“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”
So goes the ancient pagan proverb in a flash of what could almost be Solomonic wisdom.
Think of the destructive insanity of the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9. He is writhing on the ground, foaming at the mouth, and perpetually throwing himself into the fire. Everyone in that story, from the father to the apostles to the crowds, knew that something was fundamentally wrong with the situation. It’s not a tricky diagnosis — ordinary, healthy people don’t behave in that way.
Ephesians tells us that “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Ephesians 5:29). The insanity and brutality of the demon manifests by subverting all natural categories and causing the “self” to be attacked as if it’s an enemy. And of course, while in the grip of this demon, the boy actually is his own worst enemy.
Any sane person would instinctively fight to keep himself out of the fire or to save himself from drowning. This isn’t an indication of virtue. It’s simply the behavior of a normal human. But on the other side, the unnatural state that boy was in could only be caused by a massive spiritual problem — in this case, a demon so ferocious that not even the disciples could cast it out. Christ tells them later, “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29).
How Will Teachers Explain Us?
This sort of madness which demands self-destruction can happen not just to individuals, but to societies as well. And we are right in the midst of watching it happen. The frenzy of self-annihilation that our nation is currently undergoing holds all the same inexplicable confusion of basic categories as the boy throwing himself into the fire.
Imagine what perspective a future generation might have as they look back at us. What possible explanation could we offer for our actions? Think of a history professor trying to explain to the students, “I know this seems unbelievable, but women in the twenty-first century demanded that they should be allowed to murder their own babies and sell the body parts — and if anyone tried to get in the way of this, they were accused of being tyrannical abusers.”
What? Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.
In any ordinary and natural society, a woman who had her baby murdered would actually be the one we would feel sorry for. Right? Even in the animal kingdom, we know this to be fundamentally true. If we were watching a nature documentary and a mother panda lost her baby in some violent attack, we would all understand that we had just witnessed a tragedy. We’d even feel sorry for a mother snail who had her baby snail eaten by a bird.
But meanwhile, in another corner of the animal kingdom . . . a man tears apart a woman’s child, inside her womb, and all the other women applaud. In any normal world — not even a virtuous world, just a normal world — how would the other women respond to that situation? Obviously, we would weep for her. Grieve for her. Demand justice for her.
Instead, the women of America band together, wear pink hats, and demand that they be allowed to pay the man to do it again to someone else. Further, they insist that everyone be required to chip in and pay for him to do it to millions of other women.
Who Are the Villains?
Imagine a zoo in which all the mother bears inexplicably began killing all their own offspring. Just think of the publicity crisis. Imagine the anxious zookeepers frantically working to figure out what had gone wrong, searching for the cause of the insanity, and desperately trying to shield the traumatized onlookers from the situation.
What has happened to us? How can we, modern, enlightened Americans, contemplate a child being violently torn from his mother’s womb, and rather than seeing a shocking and unspeakable horror, we see it as empowerment for the mother?
This is an industry that takes the violence and the butchery of the battlefield and brings it into women’s bodies. But who are the villains who are responsible? The women themselves. It’s the women who are demanding that they be allowed to be violated in this way, women who are running the ad campaigns, women who are the CEOs, women who are marching in the streets, women who are lobbying Washington, and women who are operating the vile trade in infant body parts. It is women who are tearing at themselves and throwing themselves into the fire.
Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.
Help Our Unbelief
Christ’s words when confronted with the demon-possessed boy are especially poignant when applied to us, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (Mark 9:19). But when the boy’s father begs for Christ to have compassion, he is told, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). The man famously cries out with tears, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). And Christ casts the demon out and the boy is healed.
Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad — and those gods always wish to destroy. But Christ came to this sorry, self-destructive planet, this planet hell-bent on throwing itself into the fire, and cast out the demon. “And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it [the spirit] came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose” (Mark 9:26–27).
We can’t debate our way out of this madness because self-destructive frenzy can only be dealt with by prayer and fasting. Rational arguments and reasoned discourse don’t work on insanity. But we can look to Christ who is certainly capable of taking us by the hand and lifting us up.
Lord, we believe; help our unbelief.