How to Face the Devil in Combat Extra: Personal Doubts and Emotions

Last week’s post mentioned how doubts can be part of the Devil’s attacks in spiritual warfare. This week expands on how personal doubts and emotions can be used by the enemy.
on Dec 19, 2019 · 18 comments

I hoped to wrap of this series on “The Deal With the Devil” this week so I’d be clear to talk about Christmas and other things next week. But an interaction with a fellow Christian speculative fiction writer on Facebook (who told me she is reading this series) made it clear that there was something important I had left out of last week’s post, which I need to correct before moving on. Which is, the “fiery darts” or “flaming arrows” of attacks from Satan in Ephesians 6 don’t only refer to doubts about doctrinal beliefs, which I emphasized, but also on personal doubts and emotions, which I need to say more about. (Which means I will have to delay until after next week to finish up the series.)

Satan’s role in attacking Christians is primarily about tempting us to sin and getting us to believe false things about God and his word, though the attacks are not limited to those things, as I discussed in the post What Does the Devil Want?. My former post used what the Bible teaches in the Epistles to show what Satan’s objectives in spiritual warfare happen to be. The article listed temptation and false doctrine as top priorities, but also mentioned Satan in general works to hinder Christian ministries by a variety of means. Which also applies to hindering Christian individuals.

The “fiery” attacks of the Devil in Ephesians 6:16 are best faced with faith according to that same passage. That, coupled with my knowledge that (based on Scripture) Satan works to get people to believe false things, that’s what led me to emphasize that the attacks of the Devil include what we might call doctrinal or theological doubts. Questions like: “Does God really exist?” or “Is the Bible actually true?” or “Will there really be life after death?” or “Is belief in Jesus actually necessary for salvation?”

While attacks of doubt often are concerning such “theological” matters, Satan’s attacks of doubt are not limited to theological issues. Questions that enter our mind from the Enemy to hinder our effectiveness for Christ can also include personal doubts. Such as: “Does God really love me?” or “Will my life ever amount to anything?” or “Will I ever be able to stop making mistakes?” In a way, these are also theological doubts because they relate the doctrines of who God is as a loving Creator (the fancy term for the theology that talks about God is “Theology Proper”) and God’s design and purposes for human beings (which is included in the theological version of “Anthropology”). But they have a different flavor when personally applied. They don’t seem to be about grand thoughts like church doctrines or the nature of God–such attacks are personal and include elements that impact our emotions.

For example, the question, “Does God really love me?” is one I personally struggled with. I had no trouble believing God loves people in general or that God loves the world, but I used to doubt that God loves me, personally. And the irony of it was that while I was able to mentally acknowledge that since God loves the world and I am part of the world, therefore he must love me, I didn’t feel like I was loved. The mental acknowledgment of theology wasn’t enough for me on that issue. I needed something else to fully persuade me, because for a while, I still felt unloved, no matter what I thought about it.

Note that my parents divorced when I was nine and my earthly father was often absent from my life after that–I mean “absent” as in I didn’t even know where he lived at times or if he was alive or dead. And I think people generally tend to relate their feelings about their Heavenly Father to the father they know on Earth. My father was (and is) a mechanically ingenious man, so it’s no surprise I had no trouble conceiving of God as an ingenious Creator by imagining a greater version of my earthly father, a master designer whose brilliance far surpasses what human beings are capable of. But it was harder for me to think of God as loving.

Again, I had no trouble mentally accepting that God loves every person so he must love me. But I didn’t feel that was true, in part due to circumstances.  I think my experience is generally true for many people in that our backgrounds and circumstances that affect us emotionally and personally often are affected by actions human beings in our lives take–in the case of my father, him abandoning his family. Of course, it would be naive after reading what the Bible says about Satan to suggest that the Devil and his angels had nothing to do with the choices my father made. That’s because the spiritual enemy of Christians is real and works to increase the amount of sin human beings engage in at all times and in all places. Including with my father.

