Abused

Updated!

There is the name of a prison, in Iraq, which is now a name which brings shame and embarrassment. Abu Gharib prison is now known as where physical and sexual abuse of prisoners took place from 2003-2006. The prisoners were there simply to be detained before trial. No one there had been convicted of a crime, and the cruel and degrading treatment that happened to them at the hands of those assigned to detain them was not part of their responsibilities. The physical and sexual abuse of these prisoners was never a part of the responsibilities of the soldiers who had been assigned to guard them. Eventually eleven soldiers were charged with and convicted of dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery. They were sent to military prison and dishonorably discharged for prisoner abuse.

The abuse of prisoners who are simply being detained is nothing new in this world due to human nature being fallen. It’s as old as crime and punishment. And it happened to Jesus, too. There’s a brutal paragraph in the gospel of Mark which describes the physical and psychological abuse of Jesus while he was being detained as a prisoner awaiting execution that same day. This apparently happened during the remaining time before the Roman guards rounded up all three prisoners that were going to be taken out to execution by public crucifixion that day.

The paragraph which describes the prisoner abuse of Jesus at the hands of the Roman guards is a very tough paragraph to read and to let it sink in. But maybe that’s part of the problem with preaching and teaching today: we may be avoiding the difficult passages for the familiar ones which don’t force us to think, pray and meditate on tough things. It seems like in the modern church we rarely deal with the passages which deal with the crucifixion except in the Sundays which precede Good Friday in the Christian calendar year. And too much of what we say about the crucifixion seems to be explaining how crucifixion worked to a modern audience rather than understanding what the scriptural narrative has to say to us today. Certainly we need to understand the historical background of crucifixion to understand the sufferings of Jesus, but I think that there’s much more that is in these passages that God has been seeking to tell his people in all the ages since the crucifixion. So the first thing is to approach these passages with a  prayerful heart to let God show us what he wants us to see in the process which led up to the ultimate victory over sin and death, and what the suffering of his Son means for his people in all ages.

First of all understand that all that happened to Jesus in this paragraph was not part of the assignment of the guards who were part of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem in the first century AD. Nothing that they did to Jesus was under orders from their superiors.  Yet the abuse which happened to Jesus was a crime – perhaps not a crime in the legal sense in that day and age – yet still a crime of opportunity and crime to which the Roman authorities, from Pilate to the garrison commander, gave their silent permission. It serves as a continued reminder of the tough times that that people lived through then, and how those in authority could let additional abuse pile on to the already brutal and cruel punishments for civil and political crimes. And it shows the stark difference between military justice in the United States Army and in the Roman army that the offenses at Abu Gharib were punished.

Doubtless many times believers who have read these verses over the years have read these verses have found themselves in the same situation as Jesus was on that day about 30 AD, in the city of Jerusalem.  Many, many times believers who followed Jesus also have had to endure abuse like him when they were imprisoned and on trial for their profession of faith in Jesus. Too often in the North American church we seem to be unaware of the fact that many times throughout history the normal experience of being a believer in Jesus Christ has been suffering for one’s faith in Jesus. We may get very comfortable with the familiarity of sitting and singing in our pews with our family and friends and forget that for many believers in Jesus throughout history doing just that would be a rare part of their experience. Many times they have suffered rejection and abuse from friends and family members for their faith in Jesus, and abuse from the civil authorities as well. Believers over the years have been subject to fines, beatings, imprisonment and execution for their faith in Jesus And when they would look at passages like this, they could find special comfort in knowledge that Jesus himself had been treated the same way when he was detained before and after his trials before the Jewish and Roman authorities.

This passage is also a stark reminder of the cruel reality of our fallen world and  of the the brutal and abusive monsters that sin can make and does make of so many of us. It reminds us of the horrible abuse that may come upon the most innocent among us, when we bear the cross after Jesus. Even more, though, it is also part of the theme of the Bible that God brings the greatest goods out of the deepest suffering of his people. It is part of the deeply laid thread of suffering that can be traced throughout the Bible, throughout the Psalms and the Prophets, that was then fulfilled ultimately in Jesus. It is in the suffering of Jesus,  where we see the suffering of the righteous and innocent in this world, that then finds its answer in the ultimate suffering of the Righteous One, the one that God sent into our world to pay the price for our redemption. In addition, this passage gives insight not only into his suffering for us, of the price that was paid for our salvation. It also shows that the Old Testament salvation promise that was fulfilled in the suffering of the Son, who also redeems also our own sufferings which come in this world. And this passage also starkly exposes the evil of this world for what it is, as we see how the evil of this world treated the holy, righteous and innocent Son of God during this time – and then that sets the stage for his ultimate victory over all the evil that this world had to offer.

“Then the soldiers took him (Jesus) away from the courtyard, which is the Praetorium, and they called together the whole unit. And they dressed him in purple, and, after they had plaited a crown of thorns, they placed it on him. And they began to greet him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they began to beat him around the head with a reed, they began to spit on him and  they knelt on the ground and offered obeisance to him.  And when they had finished deriding him, they took off the purple garment and put his own clothes back on him. And they led him out to crucify him.” (Mark 15:16-20, Dale’s sight translation).

As it happened to Jesus, the abuse of this world starts with verbal abuse. All the mockery and degradation which Jesus received is typical of how abuse of other people starts among us in this world. And it is typical of the behavior of the people in this world he came to save. The abuse of the Savior in this world ultimately does point to the need of both the abused and the abuser for the Savior who was abused to the point of his death on the cross.

So often, the abuse of this world happens often because the authorities of this world allow it. Like the abuse of so many in our age, the abuse which Jesus suffered was a crime of opportunity. It happened like it does so often, when someone seems to be helpless to resist and isolated from the help of others – and others see that as an opportunity for cruel fun at the expense of another person. And Jesus himself experienced this – being isolated and seemingly unable – and in his case, unwilling – to resist the cycle of abuse which was poured upon him, with the silent approval of the civil authorities.

“Then the soldiers took him (Jesus) away from the courtyard, which is the Praetorium, and they called together the whole platoon.” (verse 16) This is how the prisoner abuse of Jesus started: the soldiers of the Roman garrison received their assignment to keep Jesus in custody until the time came for the bizarre crucifixion parade. So this would have happened after the official scourging that usually took place before the crucifixion. So when this happened Jesus would already have been bloody and physically traumatized just short of dying. And so the guards saw  the helplessness of this whipped, bloodied and beaten man  as an opportunity for some extremely cruel fun. They then called together anyone who was available and off duty to deal with this prisoner.

Again, as far as it went for the Roman guards, it was not part of their duty as guards to do what they began to do with Jesus. But neither did those in authority over them try to restrain them at all. The guards simply had a helpless, isolated, already bloodied victim on their hands to torment for sadistic pleasure – and while this happened, the civil authorities looked the other way. It’s very probable that what happened to Jesus happened under the eye of the Roman centurion who later presided over the crucifixion. It’s entirely possible that Pontius Pilate also was in a place to witness what happened to Jesus. Each of them could have put a stop to what was happening with a simple order. Maybe they thought that they couldn’t bother with it. Maybe they thought that they couldn’t afford to irritate the guards by putting a stop to their cruel fun. But in any event they did nothing.

Even more, though, when Jesus went into Roman custody, as a Jewish man there was no protection for him under the Law of God from the brutality of the Roman guards. When the Jewish leaders gave Jesus over to the Romans, he had entered the arena where the civil authorities were not restrained by anything in the Law of God. The Old Testament had a number of regulations and limits on civil punishments, on fines and physical punishment and  even on execution as a punishment for civil crimes, notably premeditated murder. If Jesus had been under Jewish custody where the Law of God was respected, this treatment would have been illegal. But when Jesus came under the custody of the Roman guards, he came into a place where the Law of God was not respected and where the civil authorities offered him absolutely no protection against the worst that the sinful hearts of the Roman guards could offer at that time. There was no hint of any kind of even common decency that was shown to Jesus as he was a prisoner under guard awaiting execution within a couple of hours.

So now we can look back and recognize that this is the way of the abusers in this world:  the opportunity for them to practice their abuse is simply a soft target, as Jesus was.  And Jesus allowed this to happen to him. This was part of his journey to the cross to which he went willingly and with full understanding of all it would mean to him. And yet when Jesus allowed himself to be subjected to this kind of abuse, Jesus was not sanctioning or excusing what happened to him. It was as evil then as it happened to him as it could be, since this was, in his own words, the hour of darkness. He took it all upon himself as he served the Father in this world, as part of the suffering of his mission.

