Demon Possession and Why I Named My Depression “Francis”

 

2013-06-23 NBW Sermon 2<—-click here to listen along

Today we just got to hear that awesomely weird story of when Jesus casts a legion of demons out of a naked dude and into a herd of pigs – pigs who then throw themselves over a cliff and drown in a lake.   It was this story that made my friend heather post the following question on my Facebook Page: “Dear Nadia. How can I get on board with Jesus when so much pork was wasted in the lake?”

-       Signed, A bacon-loving Christian

Which I guess means that the demon possessed pigs diving off a cliff and drowning in a lake story is one that vegans and bacon lovers can unite around.

I’ve confessed this before but I don’t always know what to do when it comes to talk about demons in the Bible.  Especially when the demons talk and have names and stuff like that. I’m never sure if back then they had the exact same things going on that we do, but they didn’t know about things like epilepsy or mental illness so they just called it all demon possession.  Or if maybe there used to be demons possessing people and sorta like polio and small pox, it’s just not something we have around anymore.  Or if we do actually still have demons and it makes it more understandable and controllable for us if we use medical and scientific terms to describe the things that possess us. I honestly don’t know.

But I do know that many of you, like myself, have suffered from addictions and compulsions and depression – things that have gotten ahold of us, making us do things we don’t want to. Or making you think you love things, or substances or people that are really destructive. So maybe if that, in part, is what having a demon is, maybe if it’s being taken over by something destructive, then possession is less of an anachronism, and more of an epidemic.

And this week as I was feeling squirmy about people who talk of evil spirits and demons like they are beings in and of themselves, I remembered that at one point it felt so much like my depression was a character in my life, that it actually felt really good to just go ahead and give her a name.

I called her Francis, since she moved in around the same time as the birth of Francis Bean, Courtney Love and Curt Cobain’s daughter. But I picture my depression Frances as Courtney Love herself: emaciated in her torn vintage nightgown and smeared lipstick.

Francis first stopped by in my teens and early 20s which was easily written off by my family as me being “moody”. But later, when I seemed to increasingly like the same things Francis liked: booze, emotionally unstable boyfriends, and self-destruction, she finally just moved in, turning my studio apartment into a Wilderness.

She was a terrible roommate. She kept the place filthy and always told me really devastating things about myself.  For some reason, when she lived with me, I was no longer able to do simple things like shop for groceries.  I’d stand for far too long looking at the dairy case, unable to make a decision about yogurt.  She distracted me so much I would forget to eat and then my parents started to worry.  One day my mother Peggy realized that Francis not ever moving out was my problem and suggested I go talk to a nice lady about evicting her.

She’s a bit of a dope fiend, Francis, but it ends up there is one drug that she doesn’t like. It’s called Wellbutrin. Two weeks after I started taking it, the bitch was gone.

But not for good.  Now, 20 years later it still seems like she knows how to find me and sometimes she’ll show up, unannounced and stay a couple days even though I’m now into so many things she hates: sobriety, exercise, community, eating well – and of course, Jesus.

So maybe demons having their own names and saying things out loud to Jesus is not so foreign to me after all.

I mention this because in our Gospel story for today, I think it’s interesting that when the demon possessed man met Jesus at the boat, his demons were  scared and it was them and not the man who spoke up saying “what have you to do with me, Jesus son of the Most High God?”

It’s weird, but out of all the characters in the Gospels who encounter Jesus, the ones who most reliably know who he is are not the religious authorities or even Jesus own disciples.  They are the demons. The demons always recognize Jesus’ authority.  And the demons are afraid.

So, this week I started wondering: Were I in the throws of another roommate situation with my depression Francis and Jesus rowed up in his boat and I go to meet him and Francis said “What have you to do with me Jesus, son of the Most High God?” Would Jesus say “oh, me?  I have nothing to do with you” ?  Of course not.

I think our demons totally recognize Jesus right out of the boat and our demons are afraid of him.  Which is why they try to get us to stay away from people who may remind us how loved we are. Our demons want nothing to do with the love of God in Christ Jesus and so they try to isolate us and tell us that we are not worthy to be called children of God. And these lies are simply things that Jesus does not abide.

Maybe the demon of anger knows to steer clear of the Gospel, lest you end up forgiving some jack ass who you really want to punch in the throat.  Maybe your demon of inertia knows to avoid of Jesus lest it be cast off a cliff and you have to start showing up in life.  Maybe your demon of compulsive eating knows to not listen to Jesus lest it find itself in a lake and you clothed and fully in your body and sitting at Jesus feet.  Maybe your demon of always always always having to prove yourself fears Jesus since if you listen to Jesus and not that demon you may start really believing that you are already good enough and then you’ll have to stop over-functioning.

