What’s with the pigs?

Mark 5 tells the story of Jesus sending a demon out of an unclean man into a herd of pigs. Then the pigs (2000 of them) rush down a steep bank and drown. Simply asking the question, “what’s with the pigs?” gets at some of the complexity of the text:

  • Pigs are unclean. Jews don’t eat pigs, so it’d be unusual for them to be raising pigs. Mark suggests the place is close to Jewish territory, but Matthew and Luke suggest that its further away. So the man and the swine herders were probably Gentiles. That then changes the story and the interpretation.
  • Why did the demon, named Legion, ask to go into the pigs? There is no mention of demons going anywhere in other stories of Jesus casting out demons.
  • Pigs can swim, so why did they drown? Furthermore, if they were also quite a distance from the coast, where was the “lake” in which they drowned? Incidentally, as veterinary students pointed out during the study, pigs tend to carry a lot of diseases so that water would have become contaminated.

All of these questions point to the text having a more complicated understanding to it than we first imagine. Add to this the political implications of the text: Legion refers to a 5000 man unit of the Roman armies, so there’s something very subversive in “legion” drowning.

Finally, there’s one more odd thing in the text: why did Jesus not allow the man to follow him, especially when Jesus was calling followers? How did the man know enough for him to be a true witness? Considering that I come out of a tradition that values high understanding, this is a bit confrontational. What does this then say about the high value that the university puts upon knowledge? What about rational explanations for things?

These are the sorts of questions and textual analysis that we ponder at our studies. If these sorts of questions intrigue you, join us!

Why talk about difficult topics?

The studies in the second half of the spring semester focused on difficult topics in Christianity and the Bible. As many people avoid these conversations because of potential conflict, it’s not always obvious why we should talk about these things. Yet, studying these difficult topics can help us love God and those around us. Reading the Bible carefully, as well as listening to those around us, makes us aware that knowing and understanding the Bible isn’t easy. How could God command the Israelites to destroy all the Canaanites when they went into the promised land, an act that people today would consider genocide? Why would a caring, all-powerful God allow people to be attracted to people of the same-sex if it’s sin to act on those feelings? What about gender dysphoria? Hell?

These are hard questions that many struggle with. Not talking about them doesn’t make the struggles go away; in fact, it often makes it worse and may even cause people to question faith. Looking for answers to these difficult questions allows us to use our God-given intellect to know God better. At the same time, sometimes the answers are unclear, as witnessed by how differently Christians address these questions. The Bible also seems to suggest (in the book of Job) that as mere humans, it is not our place to understand all things. So sometimes the questions do not need to be answered so much as they need space to be voiced. When address the problem of suffering, Mike Wagenman, a campus minister at University of Western Ontario, notes that sometimes it’s not about answers so much as providing a “listening ear and open heart” in the middle of the pain and the struggles.