Worried about Salvation
Severe Guilt Feelings
The Help You Need
This page in Easy English, German, Portuguese, Afrikaans,Serbian, Norwegian
The following is desperately needed by two types of Christians:
1. Everyone plagued by blasphemous or unchristian thoughts or mental images
2. Or those who, despite repeated assurances, keep worrying that God might not have forgiven them.
If you fall into either category, your friends, loved ones, counselors and spiritual advisors will end up not only distressingly perplexed and frustrated but unable to give you the assurance you crave.
The condition affecting you is so rarely understood that the people who care about you need these webpages almost as much as you do. I strongly recommend that you not only read all of the following but that you encourage these people to read it as well. (I consider this so important that I have gone to the effort of providing a version of this webpage just for those who care about you: Tormented by an Over-Sensitive Conscience. The main difference is simply that I have slightly lessened some of the detail in case they are busy or less motivated to read it all than you are.)
Worrying that God has not forgiven you and suffering unstoppable blasphemous thoughts might seem distinctly different. Behind both dilemmas, however, are devout Christians plagued by the very thing they most fear. And it turns out that there is a common cause. Such fear has no biblical or spiritual basis and yet it persists and to their minds it seems fully justified, no matter how much reassurance they receive from spiritual advisors and even from God himself.
If you suffer from uncontrollable mental images or thoughts that upset you because they are hateful or unchristian or even blasphemous, you will eventually need to read this, and subsequent webpages, about scrupulosity. If you wish, however, you can start by reading some webpages that deal exclusively with unwanted (sometimes called intrusive) thoughts and mental images. They start at When a Christian Can’t Stop Thinking Blasphemous Thoughts.
Have you discovered that you have an anxiety disorder – a medical condition, technically called scrupulosity or Religious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – that the devil delights in mercilessly exploiting to torment Christians? If you know this is what drives your horrendous guilt feelings, terrifying doubts about your salvation, and/or thoughts that horrify you, skipping to this part of the page will quickly take you to the heart of the matter. If, however, you know little about this, please keep reading. It is likely to dramatically change your life.
My Exceedingly Long Search for Truth
This webpage is about you, not me, but unless you realize how conservative I am and utterly devoted to God, his Word, faith, prayer, deliverance from demons, and on, it will be easy to dismiss what I say.
Starting at Feeling Condemned? There’s Hope! and continuing for almost sixty webpages, I have assembled a ludicrously vast amount of biblical and theological information and testimonies (including pages on the so-called unforgivable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) proving that no matter how gross a person’s sins or how often the sins were repeated before or after salvation, there is not a person on the planet who cannot be fully forgiven by God by simply looking to Jesus for forgiveness.
Even though I am an exceptionally slow writer I am so keen to serve my Lord by helping people tormented by a guilty conscience that if you were to print it out in book form you would find on this website over 500 pages written specifically for people who find it hard to believe God forgives them. For almost twenty I have devoted enormous amounts of time and agony to this.
My store of information has grown so enormous because, even after they had pored over all the proof and careful reasoning I had amassed, people kept writing to me, year after year, tormented by the irrational fear that they could somehow be the sole exception to God’s promises or somehow disqualify themselves or that they had managed to find some sort of loophole in God’s clear promises. They seemed unaware that they were going to almost insane lengths trying to justify their needless worries.
Moved by the intensity of their anguish, I kept piling up the evidence; expecting these dear people to eventually accept the power of rational, Bible-based argument. Even when at last they seemed to grasp it, however, their relief was short-lived. In just a few days they would be back with yet another supposed reason for them continuing to doubt their salvation.
Eventually, to my astonishment, I was forced to conclude that if ten thousand angels spent ten thousand hours emphatically declaring to these people that they were genuinely redeemed, their assurance would begin to melt away and their doubts return soon after the heavenly visitors had completed their assignment. These special people did not see it that way. They were sure that such a sign would settle the matter for life, but my long experience counseling literally hundreds of them has shown me otherwise.
For years I prayed and prayed, seeking spiritual insight as to how these people could have their breakthrough. Finally, I discovered that my approach would never work because these otherwise normal, intelligent people suffer from an anxiety disorder that keeps undermining their ability to accept rational argument. In all other areas of their lives they are perfectly rational but not in whatever matter is of the greatest emotional importance to them. Not surprisingly, for Christians, this problem usually targets assurance of salvation, since this is the matter that is of supreme importance to them.
