Jesus Christ, the Great Psychiatrist​

On my mission, I was struggling with (what was later diagnosed as) Bipolar disorder.

This is what a missionary with Bipolar looks like, apparently.

I had always struggled with mental health, and I thought I knew what to expect when I got on my mission. Before I even submitted my papers I had to make a list of all my depressive triggers with my counselor before she would sign my psychological evaluation form. We worked together for months–I had a written plan of how to handle feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, desires to self-harm, the whole nine yards! I was prepared!

But, even with all those “tools” in my “toolbox” I really struggled. I tried everything in my power I could to combat it. I was incredibly obsessive with my obedience. Phrases like “an obedient missionary, is a happy missionary” ATE at my soul. If I was even a second late to bed (literally, I would count the seconds) I would get physically ill, even to the point of throwing up. Even after memorizing every “God hath not created the spirit of fear”-esque scripture and praying with more earnest than I would have thought possible, I still found myself struggling more than I ever had before.

I swung between desperately wanting to die and feeling like I was unstoppable. Some weeks I would only sleep two hours a night because I was just so excited too go back out and work. (I seriously felt like a 4-year-old trying to sleep on Christmas Eve.) Other weeks I would lay in bed and cry for hours wishing God had never created me.


Like they say, when it rains it pours.

I associated my mood with my worthiness and so the inconsistency of it all made it worse. I felt like I must be doing something wrong… after all, “an obedient missionary is a happy missionary”, right? I started searching out times that people in the scriptures felt like I did. That “if they can do it so can I” feeling that comes with reading a scripture story you can relate to is one of the most powerful ways I experience the spirit. As I looked I found several instances where the emotions appeared, but what I really wanted was to find someone who was chronically experiencing the emotions. I wanted to find someone like me.

Well, eventually, I did! In Mark 5 there is a story of a man who lived among the tombs who “cut himself with stones” and cried “night and day”.

…..and also he’s described as possessed.


The comfort I felt through finding his story was negated by the fact that I was identifying with someone who was literally fraternizing with the devil… If he was a sinner then was I a sinner? Did this prove my worst fear? A million worries filled my mind. I needed to know. Was this man really a possessed or was he just sick? Did he really have a “devil” or did he just have some kind of mental illness?

Well, by grounding the story of the Man in the Tombs in relevant medical and social knowledge I’d say it’s pretty darn likely that he was a victim of both biological illness and social suffering (I’ve spent a lot of time researching this… if you’re interested in sources or want to read the academic paper I wrote on the subject, you can do so here). Reconfiguring his story from the vantage point of his suffering allows for the beauty of Christ’s tenderness toward him to be understood in its full glory. His story is not one of exorcism, but that of a healing miracle, and enhancing our understanding of this man’s condition magnifies the majesty of his cure. 

And yeah, that might seem like common sense… I mean, we don’t exactly believe in possession anymore… but to me, a girl struggling with Bipolar Disorder, this was groundbreaking.

The Man in the Tombs

We only have a few short verses on the life of this man and the little that is said, says a lot. He was erratic, unpredictable and violent. He wore “no clothes” and probably smelled like the dead bodies he was forced to live near. As far as culture was concerned at the time, he was an evidence of evil. He was “caught by the devil.”

He was “fettered” with “bands and chains” (a treatment for severe and chronic mental illness outlined in medical journals at the time as well), and his “long time” (or chronic) condition that called for fettering would have also called for flogging and other forms of torture (again, the word torture is legitimately used in the medical journal). If they were tying him up, surely any bonds they tried to apply while he was in the throes of his violent rage would have been successfully resisted, and so we can assume he wore these chains preemptively (and often enough that he learned how to escape them, leaving “the fetters broken in pieces”).  Tortured as he was, however, no one could “tame him”, implying that he was treated like an animal. 

Incurable, he “was driven of the devil into the wilderness”. Whether it was society’s response to his “possession” that drove him out, or simply the shame of having a “devil”, the text doesn’t say, but we do know that something coerced him (one who is willfully leaving does not need to be driven). Without a home, then, he “made his dwelling” in the Tombs. Tombs were always a good distance from the city and often housed within caves, providing shelter from any bad weather, and so was a natural choice of many who were rejected at the time. In Hebrew culture, however, tombs were considered unclean, and those who came into contact with dead bodies were considered defiled… so seeking shelter among the tombs, though the safest option, separated one from society even further. Being ill, laughed at, beat, ignored, and ultimately exiled was this man’s daily reality, and so, with a tomb for a pillow, he cried himself to sleep. “Always, night and day”, he cried.

