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.
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?