If you suffer this, I understand your agony. God’s solution, however, is very different from what you expect, and you and I will be at cross purposes until you can see beyond the superficial to comprehend what is really happening to you. Our priorities will differ as much as if you had acute appendicitis and want nothing but painkillers, whereas my understanding of the medical necessities obligates me to focus not on pain relief (as much as I passionately want that for you) but on the cause of the pain and to convince you of the critical importance of getting proper treatment. Just as pain killers would not be the real answer to appendicitis but would actually lessen your motivation to get the help you desperately need, so assurance that you are divinely forgiven or ending your unwanted thoughts is not the help you really need, despite it seeming that way to almost every sufferer.
If, for example, horrendously blasphemous thoughts against the Holy Spirit keep flooding your mind, you are being hit by torturously strong temptation, but the Tempter is hoping to get you so confused that you do not even recognize the temptation. Blasphemy is not the temptation. The spirit realm is amazingly unconcerned about that. Not even gross sin is the real temptation. The temptation is that you stop believing that because of Jesus, God forgives, loves and delights in you.
You might be sure God’s forgiveness and cleansing extend to everyone else, but your ugly temptation is to believe you have managed to expose a flaw in God’s love and goodness; that the power of Christ’s sacrifice is not as infinite as Scripture claims; that your repeated sin or atrocious thoughts are able to make a liar out of the God who offers forgiveness to all who accept Christ’s cleansing; that you have somehow found a loophole in Scripture to all of God’s promises regarding salvation; that because you feel guilty, uneasy and distant from God that your feeling is more spiritually dependable than the love and integrity of God and the power of the cross.
Just as an addict yearns for a miraculous end to withdrawal symptoms, you yearn for a miraculous deliverance from your distress. But although you are sure miraculous deliverances from the temptation to doubt would be in your best interest and God’s best interest, they are not. I have a webpage (Life’s Mysteries) that explains the surprising truth that it actually achieves more spiritually for you not to have a miraculous deliverance from temptation. If you read it, however, you must keep in focus that the spirit world does not even see blasphemy as the temptation.
The real temptation is to fall for the Deceiver’s malicious lies that if you suffer disgusting thoughts or have done some other hideous thing and then sought forgiveness, then God no longer delights in you. The temptation is a concerted attempt to trick you into giving up on God because you wrongly suppose the blood of Christ no longer cleanses you. It is like being conned into thinking Fort Knox is filled with fake gold.
It is only by having to battle this temptation to doubt that you can truly become Christlike and grow in faith. Miraculous deliverances are superficial. They leave us as weak as being carried everywhere would cause our muscles to waste away. No matter how appallingly agonizing your affliction is, and how pathetic and ungodly it makes you feel, it can become a springboard to spiritual greatness.
As surely as there is no quick or easy way to become an Olympic champion, so it takes enormous effort to become a spiritual champion. You might simply want an easy life and to languish in mediocrity, but you are stupendously loved of God. He believes in you and has far greater plans for you than you dare dream. Please don’t break his heart. The easy life is not for you. You were born to rule.
Because the road to spiritual greatness is long and hard, you need all the insight and support and encouragement you can get. That’s what my webpages are about. As an expression of the immensity of God’s love for you, I have devoted years and years and years of agonizing prayer, counseling, study, and wrestling with words; pouring my life into providing you with everything I can find to help you. I am far from perfect, but having done my utmost, I have no choice but to leave the final critical step to you. It is up to you to reciprocate by devoting to reading these pages an effort equal to at least a fraction of all the prayer and mental exertion I have given to amass this support for you.
What these webpages offer is so immense that to get the equivalent through personal counseling would cost you thousands of dollars. Instead, moved by how precious to God you are, I have provided it all for free. Even if an athletic coach generously offered all his services for free, however, it would still cost a would-be champion massive effort. That is unavoidable. You must be willing to invest significant effort into prayerfully reading and re-reading and re-reading all that I have provided for you. All my years of passionate prayer and searching has found no alternative to having to keep plowing through these webpages.
Right now, you might wish it were less reading but when you find your anxiety grinding on and on and on, you will be thankful I have written so much. I have provided all this reading to keep your mind fixed on reassuring truths and guidance, rather than slipping into panic. Constant reminders are needed to help counterbalance the constant anxiety that keeps tricking the mind into supposing there is a genuine reason for alarm.
If the pages were brief you would get bored reading them over and over and over, and I cannot guarantee other websites.
