(Another two-weeks-worth of lydslookonlife)
Sometimes, reading the four Gospels can be confusing, at least for me. For example, take the account of a desperate father coming to Jesus and pleading for his son to be healed, recorded in the Synoptic Gospels:
“When they came to the crowd, a man came up to [Jesus] and, kneeling before Him, said, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not heal him.’ And Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly” (Matthew 17:14-18 [English Standard Version]).
“And when [Jesus, Peter, James and John] came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw [Jesus] were greatly amazed and ran up to Him and greeted Him. And He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about?’ And someone from the crowd answered Him, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to You, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’ And He answered them, ‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to Him. And when the spirit saw Him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this happened to him?” And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘“IF You can’! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out [with tears] and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ And when Jesus saw that the crowd came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, come out of him and never enter him again.’ And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when [Jesus] entered the house, His disciples asked Him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And He said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer [and fasting]” (Mark 9:14-29 [E.S.V.]).
“And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him to his father” (Luke 9:38-42 [E.S.V.])
In Matthew’s account, the word “epileptic” is used in the English Standard Version and New King James Versions of the Christian Bible. The New American Standard Version and King James Version use the word “lunatic“, from the Greek word’s meaning of “moonstruck.” The term “epileptic” [or “lunatic”] is used twice in the New Testament, in Matthew 4:24 and 17:15. In those days, “epileptic” could be used to describe people having any type of seizures or even insanity. The New International Version says, “He has seizures.” In Mark and Luke, the boy’s father says that his son is “possessed by a spirit” and “a spirit seizes him.” (See http://www.gotquestions.org/epilepsy-bible.html)
What was the matter with the boy whose symptoms included screaming outbursts, foaming at the mouth, lack of speech, falling, rigidity and self-harm? Did he have a brain disorder we now know as epilepsy or was he demon-possessed?
Judging by how Jesus healed the boy in all three Gospels, I believe the boy was demon-possessed and the demon used epileptic-type symptoms to torture the boy (and his father). However, this one example does not mean that everyone with epilepsy is demon-possessed. That would be a very wrong assumption. That would be like saying all people who are blind are demon-possessed because of the account in Matthew 12:22: “Then they brought Him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see” (N.I.V). In reading through the Gospels, we read about Jesus healing many people who were blind but not also demon-possessed. The Bible separates epilepsy from demon-possession in Matthew 4:24: “So [Jesus’] fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought Him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, paralytics, and He healed them” (E.S.V.).
In New Testament times, people had very little knowledge of the human body, let alone the brain and the medical science which can now successfully treat various brain abnormalities, traumatic brain injuries and mental illness. The people were not able to distinguish between brain disorders and demon-possession. I believe many people were “misdiagnosed” as being demon-possessed whenever the illness was of unknown origin, and this went on throughout the centuries (I will not go into the “Salem Witch Trials” and other atrocities done out of stupidity and ignorance and closed-mindedness and NOT from the Holy Spirit). But, in the 21st Century we no longer have any excuses. As Christians who love God and desire to live in His Truth, we need to educate ourselves and have a better understanding of various medical conditions people are dealing with, especially individuals who worship with us in church. Googling is a wonderful thing. For example, just off the top of my head, you can google the question, “Does everyone with cerebral palsy have learning difficulties?” If you know me, a person with cerebral palsy, the answer to this question will not surprise you. The internet is a cool tool to find out information on all sorts of stuff, but it will never replace the extended hand of friendship when it comes to getting to know a person and empathizing with them.
As followers of Christ, we need to demonstrate Christian love and acceptance towards people who have physical and mental medical conditions and we need to value and learn from each other’s experiences. As the body of Christ, we must get rid of old stigmas which come from ignorance and hearsay and down right stupidity, which cause people to suffer in silence. Brain disorders, such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy, clinical depression and other illnesses of the brain are conditions which can be medically treated and managed, so that people can lead successful lives. These conditions are most likely not caused by demon possession in this day and age because of Christ‘s work on the cross (Colossians 2:15).
With that said, I do believe that Satan is real and causes evil all around the world and all around us. However, as Christians, the devil cannot possess us, because we belong to Jesus Christ and nothing will ever take us away from Him (See Romans 8:38-39). Satan does try his “damnedest” to oppress us with his conniving lies and “devilish” schemes. That is why prayer, Bible study, corporate worship and fellowship with other believers in Christ who are accepting and validating are so vitally important to our physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual wellbeing (See II Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-18).
Going back to the story of the father and his only son: Why does Matthew record the father saying that his son was an “epileptic” and Mark and Luke record him saying that he “has a spirit”? The father probably said all of the above; anything to get Jesus’ attention. Can you see in your mind’s eye the unconditional tireless love this father had for his only son who was being tortured so? Can you hear the anguish and desperation in his voice? “But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” There was caution in his voice because Jesus’ disciples were not able to heal his son. Jesus encouraged the father to believe in Him by saying, “‘IF I can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” The father was honest and sincere in his reply: “I believe; help my unbelief.” This father had a courageous, yet humble faith, just as the Canaanite woman had, and Jesus honored his humble honesty and healed his son.
Before this healing took place, in all three Gospel accounts, Jesus expressed anger and frustration: “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (Luke 9:41a). Who was Jesus talking to? This will be our topic in two weeks.
“He [Jesus] disarmed the [demonic] rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him [by the cross]” (Colossians 2:15 [E.S.V.]).
HALLEJUJAH (PRAISE THE LORD)! AMEN (SO BE IT)!