But it would on the other hand be completely false to suggest that since my father was most likely tempted to sin by agents of the Devil, therefore he’s not responsible for what he did. The Bible in fact teaches the opposite, that individual human beings are responsible for the actions they take, even though we know that temptation and leading people into sin is an action that the Devil isn’t just doing every now and then. Satan in fact is providing temptation on something close to a continual basis–but human beings are still responsible for our actions, even if we are tempted and led astray (re: God’s response to human sin in Eden after temptation, Genesis chapter 3).

So it’s more accurate to say Satan exploits circumstances of our lives to feed us personal doubts, rather than to say Satan causes the circumstances that impact our emotions. The Devil’s custom-built personal attack on me was based on knowledge of what my family situation was, rather than having caused my family situation–though Satan has plenty of reason in the type of war he’s fighting to work to reduce as much as he can the number of people exposed to good, loving fathers. Yes, Satan is trying to destroy families and other loving relationships. Still, my father had responsibility for his choices, so in the end he’s the one who decided to leave–the Devil may have prodded, but the Devil didn’t make him do it.

What was the point of the attack on me I’m referring to? Why would a demon bother to whisper in my ear (either metaphorically or not-so-metaphorically), “God will never love you”? Because of course if I came to believe that, I would pray less (under “yes, I know God can answer my prayers, but why would he”), I would also resist sin less (under “what’s the use of trying”), I would share the gospel with others less, and I would generally give up and not even try to follow God.

Eventually, after realizing doubting that God loved me personally was an issue in my life, I started to pray about the situation. I earnestly told God what was bothering me and explained my doubt in prayer (even though I realized God already knew about it). And I prayed about it for a while, because faith keeps trusting that God will give the answer to prayer, sooner or later, one way or another. And, after several years, I started to notice all the blessings in my life, all the good things God had given me–and I specifically also realized that God had given me these blessings because he loves me. Personally.

So God resolved the issue. But note I had to recognize it first and pray. And it took several years of off-and-on prayer before I received the answer.

There’s one more thing I need to say about my personal issue before moving on–it was especially difficult for me to feel God loved me after committing some sort of sin. And of course, feeling unloved was manipulated in me (by you-know-who) to keep me wallowing in sin at times. Because if God doesn’t love me, there’s still a kind of pleasure to be obtained in sin itself. I might as well say that the sin I struggled with most was pornography–which is very common for many men, but men are generally ashamed to admit it publicly.  Please don’t misunderstand that my public admission isn’t me saying I think porn is no big deal–on the contrary, I think it is a big deal. Not something I have conquered by my will–on the contrary, I’m weak-willed about that and need to rely on God constantly–but I am no longer a helpless pawn to the schemes of the Devil (Eph 6:11), because of what God has done in my life.

So how does my personal example tie into the armor of God? My personal doubt, which affected me emotionally more than logically, affected my relationship with God–it made it easier to sin. It was a sore spot in my person the Devil could exploit. How did the armor of God help me change my response?

Understanding the truth of the word of God was key to me realizing I had a problem at all. If I hadn’t realized the contradiction between the objective truth of how God loves the world versus how I felt about that, I wouldn’t have sought God’s help in prayer.

Righteousness, as in being zealous not to sin, would have helped me resist letting sin drag me through the mud in the first place and would have made my personal doubts more distant. It certainly helps me now when I’m wise enough to apply it.

Preparation (of the gospel of peace), not that it’s ever an unimportant thing, is more important to me now that I have the issue I’m mentioning resolved, because it allows me to move forward and tell others. It’s contributing to the article I’m writing at this moment, in fact.

Faith though was very important, key to the personal victory I experienced–but not because I was able to summon enough faith to resolve my issue instantaneously and know everything must be fine because the Bible says so. Perhaps I should have been able that, but I couldn’t trust enough in what I mentally knew was true to feel it. But faith guided the decision to tell God exactly how I felt and ask him to provide the answer. Faith kept praying while waiting for the answer and faith recognized the answer when I received it–letting me see that God’s blessings demonstrated that God does love me.