The description of the Geresene demoniac was a description of someone who was completely isolated – who was out of control and alone and in pain.  And if being out of control and alone and in pain was what the demon wanted, then I think it makes complete sense that the demon feared Jesus.  Because in these healing texts, Jesus does not just cure people’s diseases and cast our their demons and then says Mission Accomplished…, he’s always after something more than that…because the healing is never fully accomplished until there is a restoration to community. People are healed of disease and he tells the folks just standing around watching to go get them something to eat. The widow’s son is raised from the dead and he gives him back to his mother. And here the man healed of demons is told to stay with his people and speak of what God has done. In the Jesus business, community is always a part of healing.

It’s interesting to me that when the townspeople saw that the man no longer had demons and was clothed and in his right mind and sitting at Jesus’ feet, they did not exactly celebrate this – instead became possessed by their own demon.  Did you notice that? The text tells us that seeing this, they were ceased with fear and begged Jesus to leave their town.  Man, seen that kind of thing before, haven’t you? Like if your family seems distant when suddenly you stop hating yourself, or when your friends stopped calling when you sobered up or when I resent my friend who suddenly refuses to gossip with me anymore.  Life and life abundant just isn’t what everyone is seeking…but it’s always what God is offering.

So, in conclusion, are demons forces that are totally external to us who seek to defy God? Are they just the shadow side of our own souls? Are they social constructions from a pre-modern era?

Bottom line: Who cares.  I don’t think demons are something human reason can solve. Or that human faith can resolve.

I just know that demons, whether they be addictions or evil spirits, are not what Jesus wants for us.  Since basically every time he encountered them he told them to piss off.  And here’s the thing: the authority to do just this -  the authority to face what tell us lies, to face what keeps us shackled, to face what keeps us out of control, alone and in pain and tell it in the name of Jesus to piss off is an authority that has been given to us all in baptism.  Baptism is as radical as exorcism. So remember our reading from Galatians: For as many of you who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (gay nor straight)

Which means, you dear people of God are clothed with the one whom demons fear. Claim it. And tell those demons to piss off. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

 

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • PAULA K. BARBEE

    Just for the record, been dealing with my own Francis, for years–and yes medication helps. And a joke: Because cliffs are in such short supply, nowadays, when demons are cast out, they are known to head into the nearest church’s sound system… :-)

    • JillyBean

      Thank you! I’ve wondered where those sound system demons come from… lol

      • K. C. Sunbeam

        I believe in demon possession, but that scientific and medical explanations should never be discounted. It’s just that exorcism is harmless and free, while psychiatry takes your money.
        And yes, medication can help depression, Scripture reading and prayer can help depression, but the chief cure for depression should be abundant friendship which we as a society are sorely lacking.
        I get deep on social and religious issues on my website
        http://shockedbytruth.jimdo.com Please take a look

  • Jill Teer

    Wow. I think you’re amazing. God has certainly used you to speak to me today. Thanks.

    • Diogenes

      Jill, I feel the same way about the article. Thank you for saying what I feel and so simply. God used you also. Thank you.

  • GilbertDavis

    Baptized by The Spirit into The Body of Christ . Baptized ( placed into ) The Body of Christ when we first , ” repented toward God and placed our faith and trust toward The LORD Jesus Christ ” ( Acts 20:21)KJB. Born again ( John 3:3,16,17; I Peter 1:23) KJB. After this , we may be water baptized as an outward sign of our new faith and identification with The LORD Jesus Christ .

  • Chris Eyre

    Just over 4 weeks ago I woke up without my own depression. I hadn’t named it, because I couldn’t tell it wasn’t me. It had been that way for 6 years (before that it had been creeping into control for 11). It is probably not a coincidence that in the three weeks previously I had been coming to think I had finally found a missional church which would accept a (very) progressive Christian. From this side of the divide, I really like your message. For one thing, if it doesn’t like Jesus, it’s going to have a rough time reinhabiting…

  • Heather Dawn

    I’ve started this comment about five times but keep deleting because I don’t know how to respond to this in a really constructive way. Instead, I will share a bit of my story. I’ve dealt with depression (now diagnosed as bipolar disorder) for most of my life. I grew up in an evangelical/pentecostal/somewhat fundamentalist faith community. In 2001, my then-fiance ended the relationship because, as he and his family said, I caused him to be demon-possessed. They knew I was demon-possessed because of my depression. The answer to my problem was not medication and therapy; the answer was prayer and deliverance from demons. My condition was a result of sin and lack of faith. I believed what they said and made an appointment with a pastor for a deliverance. Luckily, the pastor said I was not possessed (although my fiance was) and my condition was simply depression. My beliefs have changed a great deal in the last 12 years and I still don’t know exactly where I stand on “demon possession,” but I still find myself triggered when people equate mental illness with demon possession. When a medical condition is instead called a spiritual condition, the patient/sinner is easily seen as responsible for their condition. They don’t have enough faith, they have not repented of their sin, they are not praying enough. “Knowing” that my depression was caused by my lack of faith only served to make me MORE depressed. I now believe that if there is such a thing as “demon possession,” it is NOT the same thing as mental illness. Again, I don’t know what you or anyone should take from my experience, but hopefully God can make that connection for you. Thanks for “listening.”