My pages are like having instant access to a counselor who is on-call every moment of every day of every year. I cannot do this personally for the thousands of people who crave it, but my writings can.
I might update my pages from time to time but print off at least some pages so that you can access them even during a power failure, or some other unforeseen circumstance.
I’m no substitute for God, however. Read prayerfully and don’t lessen your fellowship with God, no matter how many appallingly blasphemous thoughts and mental images flood your prayers and how much false condemnation tries to terrorize you.
The Mysterious Power of Anxiety
As explained, earlier in this extensive series of webpages (starting at Feeling Condemned? There’s Hope!) I have provided enormous quantities of detailed information, carefully explaining all the biblical, spiritual and rational reasons why forgiveness is fully available to absolutely everyone who puts faith in Jesus’ forgiveness, no matter how gross or repeated their sin (before or after salvation, including the vilest blasphemies) and no matter how plagued they are by blasphemous thoughts. Later in this series you will find many testimonies from people whose atrocious blasphemies and hideous sins after salvation confirm that forgiveness is available to all. (I am almost ashamed to include these testimonies, however, because they are totally unnecessary. It is like suggesting the Bible is unreliable and God might be a selfish liar unless people have testimonies that prove otherwise.) In addition to all this proof, I have another long series of webpages beginning at How Much does God Love Me? Receiving a Personal Revelation of God’s Love for You proving the magnitude of God’s personal, never-ending love for every person.
All of this only helps normal people, however. There are those who require such a radically different approach that it usually flabbergasts people when they first hear it. To ease the shock I will try to gently prepare you. First, you must understand what it means to have an anxiety disorder and that it is common for people to have no idea they are suffering from one.
Anxiety acts as an alarm, warning us that something needs urgent attention to avoid a disaster. An alarm triggered by a technical malfunction sounds exactly like the real thing and so we rightly panic when it occurs and feel compelled to check whether we are in danger. If we examine the most obvious source of danger and find no reason for concern but the alarm keeps going, we will feel compelled to check another possible source, and another, and another. If we finally convince ourselves that we have eliminated every possible source of danger, we will heave a sigh of relief and reset the alarm. Should the alarm be faulty, however, it is likely to go off again in a day or so, and again we will panic and feel compelled to investigate. If this happens day after day, it will get very tiring, but alarms are designed to be too irritating to ignore and each time it goes off we have no way of telling whether this time there is genuine danger.
An anxiety disorder subjects a person to continual false alarms, each of which feels just like the real thing – terrifyingly so – and despite doing everything we can think of to put our minds at rest, the nagging, deeply worrying anxiety will continue. As if this were not disconcerting enough, anxiety feels like a guilty conscience (which makes it seem spiritual) and the inner alarm it sets off is so overwhelming that it drowns out our ability to feel peace or joy or God’s presence (which again adds to our worry that something must be spiritually wrong).
Christians suffering this will assume they must be in spiritual danger and jump to some conclusion as to what could be the cause. Even when they finally reach the point of being sure that what they initially thought could be sabotaging them spiritually is not a valid cause for concern, the alarm will keep blaring (anxiety) and so they will simply switch to assuming there must be some other spiritually valid reason for concern.
The human mind goes to astonishing extremes in seeking to find some non-existent reason for believing a false alarm is something worth worrying about. Consider this example:
A man wrote to me in torment over the thoughts he suffered. “They’re blasphemous and horrible to God,” he said about the awful thoughts that hounded him. “Some of them just flashed into my mind. But others I feel I’m responsible for. I didn’t want them, but I really feel I could have kept them away but didn’t. . . . Some of them involved the very thing the Pharisees said in Matthew 12:24. . . . Evil, horrible ideas. . . . I feel so evil and rotten.”
I directed him to my many pages that explain that he has no rational or biblical reason for concern. A couple of years later, he wrote, “I haven’t been plagued by horrible thoughts for a while now. (Only occasionally.)”
So he was finally filled with relief and even peace, right? Read the rest of his e-mail: “. . . What if I don’t have those horrible thoughts any more because the devil knows it’s over for me so he’s moved on to someone else? I feel so alone and so helpless.”
Do you wonder why people feel like pulling their hair out when seeking to help such people?
