Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spiritual Psychosis

Psychosis (from the Greek ψυχή "psyche", for mind/soul, and -ωσις "-osis", for abnormal condition or derangement) refers to an abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality".

The issue of spiritual discipline, especially concerning the resistance of temptation, is illustrated so perfectly in James 1. The image given is that sin is a life-form, which comes in three phases, gradually growing from one into the other: temptation, sin, then death.
Upon reflecting on this metaphor, I remembered back to one of my favorite films, A Beautiful Mind, in which John Nash, convincingly portrayed by Russell Crowe, struggles through a world of disease and confusion; he is schizophrenic. 

His mind is constantly engaged in a twisted self-denial. After his diagnosis, Nash was forced to abandon his best-friend and his involvement with a secret government operation, both of which seemed very real to him, but which were in fact mere phantoms in his mind. 

I wonder if James would have drawn some of the same comparisons between the plight of Dr. Nash and that of the Christian man. Think of him; a man constantly plagued with the invasive and destructive forces of sin. Often I am this very man, for I myself am, "Prone to wander... Prone to leave the God I love". 

At our core, we Christians are spiritual schizophrenics, who have been enlightened to the realities of life, but are mortally bound to see the persistent phantoms of our sinful nature, to hear the voices of our dormant and nostalgic pleasures.

Perhaps exploring James' illustration will help to revive the Spirit-given sense of reality which we so shamefully forget. 

  • "But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed" (James 1:14).
Our fleshly desires deceive us. We, having been fully made new in the Holy Spirit, continually walk the line between good and evil. Having been taught the difference, through communion with God, the Christian endures an onslaught of temptations.

How is it, that something recognizably poisonous could look and feel and taste so appetizing to us?

I think back to John Nash's most persistent demons. They were: His best friend, his most affectionate niece (or rather, the niece of his phantom-friend), and his most intimate work connection. Often, I believe we are John Nash, plagued not by the recognizable interference of the newest demons, but infinitely disturbed by the continued reminders of the phantoms in which we have previously indulged.

For men today, often that phantom is pornography. The demon has long been welcome in our bodies, in our minds and in our souls. Having been made new, we now recognize the insidious, venomous evil that lurks in the very thought of a nude woman, and yet, we slip ever more willingly back into the ecstasy.

We men remember the efficient burning of our sexual fuels. Our drive is indulged, like a cold swim to escape the Texas sun. It is an ecstasy of the most intimate arrangement--a mind-numbing drug that rewards the senses and numbs the intuition of heavenly things. In short, a man remembers the carnality and the ease of such indulgences.

Bad things happen when we communicate with the phantoms of our past. For a Schizophrenic, communication with the false things of the mind, inevitably leads to the blending of fact and fiction--the blurred distinction of reality and psychosis.

Do not be deceived. The same is very true to the Christian. We are spiritual Schizophrenics, mortally bound to endure our phantoms. If at any moment a Christian so much as makes eye-contact with a demon of the past-life, we can easily expect spiritual disease to follow.

  • "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;" (James 1:15a). 
Lust is sometimes subtle, always poisonous, and usually numbing to the mind.Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it quite perfectly in his work, Temptation, in which he articulates the following about the moment sin is born from desire: "At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real.... Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God." 

We don't hate God, we just force him out of our minds. The voices have grown from a whisper to an urgent plea: "You must indulge. You must indulge! You will indulge." Then they arouse fear in us: "Please don't think about God now, or you'll miss out. You do not want to miss out on this pleasure." Then we agree, and we succumb to the falsity.

Likely, the sin is not nearly as enjoyable as it appeared to be from the safety of God's will. And even if, heaven forbid it, the sin is doubly pleasurable, the drop is more drastic than the high. 

What Christian is not familiar with the guilt of lustful sin? Light immediately purges the darkness, where sleepy thoughts indulge in slumberous vices, and the light is blinding. How tragic it is to be blinded by the very light which once gave you sight! Satan loves the irony of a guilty Christian.

  • "and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death," (James 1:15b). 
The persistence of pleasure does not stop, simply because we feel bad.

Give a reasonable Christian two or three days, and the voices come back, sweetly, subtly subtracting from our souls. Well, that wasn't so bad, was it? Of course not. Nothing bad happened. No one found out. Nor will they ever. Who will ever know what I do behind the protection of my bathroom lock? Who will ever know what I do behind the protection of anonymity?

Maybe you are so far from anyone who cares about your morality, that you feed these phantom-lusts. Maybe you are so private in your lusts, that you easily act like nothing is wrong. Think of John Nash, who began to hide his medication. Soon, the phantoms reappeared. They were convincing, too. Every bit as convincing as a psychiatrist.

Sometimes we hide pills, too. How many men sing hymns on Sunday morning, after having binged on porn the night before? How many men sing Hallelujah, after having seen a mistress, or a prostitute a couple days earlier? How many men sing, "Worthy is the Lamb who was Slain!" and then willingly slay Him again and again in their carnal lusts?

I urge you to be honest. Have someone who makes you take the pills. Accountability is not accessory, it is imperative! Studying God's word, and enjoying communion with Jesus Christ, through the Spirit, are the pills that disperse the phantoms. Have a brother who will watch you put the pill in your mouth, and drink it down with Eucharist wine. If you don't, you will reap death, just as James promised.

John Nash endured a tragic moment in the film, when he bathed his baby, drawing the bath, and leaving the child in the care of his best friend. Unfortunately, there was no best friend. His baby was alone, and the water was rising around him. Then, distracted by his false visions, Nash abandoned his only child, who was barely saved by Nash's wife. Nash then, in a moment of stress, tried to save his wife from a gunman, by tackling them all to the ground. There was no gunman. Essentially, Nash attacked his wife and child because of his own twisted visions.

Imagine that moment from the eyes of Nash's sweet wife. One moment, your husband is drawing a bath for your baby boy. The next moment, he has almost drowned the child, and then attacked you, all the time rambling about the demons you have tried desperately to forget.

I think that the Church knows that feeling. We have all been deeply wounded by the countless music ministers and pastors who have taken a mistress, destroying their family and their witness. We have seen the Christian fathers, who become the alleged rapists of children. Often, men of God have fallen around us, and anyone of us who thinks we are better than that are lying to ourselves! We are all capable of the same type of evil as those who have fallen around us. Often, the only difference is that we have not been caught.

  • "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows," (James 1:17). 

Lord, I pray against the insidious temptations that have cut me and torn me all along my Christian walk. Thank you for what you said through your servant Paul: 

"And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." 1 Cor 10:13

Lord, I pray that you would continue the work began in me until it's completion. I pray that each day, the things of this world grow strangely dimmer and dimmer, in comparison to the eternal promises we have because of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Lord, I pray for clarity and commitment in the lives of the men and women you have called.


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