    • SarcasticLutheran

      Well, my “exorcism” came through therapy and medication so hopefully you didn’t hear me saying what you had heard from your fiancé’s parents. Blessings, Nadia

    • Jackie Skell

      I seriously believe there are demons and they do possess as well. Though, I as well believe, because God is so good, he can cure depression and vast other things with a lot of prayer. I am not saying ‘don’t seek medical help’. I am simply stating that God is truly powerful and I have seen enough supernatural stuff to believe there’s also still concerning influences in the world.

      I also think many times people are uncomfortable speaking of demons, or satan because the more ‘dark’ and ‘in secret’ it is, honestly the more power the evil has. Just my belief, from what I’ve experienced, read about and studied.

      I am so thankful someone recognized you had issues beyond ‘faith’ that needed to be handled by the medical world. I also feel lots of bad advice is hurtful, when people simply focus and rely on religion instead of the medical world hand in hand with religion. God gave us minds, he gave us the ability to use them. To seek medical advice and medical help as well. But, he also protects those who are not as advanced as the modern day world.

      I don’t think there’s one ‘one shoe fits all’ situation. God made us all to have our own talents, our own special abilities, insights and drives. We are all very different, but we all have several things in common too. So, that said, not one thing that works for this person, will work precisely the same for that person. Prayer, when sought by one, can be strong, but perhaps will be more difficult to achieve than prayer sought from another. One person, may have many praying for them. When two or more are gathered, is a truism. We also have grace and forgiveness, and our prayers answered, as a father would want to do good things for his children. However, we do not know God’s plans. I am not saying God’s plan is to see anyone in discomfort. But, God may be opening a door by letting you seek medical help, only to have your testimony, or interaction lead another to know about him. Thus, giving him glory.

      In closing, all I am stating is, there are so many elements and variables that it is hard to know precisely what is the best course for each individual person. I believe we need to pray for God’s guidance in even the smallest of things, listen hard and seek his will. If we walk in his will, and his guidance we will be pleasing to him. And, hopefully stable (and demon free ;))

  • Jill

    Awesome article, thanks for this perspective! I related quite well. My teens-twenties– not pleasant. I’ll bookmark this one.

  • Sharon Frances

    I can relate to this very well. Thankfully, Zoloft puts my demon to sleep although like yours, she wakes up some times, but it helps knowing that it won’t be a daily thing and it also helps to know she will go back to sleep and let me live my life.

  • Jasmine Smart

    This is great, I found it really helpful. I’m ministering to a women in prison right now, and the fixation on naming things as “demon possession” always made me uncomfortable, precisely because it didn’t seem helpful or practical in helping these women put their demons to sleep, so to speak, except to pray harder. This blog helped me nuance the dialogue within myself, so thanks for that. =)

  • interim pastor

    some day I’ll have courage to name my demon.

  • Andi Fastweg

    Thank you for this great article. :-)
    Andrea

  • Pug Mahm

    Actually LISTENED to this one as well as reading it. I see I’ve been missing a lot by not listening before.
    Blessed be…!

  • Ginger Doege Metcalf

    Thank you for such a profound message. My depression has been with me for more years than I care to think about and waxes and wanes even with strong doses of medication. I never thought to name it but it is like having something take over mind and ruining your life. I am thankful every day that my husband loves me enough to stick with me even when I am at my lowest. I will say that the depression makes me wrestle with my faith on an almost daily basis and makes me cry out to God to help me. I have a strong church family and a pastor who is a blessing to me and the other members so that helps also. Thank you Nadia for all that you do. I find that your sermons touch me and I look forward to reading them when ever I can.

  • Laura Walters

    In 1979 I graduated from LTSS in Columbia, SC with an MDiv. I have never served a congregation, so have never been ordained. I was too depressed, too introverted, too unwilling to be the “first woman” to be a Lutheran pastor in the Virginia Synod, in whatever town the church would be in. I just didn’t want to do it and the closer I got to it the more depressed I got. Fast forward to now with 2 grown children, one divorce from my Lutheran pastor husband, on the verge of retirement, years of estrangement from the Lutheran church and a growing disgust with Christians everywhere…..and now I’ve discovered you. Preach, sister. I am willing to listen. One doesn’t hear the Gospel much any more. I am frankly surprised that the ELCA allows someone like you to minister. They got awfully conservative after the merger… Enough of that. I’ve subscribed to this blog and will read/listen to more sermons. I am clearly starving for good news.