The word of God of course fed into the entire process, as mentioned several times already. And prayer was key to getting the emotional resolution I needed.

The armor of God in action. Image credit:

For those reading this who are of the “show me the Scripture” mentality (I commend your determination to stick to the Bible, by the way), let’s look at I Peter 5:7 (NKJV): “casting all your care upon Him, because He cares for you.” That “casting” of cares happens through prayer and the “cares” means “things that bother you” which includes most especially emotional issues. So, there it is, in Scripture–what I did with my emotional issue was exactly what I should have done, according to the Bible. Take it to God.

Let’s check out the immediate context of I Peter 5:7 while we’re there. Verse six says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,” i.e. what I said in last week’s post is true that the primary way to win the spiritual war is to live for God rather than think about defeating Satan, what I called “the tightrope walker’s irony.” Oh, and verse eight has that quote about being vigilant about the Devil, who seeks whom he may destroy. So…”casting your cares” is part of spiritual warfare, because submitting to God and bringing your problems (including emotional) to him are things you need to have ready for prior to adopting the mentality that prepares you to face the Devil. First, get yourself straight with God, then you’ll be ready to face the Devil.

Note my example of a personal doubt about God loving me is one type of emotional issue that Satan can use, one that relates back to a specific doubt. But there are other types of emotional manipulation in the Devil’s toolbox. He might push your buttons to make you feel discouraged, or hopeless, or feel like you can’t go on. Like me, you should take those issues to God in prayer through faith and continue to do so, trusting God will help you, which is what “the shield of faith” is talking about.

Let me say something about counselling prior to finishing up this post--there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking the help of another human being in a time of personal crisis and people trained to offer counselling can be very helpful (but even untrained people can help–scientific studies show that). But for a believer, it’s really important to have a strong relationship with God and your human counselor, if you seek one, should reinforce that idea rather than run contrary to it. It is a lie, although one that’s common enough nowadays, that God essentially has nothing to offer you in terms of your emotional well-being, also called at times your “mental health.”

Yes, certain people do have issues that are physical, but in fact chemicals to help with moods are in general over-prescribed and often not much more effective than placebos. So when I tell a believer that emotional issues can relate to spiritual attack and they need to seek God’s help through prayer and putting on the armor of God, I’m not being irresponsible, as some mental health professionals might think.

I realize I’m just one data point, but I have no doubt that God has changed my life and altered my emotional state for the better. Without saying that if you having emotional struggles you must have something wrong with your relationship with God–perhaps your relationship is great and I have no way to know for the person reading this–I have no hesitation in saying that some personal doubts have spiritual roots. And some emotional issues, even ones we can point to causes for, like issues with a father, are exploited by our spiritual Enemy to make you feel worse than you otherwise would and are best answered by putting on the armor of God–i.e. making these attributes part of your life: truth, righteousness, preparation, and faith, all based upon salvation, informed by the word of God and supported by prayer.

So, readers of this post, what are your thoughts on doubts the Devil casts at you of a personal nature? And about emotional attacks? Did me mentioning how faith helped me over a period of time seem helpful to you? Other thoughts?


Travis Perry is a hard-core Bible user, history, science, and foreign language geek, hard science fiction and epic fantasy fan, publishes multiple genres of speculative fiction at Bear Publications, is an Army Reserve officer with five combat zone deployments. He also once cosplayed as dark matter.
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  1. notleia says:

    What makes you say that pills are overprescribed? Pills definitely have helped me.

    My therapist said, pills don’t teach you anything, but they get you to a place where you’re receptive to being taught.

    • Saying that pills are over prescribed isn’t the same as saying no one should use them at all. And there are times when people get misdiagnosed and therefore end up taking pills for things they don’t even have. Obviously if someone needs pills there’s nothing wrong with taking them in reasonable quantities, the problem is that people overestimate the need for pills in the first place.

      • notleia says:

        What exactly is a “reasonable quantity” of pills, tho?

