, and I would guess that it isn’t something that is very foreign to you all, even if it is simply a little voice saying that you really can just have that one cookie when you know that you probably shouldn’t. But these demons are not so innocuous all the time as one pushing you towards that cookie. These, what I would call very real demons, whether or not one thinks of them as imps and fallen angels serving the devil, cause us to struggle. They cause us to lose our trust in who we are or who we could be. They cause us to lose trust in those people who are all around us making us think the worst rather than reality of the person or group of persons. They even cause us to turn from our faith in God who creates us and gives us the life that we hold so dearly. This doesn’t release from the responsibility to the things that we do, but it does describe the either real or perceived powerlessness as we turn away from the God who gives us life, loves us, and declares that we are good creation. That is sin, and that is what we struggle so mightily with.
As I read this short account from Mark’s gospel, I see Jesus encountering this very same thing – encountering a demon in the synagogue. I keep bringing back up what has just happened in Mark, because, even though it seems like a while since Jesus was baptized or called the disciples, we are still in the midst of the very first chapter of his gospel. As Mark tells this story, Jesus is not far removed from his baptism. So as Jesus encounters this demon in the synagogue, he is not far removed from his time in the wilderness where he himself was tempted by Satan. Jesus sees and lives in a world where these demons are a very real thing – where they are a very real power actively opposing God’s will for creation. That’s what this demon, this unclean spirit, is trying to in the midst of this synagogue – he’s trying to subvert the teaching and authority of Jesus’ teaching that was enthralling the people there.
This demon is trying to plant the idea that Jesus has come to destroy not only him, but the demon is trying to convince the people that Jesus has come to destroy the normal lives of everyone who was gathered in that synagogue. The thing is that the demon is exactly right, but not in the way that he was thinking he would be right. Jesus has come to destroy the current way of life, not in a way that a warring despot might kill people and destroy house and home. Rather, Jesus has come to destroy the old life that is in bondage to such demons, in bondage to such sin, and in bondage to our inevitable deaths. Jesus comes to bring truth and life, so that in hearing and knowing him we might have the faith that restores our trust in our life giving God. Jesus comes to throw away all that brokenness that separates us from God, from each other, and even with ourselves. This is the authority that is astounding the people, because it is the authority that restores life, that restores faith in God and who God is.
We will still struggle with our demons. We will still struggle with our sin. Yet, be rightly assured that Jesus has come to destroy these old powers by restoring us in our faith through his death on the cross uniting with us and giving us the promise of eternal life.