Have been reading through the Gospels again this summer seeking to understand better how Jesus goes about dealing with peoples’ fears. Jesus does his share throughout the Gospels of saying “fear not” but he uses a far more subtle language than this for the most part when confronted with fearful people. His is more often the power of suggestion than that of command.
Good case in point is found in the story of the Gerasene demoniac, as reported in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For example, Luke writes in 8:26-39 about how fearful the man himself was of losing his demons. I suspect this is much like the miserable alcoholic who fears losing his alcohol. Who likes withdrawal pains or shakes? Yet, Jesus had not commanded the man to do anything. He rather “commanded the evil sprit to come out of him” — LK 8:29. Jesus wasn’t talking to the man. He was talking to the man’s problem. In my practice of Narrative Psychotherapy, we have a saying, “You are not your problem. Your problem is your problem.” So the first step Jesus takes in healing people is to externalize their problem. Most typically, he calls the problem by its own name. So in this case, Jesus asks the problem, “What is your name?” Demon says “Legion” because there were many of them.
Notice how frightened Legion is (or would that be are?) of Jesus. Starting in LK 8:31 we read, “And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission.” Next, they went into the pigs who got scared and ran off the side of a cliff overlooking the sea. They all drowned. And, meanwhile, the man himself, we read in v. 38, begged Jesus for something different. He begged to go with Jesus and become his follower. (Actually, he ends up going out and telling the townspeople all about “how much Jesus had done for him” and the news of Jesus’s healing powers spread.)
Lots of fears in this story. Oh, and did I mention the townspeople themselves were terribly afraid of this demon-possessed resident of their community? What the story can teach us is that there are two ways of dealing with fear. One way is to seek out our own control. The other is to find God’s own influence within us. Huge difference between those two! Here’s what I mean.
Let’s look first at the control issues. Actually, there are two. One is called “fight” and the other “flight.” The man himself typically fled to the town’s cemetery, yet when Jesus arrived in town he came out to meet him. Actually, to fight at the top of his voice for the right to hold on to his problem. Ever know any angry addicts fighting to keep on using? Ever notice how when any of us lose control over something, we fight even harder to be in control rather than accepting our loss? But then there were the townspeople and their fears of this demoniac among them. Verse 29 tells us they had this poor dude “chained hand and foot and kept under guard, [but] he had broken his chains.” Yikes! A good Hollywood script, perhaps? Chains were their way of “fighting” to deal with their own fears. Then came the pigs. They got scared when the demons entered them and used “flight” to run away to their own deaths. Let’s see Hollywood do that scene. And, finally, the townspeople then directed their old fear away from the demoniac and at Jesus himself, asking him to leave town. Which he did. You see, fears can become our lifestyle after awhile. We can become as addicted to fear as to anything else, and fight to switch fears like an alcoholic switches from whiskey to wine, or a gambler from poker to blackjack.
You following me so far? If so, let’s all follow Jesus and what he’d hope to teach us about dealing with peoples’ fears, our own included. Instead of avoiding the demoniac (flight) and instead of seeking control over the demoniac (fight), Jesus heals by means of loving influence. Not fearful control, but loving influence. Huge difference! He uses the power of suggestion rather than the power of commandment. Lets the demons talk for themselves, but NOT for the man. Let’s them decide to enter into the pigs. Gives them permission to do so. Notice Jesus never tells them they should do anything. Just come out of the man. Everything else was up to them. Pretty subtle, huh?
Bottom line is this: perfect love is always pretty subtle. Not commanding or demanding or controlling. That’s the stuff of fear itself. Love is different from fear. Hugely different! “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” – I John 4:18. Do we fear today? Do we have to deal with others who are afraid? Do we want to follow the Jesus way of dealing with fears? We can if we are willing to let go of control over other people or situations, and hold on to God’s loving influence in and through our lives. The power of suggestion. Subtle. Loving. Healing.