        I’m pretty skeptical about laypeople’s opinions on other people’s medication, because we live in a society with people who go “ADHD? Back in my day we just beat them until they conformed.” Or douchebags who decide that a person “shouldn’t” be disabled so they harass them for using wheelchairs or hearing aids or what have you.

        • One would have to balance need with risk. But I’m pretty skeptical about people’s carelessness around pills because they ignorantly use them for the sake of convenience. Like maybe a kid is rowdy because of their personality or life experiences and needs to be taught differently, not because they have ADHD. So people end up drugging up kids because it’s more convenient in some cases and not because it’s actually necessary. They might not MEAN to, but the result is that a kid could be given a pill as if there’s something wrong with them, while they’re actually deprived of things they need more.

          Obviously there needs to be a balance. But one factor to consider is how quickly the person is willing to go to the pills and how little they are willing to question and research before using. And even if they use them, is it a minimal use, or does it start to be an unnecessary crutch?

          • Well… one example would be the over-use of antibiotics. Just sayin’….

            That being said, thank God for meds because my brother, after suffering a breakdown due to bi-polar, took meds that saved his life. Nothing would have helped him at that point. He could have been stuck dreaming awake for the rest of his life without meds.

    • Travis Perry says:

      This particular sidetrack of yours is actually mildly on track. But since you are fully capable of doing Internet research, look up information on people who recover from mental illness without any treatment verses people who seek treatment. There is a rate of people who recover completely without treatment and while the rate of recovery with treatment is better, it is not vastly better. It’s maybe twice as good. As opposed to, say, people who need knee surgery who don’t get it–almost without exception, they get worse. Mental health does not parallel physical health in that regard.

      Now, after researching that issue, research the types of mental health treatment that are the most effective. You will find that with the exception of some very specific problems, it barely matters what kind of help a person seeks. Seeking help is better than not seeking help, but the type of help isn’t as important.

      One kind of mental health treatment that is an exception to the general rule (that is, is extremely effective verses non treatment), are certain behaviorist-inspired exercises designed to deal with specific phobias. So if you are afraid of flying, you monitor your heat rate when you think of flying, then calm yourself with breathing exercises or similar techniques. Gradually, bit by bit, you accustom yourself to actually flying, so you can be on the plane and keep your heart rate down. That actually works–but is very similar to exercises in certain religions, including certain uses of prayer within Christian traditions.

      In general, if you go to a psychiatrist with certain kinds of complaints, you will be given medication, perhaps along with other kinds of treatment. If you go to a psychologist, you will mostly receive counselling alone. Who is right? Perhaps it’s no surprise that both sides say they are, but reading what the psychologists say is very informative. With certain specific exceptions, the ham-fisted attempts of psychiatrists to alter brain chemistry are not better than simply talking to someone. (And the difference between talking to someone who is professionally trained verses not professionally trained is quite small–according to numerous studies).

      I’ve mentioned this on Speculative Faith before in answering issues about this topic previously, but I spent over five years translating medical documents that were part of applications for US Social Security Disability from Spanish and French into English. I read many cases of use of anti-depressants and other medications failing. What I read did not constitute a scientific sampling, but made it clear to me in certain cases prescribing anti-depressants is totally unproductive or even counter-productive.

      Let me give you a hypothetical case that really is a summary of many cases I’ve actually translated. So a man working in Puerto Rico for a major American company gets injured on the job. His injury is severe enough that he has enduring pain and can’t go back to work. Because he is accustomed to work, he feels depressed and goes to see a psychiatrist, perhaps recommended by the health plan of the company he worked for, or perhaps not. The psychiatrist gives him anti-depressants. But they don’t help. So they try another medication or combinations of medications. The patient can’t sleep with one, can’t have sex with another, walks around like a zombie with another. They keep shifting meds, but there’s no improvement. So, the guy is applying for disability because his life is a wreck (or if we want to take a cynical view, that’s how he’s portraying his life at least).

