Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not. ― Flannery O’Connor
Ever want to have God appear to you in your own, personal, burning bush? Usually, when we talk about “religious experience,” we think about flash shows of divine presence like fiery chariots from heaven, ala Elijah’s assent to heaven (2 Kings 2). We at least think of glorious songs and inspirational worship. At first flush, it seems like the story of the Transfiguration, with Jesus shining presence and a voice from heaven seems to advocate for this kind of religious experience as a part of our faith. Before the story, however, Jesus speaks of the cross. After the bright lights, the disciples are left with Jesus – just Jesus. Maybe that is a clue to a different way that God is revealed to us in the wake of the incarnation of God in Christ.
When we hear stories about Jesus casting out demons, I’m not sure we know quite what to do with them. Is this possession as illustrated by Hollywood, complete with spinning heads, shaking beds, and evil voices? Or is it just an ancient way of pointing out what they did not understand – mental illness, convulsions or some other such disease? Those kinds of questions obscure two basic truths of these strange stories. First, evil exists and if we are not “possessed” by the Holy Spirit, we are likely to be possessed by something unholy. When I see a world full of violence, abuse, horrific stories of awful deeds done by humans to humans, even children, I find myself asking “What possesses people to do these things?” And there it is – something that drives us to rob life, liberty and peace from others takes our identity as holy people away. Second, fascination with what is unholy in these stories often leads us away from the central truth – God in Christ, revealed in Jesus has power to cast out the unholy and grant peace and life in its place.