  • disqus_ckqaN9Zz2B

    I stumbled upon this page… and, it’s amazingly enlightening. I had a
    “roommate” like “Frances” in my teens-20′s. Your
    description is SO spot on. I have always been very spiritual, but
    never baptized into any religion. I am now 52. I have different
    “roommates” now, and am somewhat more in control of them. I
    have thought seriously, in the last couple of years, of looking into
    the local Catholic church. The thought frightens me. But your
    description of baptism makes me think… a bit more positively about
    it. And, also, what you said about community being part of
    healing…. that “Frances” sought to isolate you… well it
    all has struck a chord with me. I’m glad I stumbled upon you today.

  • Thomas West

    “Since basically every time he encountered them he told them to piss off.”

    Amen and amen
    Great article to start on, looking forward to reading more of your thoughts

  • lavender hill

    One thing to remember is this: Jesus said that He has come to give us abundant life, and the enemy is here to steal, kill and destroy ! It is up to us to be hyper- vigilant about the enemy’s deceitful tactics and to remain connected to Jesus…..connected to the vine ~our life source! Since the body/mind/spirit is so delicately intertwined, it can be difficult to discern what comes from where, concerning depression. I do believe that the enemy is the great discourager, and will never let up on God’s children in that regard. I know depression is not just discouragement, because I have been there, but we must not believe the subtle and the not so subtle lies that are whispered from Satan, nor dwell on negative and fearful thoughts, either. We do not have to be demon possessed to experience oppression from Satan.
    Also, if we don’t deal with sinful issues in our lives, unforgiveness, and unbelief, we can become bogged down with guilt and condemnation, which begins to put out the light and we lack the faith we need to stand up to the enemy’s accusations against us; I am glad that there is medication to alleviate the devastating symptoms of depression and other mental problems as the depressed person can perhaps look into other contributing factors such as listed above. We live in a sinful world where we are sinful ourselves, and have relationships with sinful people. But God is faithful and will see us through! This is where our faith makes us well…the Lord says we will have tribulation in this world, but to take heart. He has overcome the world!

  • Misty

    I have to go with the Lord’s word on this one. I believe that demons are real. I believe depression is a sickness not a demon possession, but I believe also that the diseases of the present are a result of our falling further and further from God, not individually, but collectively. Maybe like, greed and a lack of love have caused Big Industry to fill our world with things that cause cancer and hormone imbalances that cause our bodies to fail us and malfunction or fall prey to pathogens. The further we get away from God as a people, the more persons are paying the price. If that makes sense. I believe there have been people possessed by demons, because the Bible tells me so. Yes there was an ignorance behind most demon possessions of the past, but some, namely those in the Bible were real. And if a MANY demons could inhabit one human then, I am sure that one demon could manage to find a way into a human now. The only things that have ceased to exist since Jesus are salvation by the law and perfection. I assume that everything else that was written about in the Bible is still in existence. So maybe a bout of depression could potentially be a demon bending your ear without you realizing that the voice in your head, telling you that you are inferior and life is hopeless, is not your own. Or just a low serotonin level…

  • HerrWert

    Thank you for this powerful post. I expect to read it repeatedly when I need the reminders that it offers.

    And thank you especially for the insight that demons always recognized Jesus’ true identity, even when His own disciples were uncertain of it. I have read those passages many times, but never drew from them such strong support for my faith until now.

    As for demons’ role in depression, maybe Satan’s greatest “accomplishment” has been to convince modern people that he no longer exists. But if his purpose is to make us doubt God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance of us, then this depression that I have suffered for so long is either demonic possession or might as well be.

    God bless you and your ministry!

  • Caroline Moreschi

    I know this is old, but just wanted to add to the choir – this is my favorite rendering of this passage I’ve ever heard/ read. Another thing that recently changed my perception of demonic activity was an explanation from the Book of Common Prayer (I’m Episcopalian). In the baptismal covenant, it says “do you renounce Satan and the forces of wickedness that rebel against God?” My priest described that as renouncing the hubris that makes us think that we are better than other people, the absurd idea that we are God and can make other people worship us. As a woman who has struggled with “Francis” since age 14, this sermon nails it.

  • Guest

    I love you. That is all. I have been thinking about this subject all week. I’m 28 years sober and I think they are still after me. Thank you for your ministry.


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