As I have stated before, our minds are the battlefield for the soul. People suffer from all kinds of mental afflictions, yet some professing Christians do more harm than good when it comes to trying to help people that have troubled minds. Some preachers, for example, think the answer is always more prayer and more Bible reading. While more of both is a good thing, the prayer of faith is not to be without the works of faith, and as an old friend of mine by the name of John Knox said many years ago – “the Bible is not a magic book.” Reading it doesn't fix your problems – you have to learn it and apply its principles. The Bible is not a book that addresses all of life’s problems specifically, but it does give us principles to follow, including the fact that we are to share one another’s burdens and help those who are in need. God has gifted mankind with an intellect and reasoning capabilities. This is why we have many inventions that are helpful and why we are able to treat sicknesses and infirmities with medicines. “Science” is not a word that stands in opposition to Christianity, though there is certainly “science falsely so called.” Actual science helps us to understand the physical world around us, including truths about human physicality.
We live in Alaska, and it is often referred to as the Last Frontier. Others have given this moniker to the moon. I’ve also read that some believe the Last Frontier for mankind is trying to understand the human mind.
What is the mind? The mind is the seat of human consciousness and human mental faculties. Asa Mahan, in his book entitled Doctrine of the Will describes the faculties of the mind this way:
“Every individual who has reflected with any degree of interest upon the operations of his own mind, cannot have failed to notice three classes of mental phenomena, each of which is entirely distinct from either of the others. These phenomena, which comprehend the entire operations of the mind, and which may be expressed by the terms thinking, feeling, and willing, clearly indicate in the mind three faculties equally distinct from one another. These faculties are denominated the Intellect, the Sensibility or Sensitivity, and the Will. To the first, all intellectual operations, such as perceiving, thinking, judging, knowing, etc., are referred. To the second, we refer all sensitive states, all feelings, such as sensations, emotions, desires, etc. To the Will, or the active voluntary faculty, are referred all mental determinations, such as purposes, intentions, resolutions, choices, and volitions” (Chapter 2, pg. 22).
….. “This distinction is recognized by universal consciousness. When, for example, one speaks of thinking of any particular object, then of desiring it, and subsequently of determining to obtain the object, for the purpose of gratifying that desire, all mankind most clearly recognize his meaning in each of the above-named affirmations, and understand him as speaking of three entirely distinct classes of mental operations” (Chapter 2, pg. 23).
It is important to remember these distinctions. To state it another way, the mind is the faculty of human consciousness that includes the intellect (comprehension, thinking, imagining, remembering, reasoning), our sensibilities (emotions, feelings, desires) and the will (intentions, choices, volitions). The human mind is complex, to say the least. Add in the fact that since the expulsion of mankind from the Garden of Eden we have been barred from accessing the health-and-life-giving Tree of Life. This has resulted in the constitutional degeneration of Adam’s descendants, and our minds are included in this degeneration. This physical degeneration does not cause us to sin, nor is it an excuse for sin, but it does increase our vulnerability to afflictions and our susceptibility to temptation. The importance of the mind cannot be overstated. Paul wrote:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” (1 Corinthians 10:4-5).
From this we understand that we must contend with evil spirits, wicked concepts, and with minds that are easily deceived and/or afflicted. As God seeks to influence us and draw us through presenting truth to our minds, evil spirits seek to influence us and draw us into wickedness, despair, doubt, hopelessness, and depression.
Remembering Asa Mahan’s description of the faculties of the mind, we realize that even though evil spirits cannot force us to choose or act, they can impact our perceptions through lies and they can exploit our feelings and desires. They roam the earth seeking whom they may devour. This led David Wilkerson to say years ago in his sermon A Target of Satan’s Envy:
“I’m convinced the most trying of all spiritual battles take place in the mind of the believer. Many Christians endure tremendous mental anguish, battling thoughts that are oppressive, un-Christ-like, fearful. They can’t shake depressing memories of past failures. And they end up feeling not worthy of fellowship or God’s blessings.”
In this world of darkness many people suffer from mental and emotional afflictions, and we try to understand why. Many would refrain from using the clinical terms of illness and disease, and I would agree, but mental struggles are real nonetheless, and observation can help us to understand these mental troubles and their symptoms to a degree. But can there be something more at work at times? Could it be that evil spirits know how to exploit the human mind and cause people to experience mental agony connected to past sins, traumatic experiences, false memories, distorted perceptions, confusion, evil images and suggestions, etc.? It appears to me that the negative impacts of a suffering creation can touch us all, but it is also true that certain people may become targets of satanic oppression in which the processes of the mind are exploited by evil spirits.
Here are some more excerpts from David Wilkerson’s powerful sermon:
“Consider the apostle Paul. When this zealous persecutor of the church received a revelation of Christ, he set his heart to fast and pray and immediately he became a prime target of Satan’s wrath…..”
