So they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake from Galilee. As Jesus was climbing out of the boat, a man who was possessed by demons came out to meet him. For a long time he had been homeless and naked, living in the tombs outside the town.

As soon as he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down in front of him. Then he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Please, I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had already commanded the evil spirit to come out of him. This spirit had often taken control of the man. Even when he was placed under guard and put in chains and shackles, he simply broke them and rushed out into the wilderness, completely under the demon’s power.

Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, for he was filled with many demons. The demons kept begging Jesus not to send them into the bottomless pit.

There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby, and the demons begged him to let them enter into the pigs.

So Jesus gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned.

When the herdsmen saw it, they fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened.

(Luke 8:26-35)



“Please, I beg You, don’t torture me!” the demons said.

They asked Jesus to let them enter a nearby herd of pigs, and Jesus gave them permission.

The pigs rushed down the hill and drowned. Those demons likely ended up in the abyss anyway.

This story has always puzzled me. Why did Jesus give the demons what they wanted? There are a few possibilities.

1. Jesus had compassion—even on demons
This seems wrong. Good would never have compassion on evil. That would make good evil.

2. Jesus let the demons kill the pigs because it would spread His fame faster than anything else
This also seems very wrong, because it’s destructive and manipulative. Jesus would have caused serious financial harm to people just to become famous. That doesn’t sound loving. It sounds Machiavellian. This approach would go against His character.

3. The other option
It bothers me when people use the word “torture” when they mean “torment”. It diminishes the actual use of the term, and people who have legitimately experienced torture.

The UN definition of torture [1] requires the following elements:

  • extreme physical/mental suffering
  • inflicted intentionally
  • for the purpose of punishment (among other possible purposes)
  • at the hands of someone acting in an official capacity


“Please, I beg you, don’t torture me!” the demons said.

Had Jesus sent them to hell, He would have intentionally caused suffering, for the purpose of punishment, while acting in His official capacity as God. For the demons, the label “torture” would have been valid. That act would have made Jesus a torturer.

But that’s not who He is. Jesus is tender, gentle. Sending the demons to hell would have been a violation of His character.

So He gave the demons what they wanted. The fact that the pigs died and the demons ended up in the abyss anyway is beside the point. The pigs’ deaths were a direct consequence of the demons’ evil. The demons couldn’t control their destructive tendencies, but this was not Jesus’ fault.

The fact is that our God is not a torturer—not even of demons.

It makes me wonder if hell was constructed by the demons, in the absence of God’s presence. It is the only place in the universe that is separate from God’s presence, and perhaps this is why some people go there. Not for punishment, but to be separate from God as they desire. God won’t force us into a relationship that we don’t want. He’s not a spiritual rapist. Eternity is an extension of the choices we make on earth—either to be with God or apart from Him.

The fact that separateness from God involves suffering is a side-effect, but not the goal. The absence of good is evil, just as the absence of light is darkness. Perhaps, in hell, with the addition of each new evil entity, the torment increases—because evil begets evil; and apart from God, suffering begets suffering.

The one thing we can be sure of is that hell is not God’s desire for any of us [1]. He is love [2], and that love will flow into, around, and out of us, if we let it.



NOTES

[1] "Convention Against Torture," United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, accessed 22 February 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cat.aspx.
[2] 1 Peter 3:9.
[3] 1 John 4:8.


(Picture source)