Even more, Jesus endured this time without a single angry word, look or thought. With all his experience of the terrible things that happen in this world, and especially those that happened during the last few hours of his earthly life, he still remained without sin. “For we do not have a High Priest who is not able to sympathize with our weaknesses, , but one who was tempted in all the same ways, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). See how this description of the brutal abuse of Jesus at the hands of his guards is striking not for what Jesus had to say, but for what he did not say – or do. Nothing that happened to him resulted in him saying or doing one little thing contrary to the will of God the Father – not one insulting, resentful or vengeful word slipped through his mouth.  And it is ironic to consider what a great reversal that will happen when his abusers fall into his hands of utter justice, on the day that they face the justice of God with Jesus as their judge as well – but that’s something to consider for another time. Jesus still expects, though,  that his followers will be treated no differently in this world, and that his followers would behave differently than the abusers of this world. He has already set the example on how his people are to act when faced with abuse: they are not to return the abuse.

So what happened to Jesus is the common way that an abuse cycle starts. It’s a crime of opportunity, where the perpetrator finds a helpless and isolated target for cruelty. Or it’s a situation where a little authority in the hands of an angry and deceitful person may lead to a lot of abuse. A person who already has a mean streak and a cruel disposition will often be especially alert to these opportunities. Prisoner abuse is a continued reality of prisoner abuse for the imprisoned throughout the world – and often enough those who are abused are fellow believers in Christ who are suffering for their faith in Christ. Still, though, speaking out and against prisoner abuse has been a part of the ministry to the prisoner which has been a part of the ministry of the church as a whole for over 2000 years. During the Wesleyan revival of the 1700s which gave rise to the Methodist church, John and Charles Wesley often risked themselves often enough in evangelizing and ministry to prisoners. There were often times that they would be locked into prison and spend the night in ministry to men who were to be executed the next day. While the Wesleys were also strong advocates for the abolition of slavery, their work on prison reform was also exemplary of the ministry of the church to prisoners as they spoke out against the abuse by neglect and degrading conditions which prisoners faced then.

So the abuse of this world starts with verbal abuse. It so often begins with the avalanche of ridicule and mockery intended to degrade another human being and grind the soul of another down into the ground. This is too often part of  what men and women do to each other in this world, and it naturally happened to Jesus as well during the hours of his own suffering. It became the acting out of a sick attempt at comedy in the Roman garrison.

“And they dressed him in purple, and, after they had plaited a crown of thorns, they placed it on him. And they began to greet him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (verses 17-18). This whole charade, this mocking of Jesus, was a grotesque vaudeville of the homage given to the emperor. That’s where they got the idea for what they were doing. They were mocking Jesus as if he were a fake Caesar. What they used as an ersatz purple cloak was probably just a faded scarlet rag of a cloak – something too worn to use as part of a uniform, but just happened to be on hand for this purpose. The crown of thorns was a vicious and painful mockery of the wreath of Julius Caesar. They made him sit down so that it was as if he were seated on a throne. Then their greeting,  the “Hail, King of the Jews” was just a mockery of “Hail, Caesar!” the clichéd greeting that is common in films depicting Roman times. So this whole hideous masquerade was treating Jesus as a fake Caesar, as a Jewish emperor. It may have in fact been the way they had treated a Messianic pretender or two previously who tried to stir up violent revolution against the Roman government. 

Again, as throughout the entire Passion narratives, it is striking is not only what Jesus did say but also what he didn’t say. When this whole sick parody was going on, he didn’t reply with mockery and verbal abuse on his part. He did not treat them as they were treating them. If we were in that same place, do you think that we would find it easy not to let out one retaliatory insult? Do you think that it would be easy for us not to sneer and mock them back? He lived out the Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah  who was silent as a lamb.  And again, this is what he expects from us when we face the same kinds of things. “For to this you have been called, because Christ has also suffered us and has left behind a scripturally recorded example, that you might follow after his footsteps, ‘ . . . who committed no sin, nor was anything deceitful found in his mouth . . .’. He was verbally abused but did not return that abuse, he suffered but did not answer back with threats but surrendered himself to the One who judges righteously . . .” (I Peter 2:21-23, Dale’s sight translation).

In our modern world, the verbal abuse seems to be something that the abusers find necessary to continue their abuse. This kind of degradation of the soft target seems to be something that they find they need to do, to dehumanize the target for continued abuse. All this verbal expression of contempt for the target seems to be something that they find necessary to go into this kind of abuse. 

So let’s note one of the promises of scripture that few believers want to name and to claim for themselves: “ . . . that through many afflictions it is necessary for us to enter the kingdom of God.”  (Acts 14:22). With the promised afflictions in this world, we can expect deliberate misrepresentation, slander and contempt, mockery and ridicule. Throughout history often enough this kind of treatment may even become a hideous public show that is a part of the severe public persecution and possibly martyrdom of believers in Jesus Christ. But again, here the example of Jesus is the expectation of Jesus. Often we are given smaller challenges and provocations throughout our life as he prepares us for bigger ones, but some may find themselves in the more difficult ones from the start in their Christian lives. His expectation is that we face these challenges and provocations as he did. And something that we need to recognize is: the abuser is not in the place of Jesus but in the place of the Roman soldiers who were doing the abuse. And more on that later. 

One of the biggest challenges for any church, whatever its size and reputation, then, is what believers in Christ do if this same kind of verbal abuse starts to spread among believers in Christ. It does. Too often one person may  become embittered and begin to spread insinuations and mockery about another believer. Sometimes this may be gaslighting, where an abuser is seeking to cover his or her hatred and abuse with seeking to discredit the sanity of the target of the abuse and hatred. The challenge is the reaction that the church must have when the slander and contempt start to infect and ensnare other believers in the sticky slime of one person’s hatred. I’ve seen too many times over the years when other believers in the fellowship of Christ then take on and participate in the aggression, contempt and hostility from someone with a deep grudge and a greasy story. Yet where is the repentance when they come to their senses about taking on the grudges and slander of others? We hear about church bullies – but aren’t they suitably described as abusers as well? And when one professed believer takes the place of an abuser against another believer in Christ – there is a real sense in which that professed believer is acting out the same kind of behavior that the Roman soldiers showed toward Jesus.

The silence of Jesus before the verbal abuse he was subjected to has given way to the silence of the church about verbal abuse in our day and age to the great loss of witness within our world. The church for the past generation at least has been embarrassingly silent about verbal and physical abuse as it has happened throughout that time. It was not always that way! If you look at the preaching and teaching of previous generations, they expected more from believers in Christ: they expected believers to be redeemed and transformed out of abusive ways and to be ready to correct and rebuke abuse of other people around them. Even Billy Sunday, a figure whom many might find laughable in this day, confronted spouse abuse strongly in his day. And while previous generations did confront abuse more in their preaching and teaching,  they expected little else from the world without Christ, even as they expected much more from the people who claimed to have received salvation, to be followers of Christ. They expected them to grow in Christlikeness under the most challenging and trying circumstances and to live out Christlikeness before a cruel world.

Though the followers of Jesus often deal with degrading words that escalate in their hostility and aggression, it often does not end there. The abuse of this world continues with physical abuse. What begins with the degradation of the soul of another human being with words often continues with the degradation of the body of another human being. And this is also something that Jesus experienced while he was being detained for execution.

The degradation of another human being often continues with physical torment.  The torment intended to cause physical pain shows the almost demonic cruelty of human nature unrestrained by conscience or the Spirit of God. This is what also happened to Jesus, as the gospel describes in verse 19: “And they began to beat him around the head with a reed, they began to spit on him and  they knelt on the ground and offered obeisance to him.”  This mock homage to Jesus as if he were a fake Jewish Caesar went on and continued with the beatings with the stick and fists. There came spitting instead of the kiss of respect and submission. So this simply was, to them, part of the mockery that the Roman guards gave to the supposed royal pretensions of Jesus.

Yet here is the extraordinary thing about their actions: it was part of the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.  It was first of all the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy that came through Isaiah in what he received:

I offered my back to beatings, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not protect my face from shame and spitting . . .”

(Isaiah 50:6, Dale’s sight translation).

