“[He] Took Our Infirmities, and Bare Our Sicknesses”
Mark 1–2; 4:35–41; 5; Luke 7:11–17
LDS manual: here
To show that science has actually accomplished everything Jesus is claimed to have done, but much better and for more people.
Jesus is really getting into the miracles in this lesson. Here’s what he’s been up to.
- Jesus casts out devils.
In Mark 5, Jesus finds a man who seems to be some kind of container for unclean spirits. Jesus casts them out, but in a compassionate gesture, allows them to inhabit a herd of swine. The pigs have other ideas, and drown themselves. That’s very sad, isn’t it? Let’s imagine another ending for the piggies:
- Jesus heals the sick and raises the dead
- Jesus walks on water
Look out, Jesus!
Main ideas for this lesson
The Bible is wrong about unclean spirits
There are lots of exorcisms in this reading.
Luke 4:33 And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice,
4:34 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.
4:35 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not.
4:36 And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.
Luke 4:40 Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.
4:41 And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ.
And of course, the pig episode.
The Bible teaches that mental illness is caused by demons. And, as with so many things in the Bible, it’s unhelpfully and inexcusably wrong. How easy would it have been for Jesus to point out the real causes of mental illness — psychology, biology, and genetics? Blaming it on malevolent supernatural agents is the kind of thing that pre-scientific people would have come up with.
Thankfully, most Latter-day Saints don’t seem to believe in demonic possession anymore. I still remember one time in church, where a woman had a rather violent psychotic episode in the middle of sacrament meeting. I wonder why no one performed an exorcism — perhaps no one in attendance had the experience. Instead, health services were called, the women was collected, and then jittery ward members — in an adult meeting and a separate youth meeting — were counselled by a psychiatrist and a psychologist who happened to be ward members. It was really handled very well, and all without casting out devils.
In some other Christian churches, though, exorcisms are de rigueur. Benny Hinn makes a good living out of it.
They’re so easy, even a child could do one.
While this ritual seems silly to me, the participants sure do seem to think something real is happening to them. But what’s really going on here? The psychological explanation is that people undergoing an exorcism are conforming to expectations about what is supposed to happen in an exorcism, and how the participants are supposed to behave.
Exorcisms tend to follow a predictable path. The apparent victim of possession’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, perhaps even violent, until the exorcist casts the demonic spirit out. “Possessed” people may speak in tongues, vomit, become violently ill, or harm themselves. And while these behaviors might seem shocking, they can be easily explained.
Mental issues can cause strange behavior, and people tend to conform to expectations. This means a person experiencing an exorcism is more likely to act in ways he or she has heard of others behaving during exorcisms. Exorcisms sometimes also involve the use of potions, drugs, or fasting, each of which can induce violent illness and strange behavior. Starvation can affect brain function, and the stress of an exorcism may radically alter behavior.
In other words, both exorcist and exorcee are both playing a role. And in some cases, participants can break out of the role at inappropriate times.
And now for the part that’s not so funny: exorcisms do a lot of harm, and in some cases people get killed. Try reading this very long list of people (especially children) murdered by parents and others who believed they were possessed.
The child had a history of sleepwalking. Her mother confessed to brutally stabbing her to death because she believe she was possessed by the devil. She was charged with murder.
Amora Bain Carson
Age: 13 months
They believed the child was possessed and tried to rid her of demons. They allegedly bludgeoned her and bit her more than 20 times. She died. Her mother and a man were arrested and held on $2 million bond.
After attending a fundamentalist church, they became convinced they were surrounded by demons. The boy had been held down in the yard as part of an exorcism. They were found not guilty of murder.
Healings are another dodgy area. Jesus was supposed to have healed a few people of blindness and illnesses. The effect of this on us today in practical terms is about nil. Diseases in our time don’t seem amenable to healing.
Also, some types of healings never occur at Lourdes, as indicated by the comment of French writer Anatole France. On a visit to the shrine, seeing the discarded canes and crutches, he exclaimed, “What, what, no wooden legs???”
