some thoughts on self-harm

Working and researching in a setting where self-harm is everyday talk means it certainly emphasises the brokenness of the world.

I often think about how the story of the Bible interacts with the stories of self-harm. the organisation TWLOHA has a beautiful and profound message:

You were created to love and be loved.  You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known. You need to know that your story is important and that you’re part of a bigger story.  You need to know that your life matters.

A long time ago, I heard a Mars Hill Teaching called Naked Bloody Guy (Kent Dobsen) and for me, it really spoke in to this area. The following though are based on the notes I made of that teaching.

The passage is Mark 5 verses 1-20 it is worth reading it

Jesus doesn’t just say stuff and that’s it – he lived it in some way – I will tell you what the kingdom is like – I will take you there and that experience will alter how you picture the Kingdom of God

Jesus sets off with his disciples to the Area of Decapolis – Gentiles, under Roman control – another country. Probably the Jews call it area of cast out ones – the unrighteous lived there – they are not part of us. When they arrive they are greeted by this man. Its not like he was just having a bad day – Matthew adds this man is naked – he is this naked bloody guy who comes screaming out of Tombs –

Everything about him screams unclean, unrighteous. Decapolis – cast out ones – meet man with evil / the literal translation is unclean spirit.

(unclean = to the jewish audience of this text:)

So what would make him unclean to the Jewish audience of this text?

naked = offensive

bloody = flowing blood = unclean

tomb = if you touched a tomb you were unclean – have to do michva (washing)

region of Decapolis – for a Jew – there is some evidence that even going there could make you unclean

so from the Jewish point of view he is the lowest

And, from a roman perspective he is also seen as unclean and cast out.

The last person did what to him? Chained him to a tomb – how incredibly insulting – chained to dead people and day and night he is cutting himself with stones,

He does not belong to society

he is not a good citizen, in fact, he is the opposite. And this is who Jesus comes into contact with when he arrives on the other side of the lake.

When Jesus arrives, he is met by this man with an unclean spirit

Evil spirit / demon possession – often looks like what some of our modern ailments do – schizophrenia, bipolar, eplipsy and so on – so on one hand it looks like this is what the ancient people called it. But, aside from trying to pin it down to a modern ailment, on the other hand, whatever it is, this demon possession is also symbolic.

Whatever it is, it is the opposite of Shalom (Peace, ultimate wholeness and peace) – this guy is the opposite – naked, screaming, bloody, not making sense, confused, living in tombs – opposite of the kingdom of God and opposite of shalom…

the opposite of shalom

Now the disciples probably though, why are we here…

You see, something has happened in this man’s life, something has gone on and he can barely cope. well compared to what is normal, he can’t cope, unless he cries out and cuts himself. Day and night

this guy is living in a vicious cycle

I am cast out / I am unclean / No one cares / They chain me up / If I cut it helps the pain  / I am bloody / I am unclean / Screaming helps / I deserve to be cast out

So, what happens when the Kingdom of God, Jesus, intersects with this unclean evil, the opposite of peace?

he ran –


In God’s name don’t torture me. All his brokenness crying out… have mercy on me.

Jesus asks “what is your name?”

Lets us not lose the importance of this – what is a name? This is about as personal as we might get meeting someone on the street.

How far out of society is this man? He is completely cut off. Did anyone ever ask him this? No, they chained him to tombs. And here is Jesus coming up to him and saying – I care – by asking one question, Jesus shows he cares.

the answer… “Legion, for we are many”

When the kingdom of God intersects, crosses the path of this person it causes the question to be asked – who am I? That is the business of the messiah.

Healing is not just about the unclean spirit (of identity chaos) being gone, but wholeness being restored as well. It is also about belonging, Brokenness being restored, identity found, having a sense of meaning.

If you read the text, you will know the story, and the response of the pig keepers: GET OUT OF HERE. You have disrupted our whole sense of who we are.

One afternoon, Legion’s life intersects, crosses paths, with the Kingdom of God – with Jesus, very briefy, probably just for a few hours – he had probably never heard of Jesus, maybe the Jewish God, but one afternoon he has an encounter that changes his life – we don’t know the rest of the story though, how his life continues and so on, that is not important, what is important is…

Jesus says: that all you need is to tell your people that God has had mercy.

God has mercy. He is able, through Jesus and through us, to step into our broken stories. giving us space to breathe and to find  peace (shalom).

2 thoughts

  1. It’s always spoken volumes to me that, in this story, Jesus goes out of his way just to see this guy. The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus was going this way anyway & just happened to stumble across this man; rather, it says that he made the disciples go all the way across the lake, completely out of their way, just to speak with this man who the entire world had chosen to cast aside. Everyone else has written him off as some sort of helpless weirdo; but Jesus reaches out to him and goes, “Y’know what? You’re worth the effort!”

    Isn’t Jesus brilliant?

    1. Hi Laura – thanx for stopping by and posting.
      I love the way you say that – “Y’know what? You’re worth the effort!”

      and *all* it took was to talk to him, to treat him as a human

      and to your last question – the answer is clearly YES

Comments are closed.