This kind of treatment was specifically included his own prophecy of his rejection: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles, and they will beat him and they will spit on him and they will whip him and kill him, and after three days he will rise again!” (Mark 10:33-34).

It is quite certain that the soldiers themselves never realized that what they were doing was in itself part of the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, and it is probable that they would have found it laughable if someone had suggested it at the time.  Yet it was in the foreknowledge and foreordination of God to use their cruelty as part of the signs of the Messiah who was to come and to give it a meaning far different than their own intentions could have ever done, as part of the sufferings of the Messiah that would bring the ultimate good to this world in salvation through Jesus Christ.  

Make no mistake about it, there was nothing that Jesus said or did to this group of Roman soldiers that brought on this torrent of verbal and physical abuse. The utter innocence of the sinless Son of God mean that there is no justification of their conduct. The tendency of the self justifying nature of mankind is to try to justify sin by the way that God can and does bring good out of it; but that does not mean that there was even a grain of good in the acts of sin and defiance of God.  The fact that such cruelty was part of the salvation of God, part of the way that God brought the ultimate good to this world did not justify the cruelty in the slightest. And this also means that there is no justification to the cruelty of abusers if their targets happen to grow in Christlikeness under their treatment. The end does not justify their cruelty. And it really is a strong tendency of abusers to justify their cruelty by the slightest good that they can claim, despite the fact that there was nothing good in what they did.

So then, physical abuse is often the follow up to verbal abuse. Often enough a  little bit of power and isolation may lead to physical assaults shocking when they come light later. And just as shocking is often the utter innocence of the target who may not have done the least little thing to provoke the abuse nor even  be retaliating at all.

One thing that we must emphasize over and over is that the abuser is not in the place of Jesus in the world. Rather, in terms of this passage, the abuser is in the place of the Roman soldiers who were doing the abuse –the cliché for a  professed believer taking out his or her frustrations on another believer is that person is, “Beating Up on Jesus.” And since Jesus identifies himself closely with his people and the way that they are treated, we can see that it’s a kind of continued abuse of Jesus with the mocking and beating when this goes on  even by a professed believer. The professed believer that is beating up is actually standing in the place not only of the Roman soldiers beating up on Jesus but also of the fellow servant in the parable who beats up on the fellow servant (Matthew 24:48-49:  “But if that wicked servant says in his heart, ‘My master is taking his good sweet time in getting back,’ and he begins to beat up on his fellow servants . . .’” So what is  less like Christ for any one who names the name of Christ to take such pleasure in unrighteousness as to enter into verbal and physical violence against a neighbor whom he or she is bound by scripture to love as himself or herself?

With all that Jesus went through and with all that the Bible has to say about the Christlike character that Jesus expects to develop from within his people, there is an absolutely shocking amount of physical abuse in Christian families and marriages. And yet  there is very little confrontation of it in the preaching and teaching and teaching of the church nowadays. I cannot remember one time over the over forty years that I have followed Christ that I have ever heard one time that a pastor or Christian leader has ever explicitly confronted and rebuked an abusive husband, wife, father or mother from the pulpit.

And often enough it there are other places, such as schools, where physical bullying (legal assault) may follow the verbal abuse. When it happens in schools, it’s called bullying, and the victims and targets are rarely comforted in the ministries of our churches. Yet how much would it mean to a child who is being bullied in school to hear it  mentioned once in sermons and youth groups as a real evil? And in the days of school shootings, when children in early and middle adolescence have felt it necessary to take up guns because of their experience of bullying, what would it have meant to them to have heard in church that the Savior himself had been picked on, mocked and ridiculed and beaten up? The dehumanization of peer abuse – often physical assault that is illegal when it happens between adults — takes place on an almost daily basis for many in our schools – and too many adults seem to see it just as harmless fun and a part of growing up. Indeed, some, who are not themselves experiencing the abuse,  even say that the abused in these situations simply need to suck it up and toughen up. A friend of mine who was knocked unconscious by three bullies in school during his early adolescence has written that the last thing that a bully wants is a fair fight. So there’s no amount of toughening that can deal with the real and continuous escalation that often happens where the instigation comes from a determined bully or group of bullies – or abusers in training.  And  to understand what this kind of abuse can do to an intelligent and accomplished child, Jodee Blanco told the story of her own years of abuse throughout high school in her book Please Stop Laughing at Me. Her experience was corroborated later by someone who had been a high school classmate of Jodee Blanco: “It was almost like Jodee wasn’t a real person. People could constantly pick on her and maul her, and that was the norm to do.”

So what’s the way out when this comes between believers and into churches? It’s not only for the abused to forgive abusers, but for abusers to become former abusers. And this is possible through Christ, and this should be 100% expected for anyone who comes to Christ. It’s a part of the real transformation that the gospel brings. Abusers love to put the burden of forgiveness on the abused but to take no personal responsibility for deep gospel transformation in their own lives. And anyone who is not willing to undergo the transformation that Jesus brings from the counterfeit love of the abuser to become the genuinely loving person who is being transformed into the image of Christ through the power of Christ renders the credibility of his or her conversion suspect. But this is possible. I can remember a time when I heard a brief testimony of man who had become a former abuser. He had to learn to see Jesus standing between him and his wife. He had to understand that she was his and responsible to him first. And believers in Jesus, men or women, who find that they suffer abuse in such a way may well consider that Jesus suffered in this same way.

I think that there needs to be stronger dealing with hatred, attempts to control and dominate others at all costs, anger and violence in general in the preaching and teaching of the church today. I don’t think that it needs to be a constant confrontation, but definitely warnings against indulging in it and participation in it. And I think that one of the strongest indications that a person is well on the right track to conquest of it is when the hatred of these sins in one’s own heart takes precedence over the hatred of these sins in others.

Then the hour of the power of darkness continued on with further official abuse. The horrid abuse and utter degradation of his humanity through the crucifixion procedure followed his brutal experience at the hands of the Roman guards. What followed was the continuation of the suffering of the totally innocent and Righteous One from the hands of an ad hoc group of abusive soldiers to a degrading and torturous and utterly undeserved death from the ruling government itself.

So this paragraph on the abuse of Jesus while a Roman prisoner concludes in verse. 20: “And when they had finished deriding him, they took off the purple garment and put his own clothes back on him. And they led him out to crucify him.” The unofficial abuse, the cruel waiting game in the morning,  is brought to an end as the official abuse of the official crucifixion procedure began. This transition required him to be given his own garments, which would probably be taken away again within the hour. The unofficial mockery and ridicule would give way to the official mockery and ridicule of the bizarre crucifixion parade to the place of execution. All this demonstrates how hateful and cruel the world Jesus entered was. And yet we so often fail to understand how the recognition of the hatefulness and cruelty of this world for what it is depends so much on the fact that Jesus came and exposed it for what it is;. It is because of him we can recognize the abuse of the innocent for what it is. Because he came and lived out the prophecy that marked him as the Messiah, as the sheep who was silent before it was led out to slaughter, we see the cruelty of this world for what it is.

It is a harsh and cruel reality that the abused often face that the authorities may condone and perhaps even sponsor further abuse and degradation. In our world the wheels of earthly justice no better than the fallen people of this world, the people who are in places of political and often religious authority. So what should have been a protective and corrective responsibility of religious and political authority often goes tragically cruel and becomes a partner in the crimes of abuse. So this highlights the need to hold civil and religious authorities accountable when they are exposed as neglecting their protective responsibilities, and to work for legal justice in our world.

We also need to recognize and grieve over the times that we have discovered that physical abuse has too often occurred in Christian ministries as well. There have been over the past few years a growing number of testimonies of physical abuse in ostensibly Christian ministries and churches. This seems to be due in part to unbiblical understanding of submission, as enforceable by aggression and violence, to use any way they can to change someone else to their whims and desires. I personally had the experience years ago of an older pastor trying to shove my face into an open Bible and yelling at me to read a scripture on submission. For further examples, just to take two, there have been also a number of more egregious stories of the abuse of both young men and women under the Bill Gothard ministry that have been coming out over the past few years and the Mark Driscoll ministry and Mars Hill Churches. Unfortunately these kinds of abuses that happen in ministries purportedly for the gentle and loving Savior definitely mar the witness of the church as a whole when abuse is given a  justification from misrepresented scriptures.

