“Lord, lead me out of the crazy place.”
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.
On a Focus on the Family radio broadcast I heard James Dobson mention the five most common excuses that he heard for abandonment and divorce of a spouse. I managed to copy down four of them:
- The marriage was wrong in the first place, most commonly because the abandoning partner claims that there was no real love in his or her heart when the marriage took place.
- The marriage was not healthy, and abandonment and divorce would be better for both partners in the end.
- Because of all the fighting, divorce and abandonment will be better in the long run, especially for the children.
- The abandoning and divorcing partner claims to have prayed about it, and is claiming God’s approval.
What struck me when I was listening to the program was how much these excuses paralleled the excuses that I’ve heard both first hand and second hand for breaking up in a dating relationship or engagement.
What I remember from the broadcast is that these were viewed as smokescreens for reprehensible conduct and shifting of blame to the other partner for the abandonment and divorce.
Over the past two decades or so there have been some voices within the evangelical community critical of the practice of dating as the method for selection of a marriage partner. I personally do not believe in the validity of some of these criticisms, but I think that this is evidence that many couples during their years of dating do pick up habits of abandoning temporary romantic relationships and excuses for doing so that undercut their commitment to making their marriages permanent. They simply have a series of escape routes from relationships pre-programmed into their brains from previous temporary romantic relationships that come into play when the current marital relationship becomes dissatisfying for some (usually fixable) reason.
I don’t believe that these marriages were necessarily entered into with the view that they were in the same status as a casual to serious dating relationship or marriage. But it may well have been that those involved took the ways out that they knew from their previous experience.
Here are some ideas that come to me as I consider this.
- Teaching on dating and marriage within youth and college age groups could well include warnings that dishonest ways of abandoning a dissatisfying dating relationship can have a lasting legacy on how a person treats the permanent, lifetime commitment of marriage.
- I do not recall ever hearing anyone ever in the evangelical community mention ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15) as the standard of communication within dating relationships, especially when it comes to parting ways – or rather, putting the relationship back on the level of casual friendship of brother and sister in Christ. In fact, many of the dating stories that I’ve heard even in a teaching context contained a good deal of dishonesty and intentional misleading of the potential partner.
- I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community when teaching on revival and spiritual renewal ever speak of confession to God of the sins of dishonesty, exploitation and selfishness during dating relationships, even when there was no sexual transgression involved. Yet even after many years this unconfessed sin may weigh down the conscience.
- I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community ever speak to confession to a past dating partner of sins of dishonesty, exploitation and selfishness when teaching on restitution and confession of sin to each other. Yet these kinds of sinful behavior break hearts, cause untold amounts of grief, and even in some cases lead to suicide or attempted suicide. (No such confession need ever simply be the unburdening of a conscience or imply under any circumstances a desire for restoration of any kind of romantic relationship. Rather, I would encourage any such confessions be made in the presence of a spiritual leader or current spouse, if the person is already married.)
- I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community mention anything in a preaching or teaching context about unrequited love, the devastating breakup or the heart broken as a result of what I could call relationship breakup trauma, except for the divorced. Simply acknowledging the real hurt that is often lingering in the hearts of many single people, and Christ as the healer of broken hearts, could be a way for churches and pastors to build a bridge of hope and healing to many single people who are either suffering silently in the pews or neglecting church attendance because preaching and teaching ignores those who are single and hurting. (There is one highly rated book by an evangelical author on unrequited love: Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love by Laura A. Smit. )