Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Spiritual Warfare" Revisited

Okay, I'm not attempting to teach some new doctrine here.  Actually, I'm not sure if I'm right at all. But I do want to raise some questions about spiritual warfare and maybe how we have gotten it wrong.

I have a couple of friends who brought this issue of spiritual warfare to my attention over the past year.  One, I will call Bob and the other Paul.  Bob was the pastor of a large church here in the states and Paul and his wife missionaries in Asia.  They each had confined in me about some serious personal struggles.  No one in Paul's church knew the dirty details and no one on Paul's missionary newsletter list knew. On the surface everything looked . . . swell.

Bob suffered a tremendous amount of spiritual abuse from his senior pastor/boss. This senior pastor was well known in their denomination and highly esteemed.  Finally Bob's ministry collapsed under his boss' thumb and he created lies to make it sound like Bob had done something horribly wrong.  You will noticed that I drew from this real-life story in my recent writings about the subtle art of spiritual abuse. So Bob lost his calling, his job (he remains unemployed), his reputation and his friends. This last straw was that his wife (a deeply religious woman who was the daughter of a pastor ) told him that she didn't respect him anymore as a spiritual leader, thus she was filing for divorce. He was in total shock. If there was any vindication in Bob's story was the the fact that the dominating senior pastor has since been caught in a scandal and has been fired, but that came too late to help Bob.

Paul likewise was under the thumb of a dominating and merciless missionary boss. He had been so for years.  He only told me because we have been close friends for a long time. Even with me he was hesitant to speak openly  about his boss, but when he started to open up about it, you could see the emotions starting to bubble up through his soul. But that was just the start of it. In their host country, Paul's teenage daughter was raped, then they were robbed, they had huge issues among the national pastoral staff (stealing, incest, adultery and you name it).  Then Paul and his wife, each, had huge problems going on with their families back in the states including, in a span of months, two suicides of sibling, the deaths of three of the four parents, big financial losses and etc.

My point here is what happened next. 

Both Bob and Paul have suddenly become very sick, physically. Their illnesses are a mystery to the medical establishment but have rendered both men totally incapacitated.  Fortunately for Paul, his wife has remained his major support but she too is not well and they, as a family, have left the mission field on medical leave.  Both Paul and Bob have since said the same thing to me. They feel that they were under demonic attacks, thus their medical problems (as well as some of the crap they've lived through recently). 

So, look at the passage, Ephesians six, that the men were drawing from:
The Armor of God 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Now, I know what the men were saying. It is the normal way of looking at life. Basically, in the invisible world of spirits Satanic forces are causing all the bad things to happen, then they are causing physical illness (in the Job syndrome).  Maybe it is just a part of testing.

Let me share a possible different possible perspective.

Somatization disorders are quite common.  Under that broad umbrella are the old terms of conversion disorders and its little sister hypochondria.

A word about somatization disorders.  I see patients with somatization disorders everyday. What I mean by this is the patient really believing that they are ill . . . but they really are not.  They look ill but all their tests come back negative.  Just Friday I was examining a patient and she had a full-blown "seizure," which had already been diagnosed, without question, of being pseudo-seizures.  These are pretend seizures.  Most patients don't plan on having an episode, but it is a function of their subconscious.  So, you never tell these patients to "stop it!"  They really believe the spells are real.

So, I honestly believe that Bob and Paul are experiencing somatization disorders.  This is different than developing ulcers because of stress. In the case of Bob and Paul, it is where you feel sick, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with your body. It is all imagined sickness, being imagined by your subconscious.  A lot of faith-healers' success is where they tell one of these people that they have been healed, and then they are (their subconscious stops creating the fake illness).

At the time scripture was written, no one was aware of the physical brain and what it did. The human body was divided between the physical, joints, skin, lungs and etc. and the spiritual, what we now know as the emotions and etc. Certainly the subconscious would have been considered the spiritual.

Now, I'm not trying to dismiss the supernatural.  When I look at the world as a monist, and once again quoting from Einstein, I see everything as a miracle. If God hadn't acted, then nothing would be here.  He made the brain and the subconscious and it is all supernatural.

Going back to the somatization disorders, they are caused by several factors. One common one is where someone did not get the nurturing that they deserved as a child. Maybe they were even seriously abused. Now that they are adults, they have a serious nurturing deficit. The only socially accepted way for an adult to get parent-child type of nurturing, is for the adult to be seriously sick.

All the patients, whom have somatization disorders, usually have a spouse, sister, mother or friend who is with them.  That family member hauls them around where ever they need to go. That family member feeds them, makes decisions for them and the list goes no.