      When I’d be reading cases similar to the hypothetical one above while translating, I’d often think, “What this guy really needs is to find a sense of purpose for his life other than earning money at the factory.” Maybe he needs another occupation, one that does work other than what he’s used to doing. Maybe he needs a hobby. Or maybe, most importantly, his mental health will improve if he realizes God has a purpose for his life, that he isn’t useless in spite of his limitations. That if nothing else, prayer has value and meaning in the real world and he can still pray.

      So it’s based on this kind of knowledge of science and specific cases that cause me to say with some authority that many conditions that actually have spiritual or circumstantial roots are misdiagnosed as needing medication. This is not me saying to never seek professional mental health treatment–but the value of such treatment is vastly overrated and the reality of human spiritual life is vastly underrated by a segment of the society of North America and Europe and other “First World” zones.

      In sort, a Christian ought to consider a strong spiritual life as very important and it should not to be neglected. Just as physical health should not be neglected. People who say otherwise, who say all you need is meds, are mostly wrong according to scientific studies on the effectiveness of mental health treatment (as I’ve explained in context above, with nuance allowing for exceptions).

      • notleia says:

        Yay, a specific example!

        The thing is, psychiatrists are medical doctors. Talk therapy is not really their specialty. I’m surprised they didn’t refer the patient to a therapist, but IDK the state of Puerto Rico’s healthcare infrastructure. (Deffo worse now after some hurricanes and some intentionally deficient reconstruction efforts.) But on the basis of pure numbers, a ~$50 bottle of generic prozac was probably cheaper than ~$120 per session talk therapy. At first. *insert ominous music*

        So yeah, I agree this is a systemic failure, but for different reasons.

        • Travis Perry says:

          I have a pile of specific examples, not just from Puerto Rico, from other countries as well–but I used Puerto Rico because it has similar healthcare laws as the USA and workers are covered by workers comp and health insurance that parallel what you’d find in the United States proper. Though I have to talk about examples in generalities, because of privacy laws.

          Yeah, I know psychiatrists are medical doctors. Yeah, that’s part of the reason why loads of people are getting meds that really need something else. And that “something else” isn’t necessarily professional psychological counselling. Often people’s needs are spiritual–or if you want to stubbornly be as secular as possible on this issue, as if “spiritual” were a meaningless term–a strong religious commitment is positively associated with better mental health in scientific studies on the topic, as discussed in the linked article (which also bemoans the anti-religious tendency among many mental health professionals):

          So yeah, “spiritual health” is an actual thing. Though you should have known that already, I would say.

          • notleia says:

            I think of spiritual health as a subset of mental health. I’m leery of approaching it on partisan fundagelical lines and missing the forest for the trees.

            The thing is, it seems like y’all don’t think of mental health as a long-term project, just as something to tamp back into place if it reaches a crisis point.

            But then, that’s the traditional American working theory of healthcare, which is the major reason why it’s dysfunctional as all heck.

            • The way the Bible talks about the person is more integrated. More holistic. The spiritual life can renew the mind, and the mind can impact the spiritual life. Just like what we do with our bodies can impact our minds, and our minds dictate what our bodies do, but the mind is different from the body. There’s obviously a difference between soul and body, but they’re knitted together in so many ways that a clean break is silly to focus on. Life is more complicated than that. That’s why so many mental health regiments actually talk about spiritual health now. Even in my totally secular health class at a big state university, they made distinctions between bodily health, soul health, and spiritual health. Spiritual health was not the same as mental health, and was not simply a subset of it. Going back to what my brother went through, his help was holistic. It wasn’t just meds. It was a whole SLEW of things, including us spending nearly every day with him as a family while he was locked in the hospital for a full month, believing that we were keeping him there against his will, and that he had invented the atom bomb before he was born. We knew it was his body that was making him think these things. But he needed our physical and emotional presence, along with meds, along with rest, and prayer, and all of what makes human life healthy and beautiful, to come back to health. Psychosis is actually not that uncommon of a human experience, and most people in the church don’t know where to put it. There are real spiritual habits and beliefs and daily physical routines and thought-habits that can leave a person more susceptible to breaks, but sometimes it’s beyond your control and is something generated by physical issues. Can physical issues also be spiritual? I think so. But I don’t have confidence to know that I can consistently make those distinctions. And if there is a physical cause, I don’t think anyone can say it’s purely spiritual. There’s much we can’t see, because so much of life lies behind a veil. But it’s obvious even to purely secular professionals that the spirit is different from the soul and body, and that it’s important.