The inner false alarm feels so terrifyingly real that people plagued by it get highly inventive in dreaming up excuses for believing their never-ending anxiety rather than believing the reality that God has forgiven them. There is no valid reason for anyone seeking forgiveness through Jesus to doubt that they are cleansed from all sin, but here are some examples of the false reasons people come up with for doubting their salvation:
* They have blasphemed the Spirit
* They keep falling into sin
* They are more sinful than anyone else on the planet
* They never feel God’s presence
* They don’t have enough faith
* They don’t feel they have adequately repented
* They have demons
* They have sold their soul to the devil
* They are not sincere enough
* They are not chosen by God
* They have denied Jesus
* They believe they have received the mark of the beast
* They believe they have added to the book of Revelation
* They cannot pray without blaspheming
* They feel angry at God
* They feel guilty
* They don’t feel guilty
* They have found some Scripture or authority that confirms their fears
* They feel condemned whenever they read the Bible or go to church
* They never feel peace or joy or an inner witness that they are saved
* They keep having dreams or supernatural signs that they are not saved.
Not one of these things is a valid reason for doubting your salvation. None of them can separate us from the love of God. None of them – nor anything else you dream up – is unforgivable. If you were to keep stubbornly refusing to believe that God is loving enough or powerful enough to forgive you through Jesus, or you kept refusing God permission to rule in your life and you were not in the slightest willing even for God to make you willing, you would have a problem until you changed your mind. The moment you change your mind, however, total forgiveness and cleansing from all sin is yours.
It is with reluctance that I provide the above list because it is like listing a thousand diseases never before considered by a hypochondriac who keeps needlessly fearing he is ill. The bottom line, however, is that anyone going down this path will keep being plagued by anxiety, no matter what he does, and the sooner he realizes it, the sooner he is likely to accept his need for an entirely different approach.
Evil spiritual powers can never touch God’s love for us, nor the infinite power of the cross. All they can do is meddle with our feelings, in the hope that we will start believing our changeable feelings rather than stick to believing in God’s unchangeable love and forgiveness. So anyone looking to his feelings to confirm that he is right with God is leaving himself wide open to doubting his salvation. In fact, until completely weaned off treating feelings as a spiritual barometer, every one of us is dangerously vulnerable to spiritual deception. Moreover, if anyone with an anxiety disorder looks to his feelings to confirm that God accepts him, doubt will always win because, no matter how close he is to God, highly unsettling anxiety will keep dominating his feelings.
Given half a chance, an anxiety disorder will turn a strong, confident Christian into a spiritual hypochondriac. Cave into it, and it will reduce a spiritual champion into a quivering defeatist.
Anxiety dupes its victims into getting their focus off their glorious Savior and on to self-examination. Becoming preoccupied with oneself – even if it is one’s spiritual condition – is spiritually deadly. As hard as it is, we must keep wrenching our eyes off ourselves and on to our loving Lord.
I suggest that you not only pray the following but that you print it out so that you can keep returning to it:
In the name of Jesus, who shed his blood that I might have eternal life, I rebuke and refuse to surrender to any and every evil power that would like me to doubt the infinity of God’s love and goodness and to doubt the power of Jesus’ sacrifice to forgive all sin. I hereby relinquish everything that is not of God and I pledge my allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, affirming him as my Lord and Savior and declaring that the cleansing power of his sacrifice is stronger than any sin I could ever commit.
Anxiety might plague me, Lord, but I praise you that you are stronger than any unwanted feeling, doubt, worry, guilt, fear or disgusting thoughts. Moreover, you have promised to work all things together for the good of those who love you. I love you, so this is your promise to me.
I thank you that this persistent anxiety that harasses and confuses me is my opportunity to grow spiritually stronger, just as having to keep running uphill is a chance to grow physically stronger. Faith is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7) and faith can only develop during times when feelings and circumstances clash with what you want me to believe. So I praise you for this opportunity to grow in faith. And I thank you that even though, because of the very nature of the trial, it will feel as if you have left me, you are actually with me every step of the way. Despite everything that might plague me and confuse me, you have pledged never to leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). Regardless of what I feel, you remain faithful and true.
You are Truth and you declare over and over such things as:
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
You rightly say that if I claim to have never sinned, I deceive myself and accuse you of lying. In the same way, if I, who have confessed to you my sins and put my faith in Jesus, claim to be unforgiven, I also deceive myself and accuse you of being a liar.
Anxiety feels like a guilty conscience. This tempts me to dishonor you by concluding that just because I feel guilty, you must have lied when you made this promise to cleanse all who confess their sin to you. Despite these horrible feelings, however, I make you, not my feelings, my God – my spiritual authority and source of truth. Since you, in the above Scripture, declare me purified from all unrighteousness, then I am purified from all unrighteousness, no matter what I experience and how powerfully I might be tempted to think otherwise. So I hang on to your truth, refusing to contradict you, no matter what feelings and doubts rage within.