But then some people claim that God has indeed healed people of their illnesses, and that this is evidence of God’s existence, love, and what have you. In fact, this really makes the case for God’s goodness even more problematic, not less. If God really is healing various individuals in piecemeal fashion, without addressing the underlying causes of disease and while allowing others to languish and die, then this calls God’s goodness even more into question. Why is he so capricious about who he heals? Why does he choose not to heal the rest, when he could? (What are they, chopped liver?) How does this relate to God not being “a respecter of persons”?
Watch the video for “Thank You, God” by Tim Minchin. In this video, Tim recounts the story of Sam’s mum, who allegedly got God to heal her cataracts.
Ask: What are some other explanations for Sam’s mum’s healing that Minchin mentions? Make a list. How many times can you say ‘Minchin mentions’ really fast?
If God is healing relatively well-off Westerners, then what are some illnesses God is ignoring? Why would he do that?
As with exorcisms, there’s a dark side to faith healing. News reports seem to bring a steady stream of stories of parents who kill their children by denying them medical care in the belief that God will heal them through prayer. Here’s a smattering of recent stories, and I didn’t even have to try very hard to find them.
Of course, the believer could always argue that someone wasn’t healed because they didn’t have enough faith. It’s a common enough dodge; even Pat Robertson has engaged in it.
But saying that the sufferer didn’t have enough faith is really just a way of blaming the victim. It allows people to believe that faith healing is real, even when it plainly doesn’t work.
Supernaturalism is terrible at curing illness, but science has done a great job. Let’s see the totals for leprosy.
Take a look at this video of a man who is getting his life and his autonomy back by the use of robotic arms that he can control with his thoughts. This is amazing. I see it as nothing less than new-testamental, in a way that the New Testament can’t match. This, after all, is publicly verifiable.
Some people say God is responsible for medical progress. Isn’t it great of God to heal people at exactly the same time that scientists work out how to treat disease? Unless it’s really medical science doing it all, which seems to be a much more straightforward explanation.
We still have a lot to learn about the body, and progress is sometimes frustratingly slow. But in the area of human health, medical science is doing the job that God has failed to do.
Additional lesson ideas
No exorcisms in John
When you read the book of John, guess what you never see? You never see any exorcisms or cases of demonic possession. The reason is a bit of a mystery; Twelftree cites “theological considerations” which I assume means he thinks some compiler left it out on purpose. Or perhaps the synoptic texts (Matthew, Mark, Luke) just come from a different tradition that John.
For whatever reason, it’s yet another way in which the gospels tell widely varying stories about Jesus, and this should cause the reader to regard these fragmentary accounts with skepticism.
Walking on water
This miracle has been difficult to duplicate by spiritual means. Here’s a story that’s both sad and hilarious. Sadlarious.
Nigerian Pastor Tries To Walk On Water Like Jesus, Then Drowns In Front Of His Congregation
Pastor Franck Kabele, 35, told his congregation that he was capable of reenacting the very miracles of Jesus Christ. He decided to make it clear through way of demonstration on Gabon’s beach in the capital city of Libreville.
Referencing Matthew 14:22-33, Kabele said that he received a revelation which told him that with enough faith he could achieve what Jesus was able to.
According to an eyewitness, Kabele took his congregation out to the beach. He told them that he would cross the Kombo estuary by foot, which is normally a 20 minute boat ride.
Sadly by the second step into the water Kabele found himself completely submerged. He never returned.
I guess he didn’t have enough faith.
On the other hand, it is possible to duplicate the feat by non-scientific means, at least well enough to fool you and me. Here’s illusionist Criss Angel doing it.
Try one of the YouTube suggested links for an explanation of how he does it.
And of course, with a little corn starch, you can walk across a non-Newtonian fluid.
Thank you for reading this week’s lesson. To finish our demonic theme, let’s have a closing hymn.
See you next week.