              • Corollary: If someone’s hungry, no one in their right mind tells them prayer will feed their bellies. So don’t tell people their help out of clinical depression needs to just be spiritual. It’s not only inherently dehumanizing and disrespectful (because you’re claiming they’re experiencing pain due to spiritual failures), it’s unhelpful, unbiblical, and offensive to the Spirit.

              • notleia says:

                I also think emotional health is a subset of mental health. I’ve taken Psych 101 and heard spiritual health listed as being separate from mental health, but they never offered any rationale behind that, so until I see some compelling evidence I feel comfortable in my categorization.

                Rando thought: One church of Methodists had a program of people lightly trained in counseling (lay counseling, no license) to connect with peeps in and out of the congregation. I think it was named something about St Stephen? Anyway, it seems like a program worth testing, but I haven’t seen it outside the Methodists and now I live in an area where Methodists seem relatively thin on the ground.

            • Of course mental health is a long term project. But most of that is a matter of education and how people take care of themselves. People need to understand what makes each other tick and learn better coping mechanisms. And overall, have better self care. There’s a lot in our society that needs to be fixed in order to achieve that, and it’s a lot deeper and more intrinsic than just going to doctors as if they have all the answers. I think about that all the time and try to learn solutions. I don’t think of it in terms of mental health, because in many ways the issues are all encompassing, but a lot of the things I study still affect that.

              That said, some of that is people learning when they need to go to a doctor or therapist in the first place. If they can recognize symptoms of an issue they can’t fix then they’ll know to get help before it gets too bad.

            • Travis Perry says:

              My statement of what is most important for a person to experience what I called “spiritual health” is advocating a strong, day-to-day relationship with God, every single day. That’s not putting a patch on anything–that’s a change in lifestyle.

              The “oh you don’t feel good so have a pill” approach is putting on patches…

              • But, of course, pills can also sometimes solve a deep physical issue that can be solved no other way, sans miraculous healing, which in my albeit limited life experience, I’ve seen happen only a few times.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s interesting to see what other people experienced and how it influenced them.

    It’s sort of interesting to me since I struggle with different things. When I was little, the way my parents and teachers presented God’s love made perfect sense to me, so it was easy to love God back and even kind of idealize him in a way. But in some weird ways I struggle with relationships and have a hard time being as attentive as I should be. So I always worried if I ever truly gave my heart to God and if I ever was truly saved.

    Interestly enough, though, my parents were pretty good about being there for me and explaining things during the early years, so like you said that may have influenced the way I perceived God.

    I do still take some of these things differently, though. Like, growing up it was always just a little confusing to hear that children felt like they were somehow the blame for their parent’s divorces or whatnot. Like, it seemed they were taking on that blame for no reason. I was only ever willing to take blame when there was a reason to, so I always felt sad when other people blamed themselves without reasonable cause.

    So when people blame themselves for their parents’ divorce or something, I understand from a basic psychological standpoint, but not necessarily on an innate emotional level. Same goes for people feeling like God can’t love them.

    Maybe that’s because I pay more attention to other people’s thoughts, experiences, behavior, and my own emotions more than I do other people’s emotions. As long as the other person wants me there and it isn’t bad for me, I focus more on whether or not I love them and go from there. Of course I want to be loved back, but that isn’t something I think or worry about as much. That’s been the case with family and friends, and seems to have also translated into my relationship with God.

What do you think?