When the Man in the Tombs sees Christ, he runs to worship him and falls at his feet. Almost immediately, though, he begins shouting. He asks Christ, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus thou Son of the most high God?” and continues, asking if He has come to “torment” him, and begs him not to. Usually, we think of this as the “devils” speaking through the man, but maybe it’s the man is speaking for himself– sincerely asking, what have I, an outcast sinner, to do with thee? For so long, he had been tormented by everyone who has come close to him. His relief at seeing Christ and feeling His power could be met with the fear that even Christ himself would find him incurable, and worthy of torture. Though the man “ran” to meet Christ and “[fell] at his feet”, his illness caused him to draw back and react aggressively.

Though met with a “loud voice”, Christ holds his ground and asks the man his name. In His compassion, Christ enables the man to separate himself from the “devils” (or rather his illness) that had caused him to yell. The “devils” who had, once again, hijacked his personhood by responding violently. Despite the shown compassion, it is the “devils” within him that respond saying, “My name is Legion: for we are many”. (Later in the story his community refers to him similarly as “[the one who] had the legion”, suggesting that even previous to this experience his “devils” separated him from his true identity.) 

Continuing on, the “devils” “besought [Christ] much” that he would not cast them out into the abyss, but rather into a herd of nearby swine. All powerful, Christ could have cured him in whatever way he chose. Perhaps to give this man physical evidence of the extrication of the spirits, which he had been told for so long were in him, He “casts them out” and allows them to enter into the swine. Significantly, it took only moments for all 2000 pigs, each vexed with only a portion of this man’s pain, to run violently to their death. If 1/2000 of what this man was facing was enough to cause an animal welcome death, he had clearly been exerting a massive amount of willpower fighting those kinds of emotions himself. 

This man, now ridden of his “devils” (cured of his disease) is finally restored to “normalcy”. Those in charge of watching the pigs ran to tell the city, and those who had once jeered at him came out validate the tale. To their surprise, when they came they found him “clothed, and in his right mind”, able to “sit at the feet of Christ”…….. and yet? “they were afraid”. 

But where before their fear was directed towards the animosity of the Man in the Tombs, now their “great fear” was directed toward Christ. They “implored” Christ to leave, and he complied. As he approached his ship, the Man in the Tomb met Him and begged to accompany Him… but Christ says no. Instead, he says to him, “Go home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee”. Which is a HUGE DEAL!!! Usually, Christ says to “go and tell no man” (in fact this is the first time in the book of Mark he doesn’t say to go and tell no man) so the fact that he doesn’t here is important, but even more important is that THIS. STORY. HAPPENS. IN. GENTILE. LAND. This isn’t just Christ telling him to go and tell his friends about what happened, it’s Christ telling him to go and tell his GENTILE friends what happened. The apostles aren’t to be teaching gentiles at this time, so as far as we know this guy is THE ONLY person Christ allows to preach to the Gentiles (so… I guess mental health issues do not make you a bad missionary after all, eh?) 

I’m sure part of the reason he wanted to go with Christ is that he was scared he would relapse. (You know that whole demons “return unto [their] house from whence [they] came out… [with] seven other spirits more wicked than [themselves]”, making his state “worse than at first” scripture? Yeah, heavy stuff.) But Christ in his wisdom knows that the very act of sharing his struggles would help him to maintain his mental health. If he relapsed he would have established a support system through his conversations that he could rely on. (Plus, speaking openly of shameful topics ultimately defuses the shame associated with it, and so his speaking openly is creating a community that is better fit to help others who are struggling.) Sharing his story not only gives him a purpose but restores his personhood. Now rather than representing evil, this man represents the power of God. When he told his story, “all men did marvel”, and I’ll tell you what– I marvel too. 

This is one of the greatest stories of healing in the New Testament, in my opinion. It’s brought me so so much comfort. Christ can make weak things strong. He truly is the Great Physician. 

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