Unfortunately, the silence of Jesus before the physical abuse he suffered has too often in our day given way to the silence of the church about physical abuse in our day and age. Earlier generations did confront physical abuse within marriages, families, workplaces and prisons with prophetic preaching and teaching. Moreover, they often dealt with individual believers and often civil authorities when it came to the abuse of human beings by other human beings. But when it comes to many church leaders and believers today – silence. Crickets chirping. So it’s time for the church to end its silence over abuse – even if it’s been shown to be committed by those who some consider heroes, examples and champions of the faith.

THE CUP OF SUFFERING WHICH THE SON OF GOD DRANK MEANT ALLOWING HIMSELF TO BE TREATED WITH ALL THE HATRED AND CRUELTY THAT COMES FROM OUR WORLD OF HATRED AND CRUELTY. THE SUFFERING OF THE SON OF GOD WAS THE ULTIMATE IN THE ABUSE OF AN ENTIRELY INNOCENT PERSON IN A WORLD OF ABUSE. MAKE NO MISTAKE, WE LIVE IN A WORLD IN WHICH PEOPLE GIVE THEMSELVES, TAKE FOR THEMSELVES PERMISSIONS TO ASSAULT OTHERS WITH WORDS, HANDS , FISTS, FEET, STICKS, STONES, AND OTHER WEAPONS WITHIN BONDS OF MARRIAGE, OF PARENTHOOD AND IN THE COURSE OF THEIR WORKPLACE AND CIVIC DUTIES. TOO OFTEN ALSO THE RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL AUTHORITIES TURN THEIR BACKS, PROVIDE NO HELP OR PERHAPS EVEN ENCOURAGE AND PARTICIPATE IN ABUSE. PART OF THE REALITY THAT THE POLITICS AND RELIGION OF THIS WORLD IS NO BETTER THAN THE HATEFUL, CRUEL, SINFUL HEARTS OF MEN AND WOMEN. BUT THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS KNOW THAT RETALIATION TO ABUSE WITH ABUSE IS NOT THE ANSWER FOR ABUSE. BECAUSE OF JESUS, BECAUSE HE WAS THERE ALSO, IT IS POSSIBLE FOR HIS PEOPLE TO BE LIKE HIM AND STRONG IN HIM BEFORE HIS WORLD AS WE RECOGNIZE WHAT THIS WORLD IS AND WHAT IT DOES TO PEOPLE, BUT EVEN MORE, WHAT GOD IN HIS GOODNESS BRINGS FROM IT IN HIS SALVATION, WHAT SACRIFICIAL LOVE REALLY IS. THE SUFFERING OF THE SON OF GOD MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR HIM TO BE THE SAVIOR OF BOTH THE ABUSED AND THE ABUSER.

For the abused, then, the invitation comes from Jesus himself to come to him as the healer of broken hearts, broken spirits and broken bodies. Because he was broken himself, he knows what it is like to be broken and he can help those who have been broken and those whom others are trying to break. He understands and sympathizes beyond all others, and he brings healing beyond all others, to where what you have experienced can become past history and not present trauma of the heart, spirit and body.

For the abused, also, take up the place of forgiveness to the abusers. Not because there was anything excusable about it, but because it was inexcusable, and not because they have done anything to deserve our forgiveness. Yet forgive simply because the Son of God who forgave his abusers expects us to do so also. His strength to love and forgive still available to us when we cannot do it from ourselves, and he provides for us to learn and demonstrate genuine Christlikeness in our sufferings.

Then, for the abuser: recognize your own serious sin in verbal and physical abuse. Refuse the excuses and minimization that come from your own habits of self deception and deceit toward others. Seek forgiveness and conquest of your abusive habits and past through Jesus. He can provide the path to replacement of your past of Satanic cruelty with Christlike love and gentleness. He can transform you into what the Word of God calls for, in whatever place and role in the past in which you may have found an opportunity for abuse. He can enable you to be like Christ in that situation instead of a cruel enforcer of your will upon weaker people.

For the church as a whole: recognize the need to recover the voice of the church as a prophetic rebuke and correction to the abuse that takes place in our world. Recognize the call to recognize it, tell it for what it is, work to reduce, eliminate abuse of others in our world. Recognize also as a reason for church discipline when it happens among professed believers, and for the need for removal from office and leadership responsibilities of those in official leadership. Recognize also the need to recognize the need for care and compassion for those who have been abused. Very often enough the target is the forgotten person in these situations; too often the church may deal out some kind of punishment of abuser without compassion or help for the target. Make your ministry for abusers not something for show or gossip but rather a faithful prayer group of 2-3 who can pray with confidentiality and conquering faith for the abused and the abuser.

For all: recognize that this suffering of Jesus was the price of a most precious salvation. This most precious salvation is not something not to underestimated, but cherished and received for the great price that was paid. So love the one who went through all this for you. And if you have not received the salvation which he has provided for you through his death on the cross for you, put your faith in him now.

Advertisements

Are Our Churches Reaching Out to Working Class Men?

A few years ago I asked the question on my personal blog on, with all the complaints about the secular universities, what the white evangelical churches have done to evangelize and disciple on major university campuses over the past generation. But now let’s consider something else:  have evangelical churches sought to evangelize and disciple blue collar, working class men over the past generation? Consider the spiritual darkness and despair that you’ll see in the following article:

The Privileged vs. the White Working Class

For the past generation we’ve been accustomed to look for answers in politics and government, and I don’t think that the answers here are primarily political or have much to do with government. And I don’t think that things are any easier for a black, Hispanic or Asian working class man. So, again, have evangelical churches sought to evangelize and disciple blue collar, working class class men over the past generation?

Do working class men see us as trying to do something besides trying to pull the beer and cigarettes out of their hands, to stop swearing and watching porn, and to act like good little Christian boys? Or are we rather to introduce them to the Jesus who said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”? Weren’t Peter, John, James and Andrew all working class men? And didn’t John and Charles Wesley, for example, reach out explicitly to working class men? This is just as convicting to me as to anyone else as I write it.

What They Don’t Teach You in Seminary

Simply awesome explanation of how to minister the gospel to the most hardened criminals possible.

MINISTERING TO ADULT SEX OFFENDERS: TEN LESSONS FROM HENRY GERECKE

A Simple Prayer

“Lord, lead me out of the crazy place.”

The Modern Evangelical Church and Mental Illness

I think that for a long time it’s been a hard sell to say much about mental illness in the modern evangelical church. Mental illness has a way of challenging some of our evangelical tropes and the exaggerated conclusions we may draw form them:

  • “Jesus brings us joy”; therefore we should not feel sadness or grief, and if we do, something is wrong with us. Even more, whatever that is that may be wrong with us, I cannot speak truthfully about it because, my fellow believers will neither understand nor accept me because of it.
  • “Jesus brings us peace”; therefore we should not feel anxiety or fear, even though Jesus told us that in the world you will have tribulation.
  • “Jesus brings us love”; therefore if we are rejected and experience heartbreak, there’s something wrong with us – even though Jesus said that the world would hate us because of him.
  • “Jesus changes our lives”; therefore there is something wrong with us if something goes wrong with our thinking processes, even though Jesus told us that we will enter into the kingdom of heaven through many afflictions.

Over the years pastors and churches themselves have often followed the trends of the psychiatric and psychological community, and pastors have often seen themselves as or acted like a kind of junior varsity mental health worker. So they have often enough followed the trend of the psychiatric and psychological community in pathologizing problems of the ‘worried well’  — which we could easily call life adjustment problems –as in the same category as true brain and cognitive disabilities such as the many varieties of schizophrenia and manic depressive illness. Then, too, the casual use of much psychological terminology among proud, intrusive and ignorant people in our churches has often led to real travesties of those who try to play medical doctor or psychiatrist with second hand bits of knowledge and labels. Then again, there has often been real ignorance and actual cooperation of well meaning and compassionate believers with abusive people in the abusive practice of gaslighting.  Then again, any ministry to the poor and homeless will come to an awareness of the role of mental illness in poverty and homelessness – estimates are that in the USA 1/3 of the homeless have severe mental illness and that many of those in our prisons and jails have treatable mental illnesses, and much of this has been attributed to the desinstitutionalization of the mentally ill that took place since the 1960s. Even more, the causes of the kinds of brain diseases and cognitive impairments which are now called mental illness are not certainly known, but much of the current medical community believes that many of those who currently have twill be found to have either an environmental, bacterial, viral or other physiological origin.