I cannot stop powerful feelings that are contrary to your truth – even Jesus was tempted – but I can repent of caving into the temptation to accept those feelings as truth. I repent of being so carnal as to think that a mere feeling – rather than your Word – indicates spiritual truth. I have sinned by thinking that you might not be the God of infinite love and that you therefore must prove your love for me by giving me signs or feelings or assurances. I have insulted you by wanting such “proof,” as if you could lie or be unloving unless what you say is true matches my feelings or circumstances. From now on, I steadfastly refuse to believe that any feeling, no matter how strong, persistent and convincing, is a more reliable source of truth than you are.
“The just shall live by faith” (KJV, cited four times in the Bible – Habakkuk 2:4. Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). So I choose to live by faith, not feelings. I hereby renounce feelings, or anything less than you alone, as a reliable source of spiritual truth.
The perfection of divine love means that you passionately love even your worst enemies; more fervently yearning to forgive them than any human is capable of craving anything. You recoil at the thought of in any way letting your beloved Son’s agonizing sacrifice for the sins of the entire world be in vain. You want no one to perish (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 33:11).
You tell us to forgive “seventy times seven” and yet I keep worrying that you will tire of forgiving me, as if perhaps you were a hypocrite. The truth is that you love me far, far more than any human has ever managed to love himself or anyone else. Driven by infinite love, you passionately long to keep on forgiving me and to lavish your mercy upon me for all eternity. Since this is your burning desire, propelling you to the extreme of the cross, I was wrong to ever beg you to forgive me, as if there were any reluctance within you to cleanse me. You are eager to forgive; your reluctance is in giving signs and feelings because that makes me spiritually vulnerable by fostering a dependence upon means that the Deceiver can easily replicate and manipulate. Your word declares that it is faith, not signs and feelings, that is “the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV). I repent of playing into the devil’s hand by seeking such things instead of simply accepting your loving forgiveness. I acknowledge that signs and feelings are the Devil’s playthings – his way to entice us to get our eyes off the cross and the integrity of your character. He cannot touch spiritual truth but he can toy with signs and feelings. Faith is our only shield; our sole protection against his trickery.
So I commit myself to start honoring you by stubbornly clinging to you, no matter how many doubts, fears, worries, guilt feelings and unwanted thoughts scream within me.
I cease right now from insulting you by wanting signs, feelings or assurances as proof that you love and forgive everyone – including me – who comes to you in the name of Jesus Christ. I renounce all attempts to get such things. The integrity of your character is all that I need. I resolve from now on to live as you have called all your children to live – by sheer faith, and nothing else.
As surely as you need to keep recharging your cell phone, I expect you will need to keep returning to this prayer, not because anyone needs to keep praying for salvation, but because this commitment not to seek signs, feelings and so on is enormously difficult to maintain when plagued by relentless, torturously strong anxiety and/or well-meaning preachers who have no idea of the havoc they wreak in some people’s lives by speaking as if feelings matter.
The great illusion for anxious people is that they will at last find peace if they resolve a particular issue. The truth is that an anxiety disorder means that anxiety will continue no matter how many issues are resolved. Just like a faulty alarm that keeps going off no matter how safe the situation, the anxiety will keep on going and it will keep on feeling as if there must be some genuine reason for concern and so their mind will stay in overdrive trying to find some reason, rather than accept the fact that it is a false alarm.
It usually takes months, or even years, of hard work for these dear, anxiety-plagued people to become convinced that just one of the supposed reasons for concern listed above is not valid, but when they finally get there, the anxiety will continue as strong and insistent as ever and so, unless they reach the point of learning to live with the false alarm of anxiety and stop treating it as genuine, all that will happen is that they move to obsessing over another supposed reason for doubting.
It often takes years of agony before they finally realize it but it turns out that, for many devout Christians, nothing – with the possible exception of medical help – is capable of easing their anxiety (the source of their doubts, fears and overwhelmingly strong guilt feelings). Like a thirsty man chasing a mirage, these genuine Christians sincerely believe there must be some assurance that would finally satisfy them. They will temporarily feel better after receiving a full explanation of why their fears are spiritually, biblically and rationally groundless but the devastating worry that they are doomed will soon return. Despite the mirage seeming so real, the truth is that this side of heaven there is literally no experience or proof, no matter how stupendous or spectacular that could permanently quell their fears. To illustrate, let’s go to extremes.
