In My Head
In the movie “Luther” (with Joseph Fiennes) that came out several years ago it struck me how Martin Luther was a tortured soul. As a monk-in-training, Luther would spend hours alone in a room fighting and crying out to God not to strike him down for his vile life (all while his spiritual mentor said Luther had never confessed anything even remotely “interesting!”) I greatly admire Martin Luther for his spiritual sensitivity that caused him to feel things so deeply and I empathize with him.
It is difficult to be alone with our thoughts because it is then that we see what we are really like. “Character,” it is said, is who you are when no one is looking, and that may be because it is then we often have our most difficult battles. Will I eat all the brownies and hide the evidence? Will I surf the internet for those kinds of pictures? Will I buy that – even though I know it will break our agreed upon budget?
Perhaps it is even more difficult to be alone with God. After the Bible is closed, you’ve verbalized your prayers, there is pain in the silent wait for a response. “Lord, I am here to listen. What do you have for me today?” Waiting... Nothing... No word from the Lord, no peaceful warmth, simply silence. Is He angry at me? What did I do wrong? Job is a good example of someone from the Bible who simply wanted to hear from God. He was suffering from the loss of his family and property and health and yet he knew that hearing from God would be enough for him to accept his circumstances. When we don’t hear from the Lord we can exaggerate our own sins. We think if maybe we prayed in this certain posture with these certain words we could make an angry God “like” us – and respond.
Just between you and me, I know I do not spend enough time alone and circumspect in thought. However there comes a point when one must question, “Is this mental torment from God or from Satan?” I have experienced certain times, as I’m sure you have, when the source was clear.
Godly Guilt: I attended a Christian university where our physical education required that we keep a log of our exercise throughout the week. For most of my life exercise has equaled torture – for a wheezing asthmatic. To be honest I was not as faithful at exercising as I made it appear on paper. Toward the end of the semester our professor told us that we would not have to take the final exam if we completed our exercise log as assigned. I turned in my log – with a pit in my stomach for about a week. Finally the Lord had His way with me and I called to make an appointment with my professor to tell him the truth. I took the final exam and felt an incredible sense of internal peace knowing I had obeyed the Lord. Interestingly enough, after our conversation the professor publicly encouraged anyone in the class who had lied on their exercise logs to come talk with him after class. He would extend them grace – like he had me.
Satan’s Shame: I was out shopping on a steamy August day. It was about a week before our anniversary and I wanted to buy my husband a special gift. I was at one store where it was just the clerk and I alone in the store. I was going through the clothing racks when I began to listen to the words to the song that was going out over the loudspeaker. I hadn’t really “listened” and suddenly I was repulsed as I heard what was being sung. I quickly wrapped up my shopping and the uncomfortable cashier said, “You know I was surprised that they started playing this on ‘regular’ radio.” When I came home I explained to my husband that the ungodly lyrics were stuck in my head and it grieved me. I felt ashamed that I knew the lyrics and kept thinking about them. Over the course of months I felt that Satan tortured me in the area of my weakness – my love of music.
In each of these scenarios I could tell without question the source of my mental battles. There are times when a nagging feeling or persistent thought seems like it could be from God or the Devil. I think that is particularly the case when we struggle with a habitual sin. We know our sin is repulsive to God, so we can struggle with godly guilt or its ugly stepsister, shame. Guilt leads us to repentance. The Apostle Paul called guilt “godly sorrow” in his letter to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 7:9-10, “Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (NIV)
Shame, from Satan, leads to further sin. If we as believers struggle with shame it is Satan feeding us the lie that we could never be forgiven and we might as well “go the whole way.” Unfortunately this spiral leads to a cycle of condemnation from Satan and fear of wrath from a holy God.
The gift a true follower of Jesus Christ receives is freedom from condemnation. Romans 8:1 tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We receive further encouragement from Philippians 4:13 that although we may sin, He gives us the power not to. We do not have to have the fear of a god who will zap us, but embrace God our Heavenly Father who hates sin so much He gave us His son to free us from its power.