“…..Paul writes, ‘Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me’ (2 Corinthians 12:7).”
“…..The devil assigned this messenger to afflict Paul’s flesh, causing him physical and mental pain. And Satan instructed the demon to be unrelenting in his attack: ‘Buffet Paul repeatedly. Hit him day after day, never letting up.”
Wilkerson pointed out how Satan sent a special messenger on a lifelong assignment – to oppress Paul and to destroy his faith. He continued: “I can imagine the torments this demon brought upon Paul: bombardments of lies, reminders of every Christian he tortured, memories of every past thing he did against Christ’s name. Likewise, Satan does the same thing with every on-fire believer today. He sends evil principalities to hover over our lives and whisper lies to us with one intention: to destroy our faith.”
“….For this reason, Paul warns us not to be ignorant of the devil’s wiles: ‘Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices’ (2 Corinthians 2:11). If we ignore the enemy’s tactics, we may allow him to gain a foothold, or advantage, over us.”
“….Sometimes Satan finds people to say hurtful, damaging things out loud to us. But mostly, the enemy uses his demonic powers, sending them to shake our faith. They whisper to us subtle but devastating thoughts formulated by the wicked one himself.”
“….Satan fears even a small army of those who are girded up in faith for a fight. He cowers before those who are up on their feet and ready to resist. And because he fears you, his design is to neutralize your fighting spirit.” “….The devil does this by trying to flood your mind with defeating, distracting, hellish thoughts that breed mistrust and questions about God’s power. He’ll scream into your mind and spirit, ‘It’s no use fighting anymore. You’re too weak from your personal struggles.”
“….Beloved, this is all a distraction! Satan’s entire strategy is to get you to take your eyes off the victory of the Cross. He wants to turn your focus onto your weaknesses, your sins, your shortcomings and that’s why he turns up the heat of your present problems and sufferings. He wants to make you believe you aren’t strong enough to go on…”
“….The fact is, we’re all going to be in a fight until we die or Jesus comes back first. We may be given seasons of calm, times of reprieve. But as long as we’re on this earth, we are engaged in spiritual warfare. And there simply is no end to these battles. That’s why Paul says Jesus has given us weapons that are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.”
“….Simply put, if thoughts come to me that are accusing, if they cause doubt and fear, or are condemning, or bring a sense of rejection, I know they are not of God. We all have to be prepared for such horrible thoughts to come. Even the Lord Jesus was subject to these kinds of thoughts from the enemy during his wilderness temptation.” “….I have fellowshipped with some of the saintliest servants of God on earth. Many of them have told me that after dedicated times of seeking the Lord, fasting for days, setting their mind and heart on the Lord’s concerns, they were plagued with awful doubts even about the very existence of God.” “…One godly prophet confessed to me, ‘Recently, I’ve been harassed by evil thoughts. It’s the first time in my life this has happened.’ But the Holy Spirit assured him: ‘Stand still in faith. These are not your thoughts; they are from Satan. The devil wants to convince you that you’re as evil as the thoughts he sends. He wants to stagger your faith. Just hold on, and trust the Lord. You’re not going to sink. You’re under attack…”
Contrary to the claims of some uninformed preachers, the mere presence of evil thoughts does not make you evil. Your mind can visualize images you have seen, heard, thought, or read about in the past, or create new images that are related to these. Furthermore, evil spirits may bombard your mind with blasphemous, impure, and unholy thoughts, but either way, if you refuse to accept them and act on them, you are not sinning. Satanic spirits can oppress you, but they cannot override your will. But, indeed, the oppression can be debilitating and can cause you to perceive falsities concerning reality and even yourself. Evil spirits can cause us to think that having these thoughts says something about our character, but this is not so. We are not talking about situations where people intentionally dwell on certain kinds of thoughts for sinful self-gratification, but intrusive thoughts that the person fights against.
Some people are easier to affect mentally than others. Those who are more analytical and are constantly trying to answer the “what’s” and the “why’s” of life are particularly susceptible. This leads me to address a specific mental affliction that is known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). *I can only support the use of the term "disorder" in the sense that it refers to a functional abnormality or mental disturbance that causes mental pain. When people are affected by intrusive thoughts, anxiety, continuous flashbacks, etc., that are deeply distressing and are negatively impacting their lives, I believe the term disorder may apply because of cognitive impairment resulting from difficult and painful mental "ruts" and debilitating thought patterns. I believe the terms "disease" and "mental illness" are overused and frequently wrongly used.
A person suffering with OCD is not someone who merely has to have things in a certain order or must wash his hands fifty times a day, it is someone that battles thoughts that are disturbing and distressing, such as thoughts related to contracting a sickness or disease, harming someone, or sexual content. This is not just referring to someone who has unpleasant thoughts here and there (all people experience this), but to those whose minds have fallen into continuous negative thought patterns and the unwanted thoughts constantly bombard their minds causing distress and misery. “Some OCD sufferers are plagued by unstoppable images or thoughts that are violent or sexual in nature. These thoughts do not mean anything about the person’s intent or personality, but these fears do make it difficult or impossible to focus on work, relationships, or interests other than the obsessive images and thoughts” (Blackbearrehab.com).