Suppose not just one but hundreds of gigantic angels in dazzling white clothes and supernatural glory appeared to you and declared that Almighty God is pleased with you and will reward you eternally. If you are one of the Christians plagued by an anxiety disorder (and vast numbers are without realizing it), you would be on Cloud Nine; flooded with peace and joy. You would finally feel certain that you are saved and that you will never doubt again. Within a few days, however, you would yet again become aware of the anxiety incessantly gnawing at you; inducing panic and causing your mind to go into overdrive wondering why you cannot rid yourself of this strong gut feeling that something is seriously wrong. Rather than accept that the feeling itself must be wrong, one’s mind dutifully seeks to ensure one’s safety by assuming that for as long as the anxiety continues, a real threat might be present. In a protective frenzy it keeps seeking any way in which there could be danger despite that supernatural confirmation that all is well. Before long, under the relentless scrutiny of your intellectual powers, possibilities will begin to emerge, such as, “What if that divine visitation were just my imagination or a dream or wishful thinking or a false memory or a psychotic episode? What if what I experienced were someone playing a clever prank with lasers and holograms? What if it were demonic deception? What if that angelic pronouncement were true at the time but I’ve since sinned and am now lost forever? What if . . . ?” Soon, all that relief and certainty you had just a few days ago will have vanished.
How the Natural and the Spiritual Interact
I am still cautiously inching my way to the part that initially staggers deeply spiritual people because on the surface, it seems unspiritual. Some readers might wish I would jump ahead – and you may skip this section if you insist – but most will need this introduction more than they currently realize. In fact, after proceeding through this webpage and ones that follow, many who have read this section will begin to discover that it is more valuable than they had thought and will want to return to read it again with renewed interest.
Often the natural and the supernatural are not opposed. Indeed, they often work hand in hand. After all, they were both lovingly created by the same infinitely good God, and both realms have been attacked by the same anti-God spiritual forces.
Not only is it not unspiritual to consider the natural, it is often unspiritual to ignore the natural. For instance, James 2:15-16 ridicules those who say spiritual things to people in physical need but do nothing to help them in a practical (natural) way. Likewise, Jesus emphasized the importance of caring for people’s physical needs, be it a cup of water, feeding and clothing the poor, welcoming a stranger, caring for the sick or visiting prisoners (Matthew 10:42; 25:34-39). Jesus’ earthly ministry was by no means exclusively focused on people’s spiritual well-being; healing their physical bodies was a high priority with him. To be so “spiritual” as to ignore the physical is to be more “spiritual” than God!
I so much believe in the Bible’s teaching about demons that I am convinced we all regularly deal with demons. For instance, since the devil does not have the divine power to be everywhere at once, it is not usually Satan who personally tempts us but his underlings.
Typically, temptation is evil spiritual entities attempting to exploit any natural weakness they can find in a person. Temptation has a spiritual component but there is also a natural component. Let’s consider the holy Son of God. When he was tempted to turn stones into bread, the devil was exploiting a natural chemical imbalance within our Lord. He had not eaten for weeks. It is natural – inevitable – for any hungry human to keep thinking of food. Moreover, many of the stones in this wilderness were shaped like the loaves of bread that Jesus had eaten all his life. For perfectly natural reasons, his body craved food and his mind invariably kept reminding him that those stones looked like bread. Anyone with the ability to turn stones into bread would keep thinking how wonderful it would be to do so. Such thoughts would torment any person but they were perfectly normal, given the chemical imbalance in Jesus’ body. If anyone were to worry that having such normal thoughts would render a person unforgivable, it would not merely be theologically ridiculous but such an unfounded fear would turn an already unpleasant experience into something terrifying. Having one’s mind continually flooded with such thoughts is not sin, however. It would only have been sin had Jesus actually broken the fast.
Similarly, as I will soon explain, your fears, doubts and unwanted thoughts are actually as natural and physically-driven as a starving man craving food. Evil powers try to deceive people who suffer this natural weakness. They exploit human weakness not by trying to entice these people to do what happens naturally and is inevitable – having unwanted doubts, fears and thoughts – but by falsely accusing them for having these natural reactions and by trying to seduce these dear people into believing the lie that being subjected to this naturally-driven experience nullifies Christ’s power to love, cleanse and forgive them and grant them the gift of divine approval.