I think that the first thing to do is for many to get a handle on where the current state of research is. It is now generally conceded that Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers, among others who dealt in talk therapy and investigating what they thought was happening in the subconscious or as a result of a person’s past were wrong. And it’s unfortunate that many, many pastors, who may not have had much in the way of counseling courses since the 1970s or 1980s, may be attempting to minister with now discredited or superseded theories and understanding of mental illness.In addition, the consensus is growing that there are a number of problems which cause people deep grief, sadness and anguish which are not related to brain dysfunction. Furthermore, when I consider the experience of Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, I can only think that our understanding of the prevalence of the experience of sorrow and grief in a godly and holy person in our sinful and broken world has been sadly underestimated and often misdiagnosed. So, I offer the following links only as a starting point to get information.

******************

On a personal note, I’ve had contact over the past decade with many others who qualify as intellectually gifted in terms of IQ. One common theme in the stories of so many is the misdiagnosis of giftedness as a mental disorder even with trained medical professionals. Here’s some more information about this tendency.

Wicked Schemes: The Social Behavior of the Abuser

I’d like to recommend to every church leader the recent blog post of Boz Tchividjian: The wicked scheme of child offending church leaders: A house of cards. In it he describes what I’ve described elsewhere as The Social Behavior of the Abuser. It’s noteworthy that his description doesn’t apply just to child abusers but to those who formulate a wicked scheme to exploit another person or persons for their own wicked and selfish ends. And this wicked and selfish end might be no more than trying to make themselves look much better than they are at the expense of someone else. Though I’ve heard church leaders pooh-pooh that wicked and selfish purpose as nothing to be concerned about, it does add up to the transgression of the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

One thing that I’m sure of after forty years of following Christ and having had various levels of involvement with churches of various sizes and in various denominations: people do not run from a church where the church consistently shows them the love of Christ. They do run from intrusive and controlling people.

One thing that I have also noticed over the past generation: most pastors, elders and church leaders do not take Galatians 6:1 to heart: “Brothers and sisters, if any of you is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual straighten that person out in a spirit of gentleness, as you watch out for yourself, that you yourself might not be tempted.” For too many in church leadership, this seems to have devolved into – at best —  just watching out for those in egregious sexual sin and banishing and expelling them. But I would venture that it would include watching out and correcting the habitually intrusive and controlling person – the church busybody, often enough – or that person whom you see having the last conversation with a person before that person runs from your church. But again, the problem here might also be that a pastor or church leader may not realize that that person is himself or herself, and that you’ve been blindsiding, harassing and tormenting fellow believers with your wicked, self aggrandizing schemes – maybe even for decades. And unfortunately, so many at this point of realization may become embarrassed – but go no further. If you see yourself here, realize that embarrassment is not repentance, and it’s really not the godly sorrow that lead leads to a repentance that leaves no further regrets in its wake. It rather astonishes me that so many that I’ve known who have had the greatest chutzpah to interfere in the lives of others are the biggest cowards when it comes to setting things right when they are most blatantly wrong and hurtful – to repent scripturally and do restitution scripturally where possible. So then, if you see yourself here,  confess your sinful, wicked schemes before God and man with as many tears as it takes for as long as it takes.

Strange Delusions, Obsessions and Fixations Among God’s People

Some years ago, a man who attended the same church as I did came down with an inoperable  brain tumor. The Wednesday evening prayer meetings made much of praying for his healing. One of the elders, whom I knew and respected very much, prayed quite confidently and fervently that he had had an inner witness that this was not ‘an illness unto death,’ and about trusting God for healing. Nevertheless, within three weeks the man passed away from the brain tumor.

At another time, a prominent Christian author had one of her infant grandchildren fall into a serious disease. According to her relatives, she was determined that God was going to heal that child, but before long, the child passed away also.

At another time, a prominent leader in Great Britain was convinced that a young couple who had attended his Bible college were called of God to minister alongside him at his Bible college. If memory serves me correctly, he also had some dire predictions of what would happen to them if they did not follow the leading that he claimed that he had. They did not have the same sense of leading and assurance, and ended up going to South Africa, and before long had a fruitful ministry in revival that affected many worldwide.

At still another time, a young man showed up at the front door of Joni Eareckson (before her marriage to Ken Tada). After some questioning, he revealed that he had read her book Joni, and had driven across the country due to feeling that God was leading him to propose marriage to her. He was shocked to learn that he was the third such young man to show up on her doorstep in the past six months. She and her caretaker were then able to have a gentle talk with him, where they explained to him that God does not mislead us, but there are times that we misread his will.

One definition of a delusion is that it is a fixed false belief. The definition of a fixation is ‘the state in which an individual becomes obsessed with an attachment to another person, being or object.’ The result of this fixation is often foolish, immature, neurotic, dysfunctional or even destructive behavior.  An obsession, then, is a fixed, often false, idea, desire or image which dominates a person’s life and actions, and it often results in foolish, immature, neurotic, dysfunctional or even destructive behavior. Here is what I would define as the end result of a delusion, fixation or obsession for a believer: the relentless hot pursuit of what is not the will of God from the scriptures. And when an obsession involves one or more other people, it becomes the relentless hot pursuit of what is not the will of God from the scriptures in someone else’s life.

Unfortunately, many times, otherwise godly and sensible people fall into these kinds of delusions, fixations and obsessions. For many, these are simply a difficult and temporary part of growing in Christ, where they come to a more mature and well grounded faith in him and a more serious and wise ability to follow his will as in the scriptures. This results in more mature discernment of one’s own thoughts, emotions and intentions, as well as those of others, and most of all of the will of God. According to the scriptures, where that person becomes more fittingly part of the ranks of the spiritually mature, , “ . . . whose perceptive faculties have discernment of right and wrong through having been exercised in continual use” (Hebrews 5:11). Most of these examples that I cited at the outset would have fallen in these kinds of temporary delusions and resulted in what should be the normal outcome, the realization that we might misread the will of God and a due caution and care for discernment of the will of God.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anything much in the way of more modern pastoral literature on how to understand and deal with the deluded, fixated and obsessed. Several centuries ago Richard Baxter had some insightful things to say, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones commended what he had to say as being relevant, although the primary obsession he mentioned were those that believed that they had committed the unpardonable sin.  These suffering people may have actually had some form of what we now recognize as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, though. What I’m writing about isn’t so much something that may be able to be traced to an organically based mental illness – a kind of brain dysfunction or disease – but is a kind of disordered thinking and relentless pursuit which occurs in people who may be otherwise normal in the way that they behave.

From my personal experience over the years among believers and others, I believe that there are a number of other manifestations of thoughts and behavior among believers that count as delusions, obsessions and fixations. My personal thought is that a great deal of the literature on pastoral care has focused on the kind of people that psychiatrists such as E. Fuller Torrey have called, “the worried well” – people who have no discernible brain dysfunction but need guidance and support through normal difficulties and adjustments of life. I would submit that the obsessed, fixated and deluded fall into a third category – those may have no discernible brain dysfunction but who show stubborn obsessive and delusional behavior and often stubborn malignant and destructive tendencies toward others. And those in this third category would therefore be as much a concern of the pastor and theologian since there needs to be a genuine moral foundation to be able to call such behaviors of thought, word and deed as living in a falsehood and morally wrong and destructive.

In no way, however, do I think that Christian belief in itself can be characterized as a delusion, fixation or obsession, contrary to some of the most vocal atheists. Rather of the people that I’ve known who could be characterized as having some kind of delusion, fixation or belief, their Christian faith and their actions which correspond to scripture and Christlike love are rather the most sane parts of their life and behavior. Whatever they have in the way of their Christian faith and their adherence to scripture in fact give them the greatest hope and the strongest and deepest moral foundation to overcome these behaviors. In fact, a greater understanding of and adherence to scripture is actually the best way out of their delusions, fixations and obsessions, and the best hope for relief and remediation for them and for their family and fellow believers from the destructiveness of their behavior.

Here, then, are the observations and recommendations that I would make for these situations in regard to pastoral care and Christian ministry within an loving, caring church that believes in and seeks to live by the Word of God.