Everyone has fleeting thoughts of “immoral behavior”, but the person with "pure" OCD becomes obsessed with the thoughts, trying to figure out why the thoughts happen, what the thoughts say about him, or what the thoughts mean. He ruminates over the thoughts and his fears related to the thoughts cause them to occur constantly throughout the day. OCD will attack the sufferer’s values. OCD will attack whatever is most important to the person, such as a spouse, or family, or religious beliefs. The OCD sufferer is the least likely person in the world to act on these intrusive images and suggestions, as evidenced by the severe anxiety the thoughts cause, but the sufferer is plagued with fears and doubts. One can know that the thoughts mean nothing, but the anxiety that is triggered will cause the mind to not let it go. The brain tells him something is wrong, and his “flight” response (fight, flight, or freeze) is triggered. He cannot rest until his compulsion relieves his anxiety and it takes him to safety.
OCD attacks our feelings and our perceptions. When a person battles with obsessional thoughts, it causes extreme anxiety so he turns to a compulsion, perhaps confessing to a loved one each time an intrusive thought occurs, or by perpetually seeking reassurance that he is not sinful, because his brain has learned that his anxiety will only be relieved when the compulsion is acted on. It is a vicious cycle that leaves the sufferer mentally and emotionally drained, and it can easily lead to depression. It can severely impact his life.
According to mayoclinic.org: “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.”
“You may try to ignore or stop your obsessions, but that only increases your distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts to try to ease your stress. Despite efforts to ignore or get rid of bothersome thoughts or urges, they keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior — the vicious cycle of OCD.”
Though the human mind can cause enough trouble on its own, it is easy to come to the conclusion that evil spirits are adept at exploiting our minds for the purpose of dragging us into this vicious cycle. We read that Christians such as Martin Luther and John Bunyan had characteristics associated with OCD, and we also find that the term scrupulosity is closely associated with OCD. According to wellcomecollection.org:
“The first known public description of scrupulosity occurred in 1691 in a sermon by Bishop of Norwich, John Moore. Moore called it “religious melancholy”, and described sufferers as having: “… a flatness in their minds ... which makes them fear, that what they do, is so defective and unfit to be presented unto God, that he will not accept it ... They experience naughty, and sometimes Blasphemous Thoughts which start in their Minds, while they are exercised in the Worship of God ... despite all their endeavours to stifle and suppress them ... The more they struggle with them, the more they increase.”
People that do not cope well with uncertainty are prone to suffering from OCD. It is sometimes referred to as the doubting disease because sufferers find it nearly impossible to move on from having a lack of certainty. Be that as it may, not all realities can be proven and so we see how a person with OCD can end up in a no-win situation in his mind.
There is much that can be said about this affliction, and there are recommended treatment options for OCD, though some of them are not morally acceptable in my opinion. In an article found at accounseling.org, we can find this helpful information:
Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts
Even though they feel real, intrusive thoughts (i.e., distressing thoughts or images with violent, sexual, or blasphemous content) say nothing about my true character.
The goal of the intrusive thoughts is to shock and scare me so I try to suppress or “fix” them. My goal is to identify them as “intrusive thoughts” and move on instead of fighting with them.
Having an intrusive thought does not make it more likely for me to act on it.
God understands that intrusive thoughts are distressing to me. He understands OCD better than anyone!
OCD wants me to believe that worry, anxiety, and compulsions will protect me spiritually. That is all part of the trick OCD wants me to believe.
OCD wants me to fight with my thoughts and try to control and suppress them. OCD knows that by getting distressed and fighting with the thoughts I will refill the “gas tank” in the obsessional engine and keep it running.
Trying to prevent myself from ever having certain thoughts, images, and feelings only makes them worse.
Click here for the full article.
Some people believe that the most effective weapon in battle is psychological warfare. It appears that the powers of darkness agree. The infliction of bodily pain can neutralize an enemy, to a point, but when the mind is the target, it can destroy him, for it too causes physical pain and it can wreck his thinking processes. Even the great Apostle Paul wrote this in his letter to the Corinthians:
“For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:” (2 Corinthians 1:8)
Paul despaired even of life. He would be in trouble with many modern-day preachers for admitting this. But then, many of them know little, if anything at all, about spiritual warfare.
You never know what someone may be going through. Be merciful. If you have suffered because of distressing thoughts, don’t give up. Do not identify yourself with your temptations or distressing thoughts, but with the choices you make. No matter what, follow Christ. As it was for Paul, his grace is sufficient for you to continue on.