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was so intense only because his body was abnormally hungry. Likewise, any of us can have an abnormality in our bodily chemistry that renders us vulnerable to attacks that others simply do not suffer. Those free from such attacks might seem more spiritual or better Christians, but they are not. As unbelievable as it might initially seem, the only difference between the two groups of people is a slight deficiency or chemical imbalance within their bodies.
We have already cited Scriptures that whether it be in the realm of temptation or how we show love, we should pay attention not merely to the spiritual but to the natural. For one last example: 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 says that husbands and wives should meet each other’s physical needs “so that Satan will not tempt you”. Even the great apostle Paul, who had denied himself marriage, insists that it is spiritual and right to consider the physical side of temptation and to lessen a spiritual problem by attending to a physical need if a morally acceptable way is available. Likewise, if, for example, medical researchers were to discover a healthy, morally neutral way of healing a physical abnormality and thus rendering ourselves less vulnerable to spiritual attack, then we would have a spiritual obligation to avail ourselves of it.
The staggering truth I’ve been so cautiously trying to prepare you for is that many people are tormented incessantly by what feels exactly like a guilty conscience and inability to feel God’s love, and yet it turns out that the cause is not spiritual at all. It seems initially unbelievable but for these people what drives intense feelings that are so easily mistaken for divine judgment – and it can even generate horrifically blasphemous thoughts as well – is a mild medical disorder that causes excess anxiety. None of the vast array of biblical teaching provided elsewhere in this website will lower the deep spiritual concerns plaguing the millions of people whose anxiety has a medical basis. Just as proof that you are forgiven will not end the pain of a physical illness, neither will proof that you are forgiven end the inner pain of all the doubt, fears and worries generated by a physical illness – a disorder in one’s brain chemistry.
I completely understand you thinking I am mad, or at least unspiritual, to suggest such a thing. After all, for very many years of full-on ministry to people tormented by doubt or unwanted thoughts, if anyone had suggested that there could be a medical component to this spiritual matter, I myself would have thought they were crazy or ungodly.
Large numbers of people kept e-mailing me seeking help, however, and despite all the biblical proof I provided proving that they had nothing to fear, they would grasped for a few hours and then slump back into doubt again. As I kept fervently praying about this and pouring my life into trying to help these dear, tormented people, I began noticing something peculiar. Anxiety disorders were astonishingly common in these people. Usually, they regarded their anxiety disorder as irrelevant to their spiritual concerns, but as I kept conversing with more and more people, the link kept occurring far too often to be mere coincidence. Eventually, I discovered that a huge body of scientific research had already confirmed the link.
Like me, you will probably need a lot of convincing. That’s okay. I am so passionate about helping people who are suffering this horrific spiritual torment that I have gone to immense lengths assembling and carefully explaining the evidence in a logical, easily intelligible manner. All I ask is that you keep prayerfully reading it.
People afflicted by blasphemous thoughts or by continual doubts are among the surprisingly large number of people who are perfectly sane – and some are highly intelligent – except that their mind plays tricks in whatever narrow area of their life is of greatest importance to them. It is not because they have less faith, Bible knowledge, will-power or devotion than other Christians. In fact, they are usually above average on such measures. It is just that in this area of life, anxiety is almost literally driving them crazy. Contrary to what seems intuitively obvious, their fears are not spiritually or rationally driven but stem from a chemical imbalance that causes them to suffer from abnormal levels of anxiety. Because it has a medical basis, you cannot switch off this anxiety (and corresponding guilt feelings, worries about salvation, inability to control your thoughts, etc.) by more Bible reading, trying to worry less, working harder on building up your faith, or whatever. To suffer from medically caused anxiety is no more an indication that one is spiritually lacking than suffering a broken leg means one is spiritually lacking.
It boils down to the fact that the unfortunate people suffering this physical problem feel needlessly guilty, ill at ease or worry far more than average people about at least one thing (and it usually zeroes in on whatever is most important to them). And regardless of what they do – how much fellowship with God they have, how much faith they muster, how much theological knowledge they gain – that awful, unsettling feeling keeps gnawing away at them because the cause is not spiritual or rational but physical. No matter what they believe or think and how much God approves of them and delights in them, that horrible feeling keeps returning. Our brain is designed to treat that feeling – usually called anxiety – as an alarm warning us that something is seriously wrong. The problem is that when a chemical imbalance sets off a false alarm, the very alarm we rely on to alert us to physical or spiritual danger has been triggered. As hinted at previously, the part of our brain designed to respond to the alarm cannot distinguish a chemically induced false alarm from the real thing. As the alarm keeps on and on, the brain keeps frantically hunting for some danger that set off the alarm. No matter what reassurances come from God, Scripture, spiritual authorities, past experiences or whatever, the alarm keeps blaring and so the worry keeps persisting that there must be some genuine spiritual danger.