In the case of people like Bob and Paul, it is more complicated. I assumed that they had a decent amount of nurturing as children (none of us have what God intended), but it was these prolonged periods of stress and aggravation that makes their subconscious react this way.  But the results are the same. When you are very ill, you don't have to preach anymore . . . or go back to the mission field. So many of the requirements go out the window.

Please don't take me wrong. I'm not blaming my friends at all. They are past their breaking point and getting sick is the only way they have of coping and succeeding.

So, could this passage be saying that our struggle isn't in fistfights or real disease of our bodies. Our struggle is spiritual/mental.  It is there that the very intelligent Satan is most effective. I think it is very naive, somewhat on the level of kindergarten, to see our troubles from the angle that the devil is moving around, like on the Exorcist casting back-luck spells on us. No, it is far more sinister.

Okay, this is getting too long and I will have to come back.


solarblogger said...

In the past, I generally found all claims that demonic incidents in Scripture could be attributed to mental illness as implausible. Most accounts tried to make such stories into something like an explanatory myth.

More recently, I have seen some writers who did better justice to the Biblical text when they set forth their suggestions. There are sometimes little clues in the text itself that at least some of this can be taken that way.

One incident is with the Gadarene demoniac. When the incident is over, he is said to be in his "right mind" (Luke 8:35). One writer notes that Luke used a lot of description that fit the ancient descriptions of mania. In The Scapegoat, Rene Girard offers a reading that can even account for the swine charging the cliff.

Jesus' rebuke of Peter in Matthew 16 is also interesting. Peter is addressed as Satan, but then told his mind is set not on the things of God but the things of man. If this were literal, would Satan have his mind on the matters of men rather than his own?

Our modern categories don't generally translate into Biblical categories in one to one fashion. But it seems that perhaps the ancient categories of Bible times didn't, either. I'm not surprised if getting a really good fit takes a long time.

jmj said...

Don't you think in our times that explanations that involve known psychological patterns aren't as sexy(in the Evangelical's mind)as demonic explanations? But my point is that they are equally of Satan, but I think that Satan works in more sophisticated ways than devils and pitchforks. The decline of chronic stress into imagined (or real) illness is one of complex games of our subconsciousness, under the influence of the Fall.

I also think it is a healthy thing for us to know that our own minds are capable of such mischief in this downward spiral.

solarblogger said...

jmj, I read your comment a couple of times, and found two different ways of reading it. The first way that I read suggested that the explanations were of Satan. That is, Satan wants us to use psychological explanations for his work to throw us off track. The second way was that both real demons and bad thought patterns exist and stem equally from Satan. Would one of these be accurate to what you meant? (Key difference here is that if you meant the latter, then psychological explanations as explanations don't come from Satan, even if the phenomena they describe do.)

jmj said...

What I'm trying to say is that most Evangelicals believe that bad things are supernatural "oppression" by demons. I'm saying that evil exist in the world but it works out in more complex and subtle ways, such as mental illness. In other words,the devil didn't make you mentally ill though magic, but through the abuse that we all experience and the abuse we bestow on others. The child who was sexually abused by their father, and then develops serious mental heath repercussions is example of Satan's evil in the world,not a demon who picked this person (victim) and presto zaps them and they become demon oppressed.

So the answer of this type of evil isn't via the hands of an exorcist, but through a community of loving people, sometimes therapists, prayer, sometimes medications and a whole lot of time. Yet, this type of evil is so real, that some of us never recover from it in this lifetime . . . but total redemption comes in the new world.

peaceofchange said... there a way I can email you privately?

jmj said...

You can use

Eagle said...

MJ check out the Wartburg Watch. They are going to launch a series on psychology, mental illness and psychiatry in their post-evangelical context. You might find it interesting given your profession.

jmj said...

Eagle, I checked it out but couldn't find where they are discussing it. I'm not familiar with their site but would be interested in what they say.

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Eagle said... will be either today or Monday when they will write and talk about it. It's a post-evangelical site that is similar to Internet Monk. They've been discussing the problems with Sovereign Grace and the neo-Calvinsts the last few days.

solarblogger said...

If I had remembered that jmj was the blog owner, I wouldn't have had a hard time deciphering the first comment. Sorry! Given that context, the latter way of reading I offered was the only one. (Or at least the former one wasn't a possible reading.) I think I started reading wrong when I read
"Don't you think in our times that explanations that involve known psychological patterns aren't as sexy(in the Evangelical's mind)as demonic explanations?" as if it meant the psychological answers WERE sexy to evangelicals. I could imagine SOMEONE making that claim. I've been outside those circles for too long to know what is or is not currently popular. Aside from political candidates!

I'm probably pretty close to being on the same page. And I definitely wouldn't want to see the people mentioned in the post fall into the hands of an exorcist.