You’ve saved up for that cruise to the destination of your dreams…the one where everyone but the crew is on holiday, indulging in luxuries and dressed in great outfits. You stroll up the ramp with family and best friends to have the time of your life. The ship arrives at your exotic first stop and you disembark with the rest of the passengers. All of a sudden a disheveled, dirty man rushes at you and your group, screaming, with face contorted and arms gyrating wildly – like an alien from a bad movie. The encounter threatens your utopian experience. Ugh! Later, you’re reminded of this story:

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” (Mark 5:1-8 ESV)

If you’ve been in a situation with a mentally ill, unpredictable person such as the Gerasene man, you wish for the insight and power of Jesus. But what can you do in such a volatile situation? Should you:

  1. Speak calmly to the person and redirect their animosity?
  2. Address the demon directly (assuming you know it’s a demon)?
  3. Call the police?
  4. Find the nearest social worker or psychiatrist?
  5. Distance yourself as much as possible from this weirdness?

My initial emotional reaction in similar situations has too often been disgust and fear of the person who is so terribly disordered. But, if I’m tuned to the Holy Spirit, God has allowed me to see that person as someone created in God’s image…but in distress.

In the Mark 5 incident above, Jesus’ stern rebuke of the demons exhibited true compassion toward the man. Not surprisingly, after the demons had been vanquished, the man responded this way:

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:18-20 ESV)

From a modern therapeutic perspective, it’s perplexing that Jesus refused to welcome this man as a disciple so he could fully “fix” him. It appears that Jesus knew the man’s wholeness would include mending of broken relationships that might have played a part in his demonic oppression.

In Luke 11:24-26, Jesus teaches hasty casting out of demons may worsen the condition of a person not ready for such a housecleaning. So our compassion for those who are spiritually and mentally distressed must be combined with Biblical wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

When you’ve been confronted by an unusually perplexing person, have you scrolled through amateur versions of DSM-5TR in search of a tidy, popular diagnosis to distance yourself from that individual rather than being God’s representative? Reflect on ways God has and is preparing you for compassionate, Spirit-led encounters with those who have bewildering appearance and/or behavior.