What confuses these people is that what some call their gut feeling – some call it one’s conscience and some even confuse it with the voice of God – has been seriously distorted by a condition well known to the medical profession. Unfortunately, in contrast to the experts, the implications are rarely understood by the general population.
With this deeply disturbing false alarm indistinguishable from the real thing blaring within a person day after day it is enough to seriously distort anyone’s spiritual perception. This devastating feeling keeps incessantly nagging; drowning out what for anyone not subjected to it would be more than enough proof of God’s acceptance. Although this highly unpleasant and confusing affliction troubles a relatively small proportion of people, the numbers add up to literally millions of people worldwide.
Multitudes of people suffer from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. You could be one of them and if it turns out that you are, so many things will not make sense to you. For example:
* If you are plagued by horrible thoughts, the harder you try not to think them, the more you will have them.
* If you yearn for assurance of God’s forgiveness, the more you seek assurance, the less you will have it.
There is no space for a full explanation here – that comes further on – but once the process is carefully explained, it is readily understood by average people. Those suffering from this affliction, however, will have a much harder time accepting the truth because they find it so contrary to what feels intuitively right, and that dreadful feeling that something is terribly wrong keeps droning on as incessantly as ever. Everything within someone suffering from excess anxiety will scream against the truth. So despite trying to the point of utter exhaustion, those suffering this way will keep getting worse instead of better unless they totally change their understanding.
I hyperventilated once. I felt certain I was not getting enough air and so I breathed harder, totally oblivious to the fact that I was actually suffering from too much air and I needed to breathe less. So it is with those who are hounded by unwanted thoughts or yearning for assurance of salvation. They will only get worse until they learn to do almost the exact opposite of what they feel sure will help. They are so convinced that they need to be doing the opposite of what will actually help that they usually cannot even grasp what the following webpages are saying, but keep misinterpreting them to line up with their mistaken views.
What Do you Really Want?
What matters most to you: that your torment ends and you be at peace, or that you become Christ-like and make God proud? Do you want the latter so much that you would be willing to endure a lifetime of feeling condemned and suffering unwanted thoughts, if that were the price you had to pay?
Remember how your Lord suffered horrifically and pleaded with God not to go through it. Nevertheless, he submitted to what God saw would end up achieving things of eternal worth, even though it meant being humiliated and feeling so distant from God that he cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus, likewise asks each of us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. You crave reassurance that God approves of you but would you be willing to sacrifice that reassurance if by doing so it makes God proud of you?
Would you be willing to have no peace for the rest of your life, if what it takes to endure that agony ends up making you so spiritually strong that even though throughout your time on earth you saw yourself as a spiritual failure, heaven sees you as a hero and will hail you as such for all eternity? Do you want your comfort, or for God to be glorified through your endurance? Would you prefer feeling that God is pleased with you, or for God to be genuinely pleased with you, even though the cost is enduring a lifetime of feeling condemned and tormented by attacks on your mind?
I believe these are critically important questions and that you will be sorely tempted to want feelings of peace and normality rather than the spiritual benefits that trials bring.
Think prayerfully about this incident:
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 . . . there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, that I should not be exalted excessively. Concerning this thing, I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me. He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me.
Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong. (Emphasis mine.)
For a deeper understanding of why God allows trials and what deep benefits they bring, please see The Surprising Joy of Trials
I long to help you but it is impossible unless you not only read the following webpages but study them, regularly praying that your eyes be opened to the truths in them that you are currently blinded to. Even after you finally grasp the truth, you will repeatedly find yourself letting it slip and reverting to your old mistaken thinking that feels so intuitively right. So to keep on track you will need to keep returning to these webpages.
Don’t forget to ask those who care about you to read the abridged version of this webpage: Tormented by an Over-Sensitive Conscience.
You Need More:
If you want a rest from reading, now is a good time. If you worry that you are in spiritual danger, however, you will need to return to these webpages whenever you can and read more. Record the web address of the next webpage before leaving.
Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version © Copyright, 1978 by New York International Bible Society
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