September 14, 2023

“How Long Has He Been Like This?”

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This post is an edited excerpt from Across the Kitchen Table: Talking about Trans with Your Teen, by Sam A. Andreades. Available to preorder now at Harvest USA!

A difficult case confronted Jesus as he came down from the mountain in Mark 9. His disciples had been trying to help a father whose boy was really messed up, but the problem was too difficult for them. What follows is the longest description of a healing/exorcism in the Gospels. The uncommon amount of detail affords us insight into how Jesus worked to restore people to wholeness. While we do not know all that Jesus did each time he made someone better, this lengthy example shows that it sometimes involved a process.

Jesus the Diagnostician

Jesus works with families. The process of addressing the child’s need first turns into an instruction for the friends trying to help—in this case, the disciples (Mark 9:14, 18–19, 28–29). It then turns into an address of the father’s need as well. Jesus talks to the father about the man’s own heart as revealed by the situation (Mark 9:22–24).

We similarly find, in trying to help a condition like teen trans, God challenges our own hearts. As secular psychologists Susan and Marcus Evans recognize, “exploring the family dynamics is an essential part of any assessment [of gender dysphoria].”[1] As you help your son or daughter, God is after your growth as well. At the very least, a gender-troubled loved one will require you to grow in love and faith. You, as the parent, are instrumental in your child’s progress.

Then the Diagnostician turns to the boy himself. Jesus has a way of drawing the real problem out of people. In his presence, the evil possessing this man’s son soon shows (Mark 9:20). The boy is in the grip of a spirit that brings him to body-mutilation. This self-destructive force has overcome his soul (Mark 9:18, 20 and Matthew 17:15 emphasizes the boy’s self-harm). As Jesus observes the manifestation with the father, he asks the man a telling question about his son: “How long has he been like this?” (Mark 9:21, NIV). Jesus is interested in the boy’s history; it somehow helped to hear what may have led to the present condition.

Breakfast and Other Past Events

Revisiting the past to study a key moment when “it all started” occurs in other places where we see God’s counsel in the Bible—in fact, the first one. God revisits the beginning of Adam and Eve’s problem by asking them what they had for breakfast (Gen 3:11). He thereby takes them back to see the decision they made that produced the shame under which they now labor. Isaiah the prophet conveys God’s diagnosis of how Israel had, at one point, gone wrong in adopting another means of security instead of God himself. He takes them back to a past key time when they “made a covenant with death” (Isa. 28:14–19).

Going backward sometimes helps people go forward. A probable cause of pronounced body alienation is earlier-life trauma. As John Calvin put it, “Satan mixes up his attacks with natural means.”[2] Sins by others against our bodies can greatly exacerbate the shame to which we are already susceptible. If one feels like one’s body is the problem, a reasonable place to look for the source of that discomfiture is in an experience that would make one want to separate from the body. Unfortunately, childhood sexual abuse, an example of the kind of trauma that can derail a person’s gender, can take place without anyone finding out until much later.

Sometimes, for example, in response to being hurt by a man, one finds in an abused girl a desire to be a man in order to not get hurt: “I want to be a man because men are not vulnerable.” Early on, she makes a decision to never get hurt again, and this is the best way to ensure it. She deeply wants what she perceives as the protective power of being a man. Sometimes, a sexually abused boy concludes, “I am treated by men as a woman, so I must be a woman.” He internalizes his abuse and shields himself from disgust by the strong desire to be a woman.

Of course, such a horrid experience as child abuse is very difficult to revisit. It is easier to say, “I’m in the wrong body” and never have to speak of it again. But, if that is our reality, ignoring it further damages us. When a person is ready to talk about past excruciating experiences, licensed counselors can help provide the delicate care needed to make the recalling tolerable. Furthermore, revisiting such awful memories can only help if the person reinterprets them in light of God’s presence and acceptance. As cited above, God directed his first “How long has it been like this?” question to Adam and Eve. God revisited their initial decision to help them connect their wrong reaction to temptation to what they were currently experiencing. He then lovingly clothed them, giving them a new way to deal with their shame (Gen 3:21). Jesus’s questioning of the boy’s father showed that his presence can overcome any trauma, even if it dates to childhood (Mark 9:21).

In Prison No Longer

When, as Jesus found in his diagnosis, we see a greater evil has taken hold, God will take greater measures. One time, a cross-dressing man—we’ll call him “Archie”—contacted me at his wits’ end. He came over to talk, and we reviewed his strange history. Since age fourteen, Archie had periodically ad­opted a woman’s persona. Therapist after therapist, psychologist after psychologist, told him this was just how he was made. But it didn’t help. He ended up in pris­on. When he got out, he said, “I am still in prison.” He was, at times, close to suicide. When, decades later, he fi­nally broke free of the addictive medications he was on, he began to have clarity about himself.

As he described his strange history to me and asked for my help, he made no bones about having a demonic possession. It was more a matter of Archie doing the diagnosing rather than me. He could tell that Satan lay behind his man-denying behavior. The Dark One exploited the sexual molestation visited on Archie at six years old by an evil grandfather.

I do not tend to rush into these things. Archie had not been to church in 25 years. But he did understand his guilt, shame, and need for reinterpretation in Christ. After further discussion, prayer, and enacting appropriate safeguards, I (as I’ve done on rare occasions) performed an exorcism. That was the beginning of Archie as a changed man. In my last contact with him, he wasn’t in prison anymore. (We can expect more need for demonic deliverance as our culture continues its steady march to paganism.)

Trauma-induced gender tearing can be redeemed by re-understanding it to be inside the care of our heavenly Father and including it in the reason for Christ’s work on our behalf. But this the Holy Spirit is faithful to do with God’s children. It is remarkable to see him apply Jesus Christ’s excruciation to areas of pain in our lives to bring about healing, forgiveness, and, in the end, freedom. Yet this, he does.

[1] Susan Evans and Marcus Evans, Gender Dysphoria: A Therapeutic Model for Working with Children, Adolescents and Young Adults (Oxfordshire, Oxford, En­gland: Phoenix Publishing House Ltd., 2021), 93.

[2] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (1852; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), XVI:II:322.

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