Genuine believers can have fixations, delusions and obsessions: The first thing needed to be able to minister to those with delusions, fixations and obsessions is  simply the recognition that the reception of eternal life through faith in Christ does not automatically free anyone from ever having a delusion, fixation or obsession. Coming to a scriptural faith does not mean that a person has been purified of all possible delusional, fixated and obsessive behaviors of thought and life. It is simply a great overreach of II Corinthians 5:17 to assert that salvation means that our every thought becomes correct and conforms to reality and our every feeling and intention is pure and well grounded. It does mean, though, that there is real hope that anyone can through Christ discern and grow beyond his or her delusions, fixations and obsessions. And in addition, the resource of a scripturally wise and loving church can enable people to develop relationships of sufficient depth, confidentiality and safety that these kinds of problems can be dealt with, and the past can be covered with forgiveness, patience and confidentiality.

It’s often astonishing to realize how many otherwise seemingly normal, functional and spiritual people may be ruled by extraordinary obsessions in different areas of their lives. And because the image that many people have of insanity is that it is constant in all areas of a person’s life and results in constant irrational behavior, others may not really understand the walking insanity that constitutes these obsessions, fixations and delusions. They see the social rationality in many situations, but they do not recognize that the walking insanity of these fixations, obsessions and delusions, which are often cordoned off into separate areas of a person’s life, is really a form of walking insanity which manifests itself in certain situations and with certain people.

Obsessions, fixations and delusions are rooted in disordered thinking, foolish and wicked schemes and unfulfilled desires. For people to enter into these kinds of obsessions, fixations and delusions, there are definitely some common trigger situations and common . Usually these related to the pursuit of deeply held and entrenches wants and desires.

It can be quite painful, spiritually and emotionally draining and even spiritually and emotionally debilitating to be the target of an obsession, fixation or delusion. Few believers and Christian leaders seem to understand how serious it can be to be the target of an obsession. One of the terrible effects of a delusion, fixation or obsession is the extent to which it can deprive the target and others around the target of personal safety, social safety, family safety, church and workplace safety. In fact, the obsessed may come to gloat in how much they terrify and intimidate the target, and this will happen more and more if the obsessed continue to grow in contempt toward the target. The target has to spend a great deal of thought, effort and time to guard against and deal with the wicked interruptions and interference which often come from the deluded, fixated and obsessed. The deluded, obsessed and fixated may attempt deeply wicked and malicious interference in the marriage prospects, marital and family life, church life, career and vocational life and choices of the target by their attempts to play God in someone else’s life. Stalking behaviors are common at this point: they may stalk a person throughout his or her life (life stalkers) or from church to church ( church stalkers) or from one romantic relationship to another (romantic stalkers) or throughout a person’s career, from job to job ( job stalkers). In fact, the stalking behaviors in which the most deeply obsessed, fixated and deluded get entrapped and enmeshed result in them becoming even murderers.

A personal and continued deliverance from self conceit and personal fantasies strongly lessens a believer’s vulnerability to pursuing obsessions, fixations and delusions. Something many believers need to learn not to do, as a part of deliverance from self conceit, is to let go of a relentless drive to prove oneself right. This may often be the underlying drive that keeps a person in pursuit of obsessions, fixations and delusions: the drive to prove that my ideas are right and my ideas for myself or someone else or some situation are right. Eventually, though, a growing believer will come to the recognition that it is folly to pursue the justification of one’s own ideas, opinions and judgment rather than to hold deeply to scriptural convictions and scriptural conduct toward others. Obsessions, fixations and delusions will often be found to be deeply entrenched wicked schemes, and the renewal of the mind from Romans 12:2 will eventually root them out and purify the thoughts and the thinking apparatus. The person who goes through this process learns that being a follower of Jesus is more than picking up a few new religious ideas and saying some new religious words, but that Jesus becomes Lord over every thought and deed, and his reign over our thoughts and deeds purifies them and guides us to humility, joy and peace.

Delusions, fixations and obsessions are symptoms of character disorders. Delusions, fixations and obsessions are a large part of the behavioral complex of pathological narcissists, borderlines, addicts and abusers. They form within their own thought life a very large private psychological justification of the misery that they inflict on themselves and others. As far as modern psychiatry and psychology is able to determine, all these are learned behaviors without any basis in physical brain dysfunction. And certainly a wise preaching and teaching ministry which deals both compassionately and firmly with people’s obsessions by the Word of God can be a large part of alleviating the misery of these kinds of misery makers – both the misery in which they find themselves and the misery which they inflict on others.

God’s Word is sufficient to break through delusions, obsessions and fixations: The third thing to recognize is the sufficiency of the Word of God through the Spirit of God to deal with and awaken people who are trapped in delusions, fixations and obsessions. The truth of the Word of God is often the deciding factor in pulling believers out of these kinds of delusions, fixations and obsessions. Quite frankly, when I’ve been in contact with believers who are caught in delusions, fixations and obsessions what I’ve seen is that what there is that is right about them is what they know and possess of Christ and his Word.

Demonic influence may be behind many delusions, fixations and obsessions: Dealing with those who are trapped in delusions, fixations and obsessions often leads to a realization that they might have been led into them and are being kept in them through demonic temptation and influence. It’s easily possible to see in some people that these kinds of delusions, fixations and obsessions are in fact demonic strongholds in their lives, and a real fortification of the powers of darkness. The scriptural model for the traps in which the deluded, fixated and obsessed find themselves is the temptation of Jesus Christ, where Satan appealed to his legitimate desires for provision, God’s will and demonstration of his Messianic credentials but sought to entice him to fulfill them outside the will of God. It’s easily possible to see, then, how giving in to the same kinds of temptations that Jesus faced can lead to the kinds of delusions, obsessions and fixations.

It is in these cases that wise, confidential and faithful prayer with fasting for a real truth encounter of the deluded, fixated and obsessed is necessary.  In these cases I would advise very much against making this the kind of prayer request where someone goes around trying to collar every warm body in the fellowship of believers to pray for this, but rather the private prayer of two or three faithful believers who can trust God together for the pulling down of strongholds. Most certainly, someone who likes to talk a lot about others behind their backs – even if that person has the title or office of pastor or elder — is NOT a good candidate for this kind of prayer or ministry – and certainly godly and conscientious pastors and elders need to advise such a person to shut up in a godly, gentle and loving fashion.

Here are the foundational characteristics of delusions, obsessions and fixations:

  • Extreme and unreasonable urgency: There is a highly exaggerated sense of urgency and need for something that is desired from the target of the obsession and fixation. There is pretty much no willingness to wait for any change of circumstances and results from extended prayer. In fact, the obsessed and fixated often are quite vehement in their demands for what they want from their targets. They want it now, immediately, and they will demean, disparage, slander and pretty much do anything to get what they want from the target. The way that this is demanded and pursued demonstrates that the delusion, obsession or fixation comes from fallen human nature, often enough under the instigation of demonic beings, and not from any legitimate scriptural desire.
  • Dehumanizing the target: Where an obsession involves another person, there is often a complete disregard of the legitimate needs, thoughts, desires,  choices and feelings of the target of the obsession, especially where scripture recognizes these as completely legitimate. The other person simply does not exist as a real and separate person to the obsessed, with real and legitimate needs, thoughts, desires, choices and feelings. There is simply a treatment of the other person simply as an extension of the thoughts, needs, desires, choices and feelings of the obsessed, and certainly not as a person who can read, understand and follow the scriptures and who can follow God without the help of the obsessed person. This tendency to treat others this way often surfaces in the pathologically narcissistic. Often the target is someone to whom they feel superior in some way, from whom they believe they can achieve some self aggrandizing goal, and in whom they may believe there is insufficient personal resources and support from other people to fend off or fight off their delusions, fixations and obsessions.
  • Growing disparity over time of the narrative of the obsession and reality: There is a large and growing disparity of the deluded, fixated, and obsessed in thought, word, and deed  with both scripture and reality, unless God gives deliverance to the deluded, fixated and obsessed. This reflects a growing self deceit and life of outward deceit. The precepts of scripture and genuine, objectively verifiable facts of the situation are insufficient to dissuade the fixated and obsessed. Even so, there needs to be a firm reliance on and adherence to scriptural teachings on belief and conduct by those who may be in contact with the fixated and obsessed. In fact, there may well be wild misinterpretations of scripture that help to  reinforce the deluded, fixated and obsessed in their ideas. Extreme exaggeration is found when comparing what is said with what is real.
  • Extreme stubbornness: There is an extreme intransigence and stubbornness in the rightness of one’s thoughts, words and actions, even when these are shown to be contrary to scripture and verifiable facts. This shows the great hardness of heart that can be part of the spiritual component of delusions, fixations and obsessions. They are convinced that they are right, even when scripture and circumstances show them to be wrong, and they continue for months, years or decades in their hot pursuit of what is not the will of God for their life and for the lives of others.
  • Rooted in heart idolatry: Deluded, fixated and obsessional behavior can therefore become a kind of idolatry, where getting what one wants from a person or a situation is what a person truly wants far more than submission to the will of God. It’s easy, therefore, to understand how the deluded, obsessed and fixated can be under the control of the reprobate mind (Romans 1:28-32). The types of idolatry often seen here are the personal Messiah complex, the idolatry of getting one’s own way, the idolatry of crushing a perceived enemy,  the idolatry of the public image and the idolatry of romantic or sexual escapes.
  • Oblivious to the actual effect of their behavior: The deluded, fixated and obsessed are often oblivious to or in denial of the actual effects and consequences of their behavior on others, particularly their targets. They may make extravagant claims of great affection, love and good intentions toward their targets, and show real or feigned hurt and astonishment at that person who may in fact be running as fast and as far away from their obsessiveness for them. They do not recognize that scripturally, “Love does not do harm to one’s neighbor” (Romans 13:10) – that the actual effects and consequences of their behavior are what scripture addresses, and not mere statements of intentions.
  • Magical thinking: There is enough magical thinking within evangelical churches with flood of quasi-scriptural or psychobabble formulas that arise from the evangelical media and publishing industry. Magical thinking is that living according to the scriptures means that if a person does these things everything will work out in this life for that person and conversely, if someone isn’t living as someone else thinks that they ought to then it’s because they are acting contrary to the magical formulas. It is the divorce of trust and obedience from a true daily relationship with God through Jesus to trying to get what a person wants in this life through adherence to what may be sometimes simply acts of conformity to the words and deeds of fellow believers or sometimes even something close to scripture, but treating the whole thing as a series of magical formulas to get what I want for myself and from others. One of the consequences of this way of life is that , along with a personal lack of discernment, the absorption of these formula brings along with it a kind of arrogant callousness that believes that another person’s life can be used as a laboratory to experiment with these formulas. These people are often then on the lookout for someone else to use as their experimental ground for their often deluded versions of these formulas, and they may often exhaust themselves trying to enmesh others in what turns out to be only a series of very wicked and childish web of their schemes. The truth is that naïve and easy going believers may themselves descend into acquiescence and cooperation with these wicked and childish schemes. This  will never lead to peace, but rather to greater enmeshment and enslavement to these formulas. God’s way is never to have any believer ever enmeshed and  enslaved to another believer, but to follow the scriptures with open eyes and a loving trust and obedience directed at him through Jesus Christ.
  • Loss of sense of God’s presence:  The obsessed, fixated and deluded may sense this and in fact it might be quite troubling to them when they begin to follow the path of an obsession, fixation or delusion. may have periods of strong sense of condemnation from going against conscience, conviction of the Holy Spirit. In scriptural terms, such a person is walking in darkness and living a lie (I John 1:7-10) and such a person is often also walking in hatred toward another person as the obsession deepens. A deep hardness of heart may then result from this obsession, and that person may actually find conviction of the sinfulness of the sinful behaviors lessening or ceasing. These are not a sign that the behaviors which the Word condemns are correct, but rather that the Spirit of God is beginning to distance himself from someone who is going further into his or her hardness of heart. God has not promised always to make us repeatedly aware of our sin, but rather has stated explicitly that his Spirit will not always contend with people bent on their ways of wickedness (Isaiah

There are several examples of the obsessed within the scriptures. Saul, the king of Israel is a strong example of the destructively obsessed, with his destructive obsession has its center in envy of God’s designated successor, David, the man after God’s own heart. And his New Testament namesake Saul of Tarsus, before he became Paul the apostle, is another example of destructive obsession, where his destructive obsession had its center in religious zeal. Many, if not the vast majority, of abusive men and women are destructively obsessed with others, and often one or more particular people – to subjugate, rule, control or even destroy that person.

Here are the characteristics of the destructive, envious obsession of Saul the king of Israel:

  • His obsession arose from anger, fear and jealousy (I Samuel 18:8-9, 12, 29).
  • His obsession was justified to himself, at least, by his fixed false beliefs about David having a conspiracy against him and being in rebellion (I Samuel 22:13).
  • His obsession included deluded zeal for his household and his dynasty (I Samuel 20:31)
  • His obsession became destructive to own family members when they refused to be drawn into it (I Samuel 20:30-34).
  • His obsession was exacerbated by demonic influence (I Samuel 19:9-10).

The obsession of Saul with David, as mentioned, produced an outburst of raving, maniacal rage when family members directly addressed it (I Samuel 20:30-34). Unfortunately, this is sometimes what happens when one of these obsessions, fixations and delusions is directly confronted or when it becomes apparent that the obsessed, fixated and deluded is not going to get what he or she wants in that situation. This is why direct confrontation may need to be done in a way and manner where the person doing the confrontation can take due concern for his or her physical safety. And this is why many of the bystanders remain bystanders or even cooperate with the obsessed, since they come to fear becoming a target of the same rage of the obsessed.

Both King Saul and Rabbi Saul show something else even more: that a position of leadership, even zealous religious leadership, is no barrier to becoming enmeshed in a fixation, delusion or obsession. Rather, it may become an outlet for a more destructive pursuit of an obsession or fixation than would be not be possible from someone not in leadership. Quite frankly, being in the office of leadership may then become part of the justification of the fixation, obsession or delusions. The demand for what they want is then based on being in the office of a religious leader. When this happens, someone in the office of spiritual leadership – such as a pastor or elder – may change from being a servant of the Word to a self appointed oracle or agent of the will of God in a situation, in one’s own life, or in the lives of others. This is termed spiritual abuse, and the authors Kurt Koch, Ronald Enroth and Neil Anderson have documented a number of such cases. Again, many people in our churches, including other leaders, often then become enmeshed in the schemes that the obsessed, fixated and deluded pursue. The stark implication is that people in our churches need to be much more heavily scripted in a discerning faith in and obedience to the scriptures themselves, and not to the pronouncements of someone in the office of a leader.

Romantic delusions, fixations and obsessions: These can become either obsessive love, or an obsessive desire for the love and admiration of another person with no intention of ever returning any love for that person. This would be a case of habitual pursuit of unrequited love. If I were serving as the pastor for someone where I observed these situations, what I would look for here would be a situation which the person was expecting to escape, a situation where that person never had much of a chance to learn and practice suitable methods for dating and courtship and wise evaluation of a prospective spouse. These might be a part of a pattern of extended and unwanted singleness or difficult relationships of those who had a number of boyfriends or girlfriends and still want that attention and admiration. Sometimes these indeed can become dangerous to the target. A scriptural example of such a romantic situation gone terribly wrong is the rape of Tamar by Amnon (II Samuel 13:1-22). Previously I wrote about these kinds of situations in Dangerous Infatuations. A more serious area is that of sexual obsessions, and these may eventually result in the sexual control, exploitation and abuse of another person. But these obsessions ultimately result in personal self gratification that comes at a terrible price and expense to another person.

Ultimately, though, these kinds of obsessions are rooted in an idolatry of romantic love and/or sexual gratification that is rampant in our modern North American culture. Ultimately these obsessions need to be properly directed toward directing all one’s expectations and satisfaction in marital love.

Dependency delusion: A person can also develop a kind of vocational and financial dependency that is related to an obsession. This comes when they come to believe that their provision as dependent upon someone else’s effort and ability instead of their own work efforts, or if they tend to indulge themselves in get rich quick fantasies.

Power and glory fantasies: These are characteristic of narcissists, and they may become obsessed with image and position  maintenance and indulge in deeply deceptive and malicious behavior related to their  social and reputational ambitions. Their behavior is all in support of an exaggerated self importance and a  habitual internalized self flattery. In churches, this may result in an indulgence in reprehensible church politics.

Fixing fixations: These are characteristic of the persona who exhibits the classic systems of codependency. This is where someone takes up a personal Messiah complex in attempting to fix what they believe is wrong with another person. The most entrenched may harbor a core belief that they or others will achieve some kind of happiness when they all live according to their whims, desires and ideas – and their whims, desires and ideas may not even originate from them, but may in fact simply be the ambient psychobabble of the culture. Parents and ‘empty nesters’ are particularly vulnerable to the ‘fixing fixation’ and they may result in repeated and entrenched inappropriate parenting behaviors of those who are not their children.

Social/Reputational: Again, this is  image maintenance, where a person obsesses to sustain his or her habitual, internalized self flattery.

Vengeance obsessions: These can be related to deep disappointment and hurt, and literature is filled with them: Achilles, The Count of Monte Cristo, and  Captain Ahab for starters.

Here are my final observations on the subject:

  • The Bible, rightly and sanely interpreted, is the safe guidepost to avoid and escape delusions, fixations and obsessions. Hold strongly to the primary truths of the Word in all situations. Moreover, as part of following the truth of the Word of God, there needs to be an unwavering determination to understand the truth in all situations and to an determination to act in accord with the love of Christ in all situations. Certainly the environment in which obsessions, fixations and delusions run rampant is an environment where there is a careless attitude toward following the Word, toward understanding and discerning the truth and toward treating others with the love of Christ in all situations.
  • Obsessions, delusions and fixations unmask our habitual idolatries. They show how much we may value our own reputation, ideas or self indulgence over the will of God as expressed in his Word.
  • Obsessions, delusions and fixations can be a path to victory or defeat when viewed as a trial of faith and obedience for both an individual believer or a fellowship. Understand that these situations may be a test of whether one will act in humility and submission to what the Bible says. For a person to attempt to support a course of presumption with growing encrustation of exaggerations and outright lies shows that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, was never a sponsor of that course of words and actions from the beginning.
  • Obsessions, delusions and fixations may in some cases persist in families and across generations. Damaged parents may pass on their own obsessions, delusions and fixations to their children, either through what they show in their behavior or in maturity they fail to pass on, or through outright enlistment of their children to help with their dirty work. Thus some obsessions, fixations and delusions follow generations in this way. The classic examples of this are the intergenerational family feuds noted in our literature, history and culture, such as the long standing and destructive Hatfield/McCoy family feud.
  • Obsessed, fixated and deluded people often try to enlist pastors, church leaders and other believers to aid them in their pursuit of their own obsessions, fixations and delusions. Pastors and church leaders especially need to avoid becoming enmeshed in the obsessions and delusions of others, though other believers will often be recruited as well. Be warned that there can be dire spiritual, emotional, social and perhaps even legal consequences and unnecessary personal damage of being enmeshed in someone else’s obsession.(social behavior of the abuser – Ephesians 4: no partnering with the shameful deeds of darkness) maybe exploitation of real compassion, but maybe promises of some good result in their lives, such as promotion, etc. – need recognition that they are making a deal with the devil in these cases
  • No one has perfect discernment of the will of God in all circumstances at all times, apart from the explicit statement of the Word of God, and any such declarations about another person need to be subjected to thorough discernment by the scriptures. Understand that having been led by God in any past situation does not mean that a person has become a flawless or even reliable discerner of the will and purpose of God in all situations, and being in an office of leadership does not equip a person to be any kind of oracle for the will of God for anyone’s life apart from clear and explicit statements of the Word of God. ; often comes from believing that God is acting in a situation just like another situation in the past; ruled by a false understanding of one’s own personal experience and spiritual past
  • The desires and behaviors of the fixated, obsessed and deluded are rooted in the spiritual rubble of an unregenerate past. Many of the these delusions, fixations and obsessions come from unfulfilled desires in a person’s personal, spiritual and professional life, and may well be rooted in the experience and circumstances of a person’s childhood and adolescence. Ephesians 4:17-24 is key to recognizing and rooting out these kinds of influences. I think that if a person is exposed to an in-depth preaching and teaching on this scripture on this passage early in one’s Christian life, it would have a great effect in reducing and preventing later deluded, fixated and obsessional behavior later, as well as encouraging believers in general to depart from habits of thinking, acting and speaking rooted in their life before they came to Christ:

    “This I say, then, and I testify in the Lord, that you are no longer to behave as the Gentiles behave in the futility of their way of thinking, since they are darkened in their understanding, since they are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them through the hardness of their hearts. They have become totally insensitive as they have given themselves over to sensuality to the accomplishment of all kinds of uncleanness with a desire for more and more. But you did not learn Christ in that way – if indeed you have heard and been taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off the old Man in regard to your former way of life, which is degenerating in its deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new Man, which has been created according to God in righteousness and true holiness.”

  • Personal and spiritual safety may mean putting separation between the obsessed and the target of that obsession. For their personal and spiritual safety, some people may leave church or change jobs to escape obsessions of others. In these cases there may never be a final repair of the relationship. In the case of dealing with someone who is romantically obsessed, a  refusal should probably be either over the telephone or in a public place with a trusted friend nearby (though not near enough to be a party to what probably should be a private conversation). But in these cases, care must be taken not to taunt, ridicule or demean the obsessed person and certainly not to spread any tales of the misbehavior of the obsessed. It is entirely possible that eventually the obsessed person may come to his or her senses and even become a good wife or husband to someone else in the future, even if that takes many years.
  • The target of an obsession, fixation or delusion often needs understanding, compassion and care as much, if not much more, than the fixated, deluded and obsession. The target is often the forgotten person in these situations. Where this treatment is actually abusive, the body of Christ needs to be loving, compassionate and supportive as much as possible. Here are some other posts where I dealt with the care of the target:  Deal Forthrightly with the Hidden Abuse in the Modern Church, Care First, God Does Not Demand Toughness; He Provides Overcoming and Enduring Grace , JESUS AND THE ABUSED: HIS SYMPATHY and JESUS AND THE ABUSED: HIS HELP 
  • The first step in the path of dealing with an obsession must be ending the behavior. The first step in counsel of the fixated, deluded and obsessed must be ‘Stop it.’
  • The sinful behaviors which come from an obsession, fixation or delusion need to be confessed as sin with heartfelt repentance. Call for confession and repentance may need to be quite explicit and also quite private. The fullness of repentance may only come over time. For instance, the sign of a control obsession ceasing would be when that person can say repeatedly, over the course of time, something to the effect of, “I don’t care whether this person follows my ideas of what he or she should do, but rather I want and pray for the will of God to be accomplished in that person and the image of Christ formed in that person without any of my personal specifications added in.’’
  • The obsessed, deluded and fixated need to learn and exhibit a forgiving, patient and generous spirit over the long term as an outgrowth of their repentance.
  • Others need to understand that they are not to be a party to repeated complaints, instigations and enlistments of twisted ‘help’ against the target of the obsessions, fixations and delusions.
  • It may become necessary to remove an obsessed person from a place or office of ministry, especially if that person is repeatedly crossing ethical and legal boundaries and repeatedly complaining and enlisting others in his or her wicked schemes.
  • More needs to be said about believers avoiding fantasies and daydreams and subjecting their wants and desires to the Word of God and prayer. Here I don’t mean fantasy literature, but any kind of fantasies and daydreams which build up false hopes and exaggerated desires within our hearts. Our modern entertainment industry serves up a lot of ready made fantasy and unrealistic behaviors to many highly suggestible people, and  fantasy and role playing games may become an escape and lead to more obsessive behavior for some people. Even more, much has been written and said about the role of popular romance novels and movies on many people. These may entertain the majority, but they become pathological when they begin to influence our behavior our behavior and lead seeking believers to act out what they have absorbed. Certainly Solomon was right in the proverb about how hope deferred makes the heart sick, and certainly exaggerated false hopes  and magical thinking make it sicker. The teaching of Psalm 37:4-6 makes it clear that subjection to the Word and to prayer of all our desires are the ways to find the fulfillment of our legitimate desires. I mean more in the way of learning how by the Word of God and prayer to formulate godly goals and godly means of attaining those goals.
  • Many may fall into obsessions, fixations and delusions through

    an overspiritualized understanding of matters of healing ,  of the call of God to ministry for oneself or for others or on matters of marital prospects. But God’s will and the way of the Holy Spirit is for a long faith and obedience to the Lordship of Christ in a persons life and transformation of that person’s thoughts, desires, emotions and character into the likeness of Jesus Christ ( II Corinthians 5:14-15, II Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:28-30, Romans 14:7-12). In no way, though, can we treat anyone who is a believer in Christ as if his or her obsessions, delusions and fixations will have the last word or are the last word about them, since God is more than able to deliver them, and he often chooses to do so over the course of a long sanctification of that person’s thoughts, emotions, desires and character.