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Delusions and their Cure

Paranoid

by Dennis Pollock

Nearly all of us have had the unnerving experience of being absolutely certain about something, and then discovering that we were wrong – totally, completely, and thoroughly wrong. What we were experiencing was a type of delusion, a strong belief in something that turned out to be entirely untrue. Most such delusions are mild and don’t affect us too much. Perhaps we were sure that the Chicago Cubs would finally win the World Series this year, and instead they ended up in last place. Many a teenage boy has been certain that the girl of his dreams was showing unmistakable signs of affection toward him, but when he finally found the courage to ask her for a date, she made it clear that she was not the least bit interested.

It is painful to be wrong, but it is a fact of life, and plays a definite educational role in the process by which we become mature adults. If we have any sense, we eventually come to realize that just because we want something to be true, and just because we believe it is true does not necessarily make something true. Most of us learn to adjust and adapt to conditions as they really are, and become wiser, less dogmatic, less gullible, and a little humbler as a result of these experiences.

In some cases, however, delusions are far more pernicious and destructive, and play a huge role in making people’s lives miserable, isolated, and to some degree dysfunctional. For reasons nobody really understands, some people hold their delusions longer and tighter than others, and even when facing sure evidence to the contrary, stubbornly cling to their errant and unreasonable thinking. When they reach a certain level, delusions become a major component of mental illness. The WebMD website states:

Delusional disorder, previously called paranoid disorder, is a type of serious mental illness called a "psychosis" in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. The main feature of this disorder is the presence of delusions, which are unshakable beliefs in something untrue. People with delusional disorder experience non-bizarre delusions, which involve situations that could occur in real life, such as being followed, poisoned, deceived, conspired against, or loved from a distance. These delusions usually involve the misinterpretation of perceptions or experiences.

“I am Important!”

In some cases, such people can still function and hold a job, although almost always their relationships suffer, and they find it hard to maintain any type of friendship. Even relationships with their family members become difficult or non-existent. Two of the most common types of delusions are delusions of grandeur and paranoia. And in truth both of these delusions spring from the same root, which is a preoccupation with one’s self.

Delusions of grandeur relate to a highly exaggerated sense of one’s importance. At its highest level it can lead to a messiah complex, the idea that you are either God or God’s special messenger, or perhaps you have been chosen by “destiny” to accomplish something great in the world – something that no one else has ever accomplished. Adolf Hitler lived with this fever burning within him. He wrote to his fellow Germans: “The fact that you found me among so many millions, is a miracle. And the fact that I have found you is Germany’s good fortune.” Convinced he was chosen by destiny to rule the world with his superior will and intellect, he set out first to conquer Europe, and then took on Russia and the United States. In the end, with his armies decimated and Russia and America closing in on him, he took his own life, never admitting he was wrong, and blaming the whole of the world war on his favorite scapegoat – the Jews.

Although Hitler serves as an outstanding demonstration of the destructiveness of this delusion, there is a far greater example of delusions of grandeur revealed in the pages of Scripture. It is found in the Book of Isaiah and refers to Satan himself:

How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’
Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit. (Isaiah 14:12-15)

Notice all the “I will’s.” “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne, I will be like the Most High…” This was not a matter of Satan trying to impress others with declarations he knew could never actually happen. At that first great rebellion Satan fully believed he could wrest control from the Almighty. Pride had swollen his ego and spoiled his reason to the extent that he firmly believed in a venture that had exactly zero chances of success.

Hitler and Satan are, of course, extreme cases, but there are smaller examples of this delusion to be found nearly everywhere. Such people find it utterly impossible to accept the reality that they are not much different than everyone else. They simply must find a way to be important, or at least to think of themselves that way. It can be as simple as someone writing a book, being confident that it is a masterpiece that will change the world, when in truth there is not a publisher in the world that would even consider printing the book. It may be a would-be artist who fully believes he has a gift on a par with Renoir and Picasso, but finds -- strangely -- that no one seems the least bit interested in his paintings. It may be a pastor convinced that he is divinely chosen as God’s messenger to the nations, while he has struggled for the last ten years to build a church beyond fifty people.

“They’re Out to Get Me!”

Another common delusion is known as paranoia. This is the false belief that many people are trying to harm, kill, or in some way ruin your life, when in truth those same people barely notice you. The Mental Health America website states:

Paranoia involves intense anxious or fearful feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat, or conspiracy. Paranoia can become delusions, when irrational thoughts and beliefs become so fixed that nothing (including contrary evidence) can convince a person that what they think or feel is not true… Symptoms of paranoia and delusional disorders include intense and irrational mistrust or suspicion, which can bring on a sense of fear, anger, and betrayal. Some identifiable beliefs and behaviors of individuals with symptoms of paranoia include… hypervigilance, difficulty with forgiveness, defensive attitudes in response to imagined criticism, preoccupation with hidden motives, fear of being deceived or taken advantage of, (and the) inability to relax…

People with significant delusions like paranoia and/or delusions of grandeur are generally not happy folks. They are so preoccupied with themselves that they have little time or energy to give toward helping or ministering to others. Their constant fears, suspicions, and sense of importance make most of their relationships short-lived. And if they do live with family, they tend to stay to themselves, unable to relate easily even to sisters, brothers, or parents whom they have known for years. If there is no intervention, they typically become worse and their delusions more ingrained as the years pass. If a loved one tries to convince them to see a doctor or psychiatrist, they are met with scorn. Believing their delusions as passionately as they do, if anyone says otherwise, it is they who are deluded and not them.

Spiritual Delusions

As bad as natural delusions can be, there are spiritual delusions which are far worse. Natural delusions are often not really the fault of the individual who has them. They may be the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, a genetic defect, or a trauma experienced during youth. But the Bible makes it plain that we will be held responsible for our spiritual delusions, and that they are the result of corruption that lies within the heart.

As with so many things, the spiritual seems to run parallel to the natural. Consider the delusions of grandeur. In truth every sinner, every person who has not bowed the knee to Jesus Christ is suffering from spiritual delusions of grandeur. He or she perversely thinks that they are fully capable of running their own lives, of directing their own steps. Jeremiah writes: “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). God, who is infinitely more capable of assessing such things than we, tells us that we don’t have it in us to direct our own lives. We are not smart enough, we are not wise enough, we are not careful enough. If we go through life blissfully ignoring God, never seeking His direction, never praying for His guidance, never acknowledging our own lack of wisdom, we will surely fall and fail. We will stumble into all kinds of sin and foolishness. And in the end our lives will be marked with a great big F for failure.

But worse than that, we will die with our sins unforgiven and in a state of enmity with our Creator. We will have ignored and rejected the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross which our loving Heavenly Father provided for our reconciliation to Him. To go from day to day and year to year never thinking about these things, never even considering the claims, the demands, and the promises of Jesus Christ, all the while thinking that our lives are going great and we have nothing to worry about is the height of all delusions. To suddenly die of a massive heart attack and find ourselves in that place of outer darkness and terrible regret is surely to discover that we went through life deceived and deluded, thinking ourselves the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls.

“God is after Me!”

Hiding

Similarly, those without Jesus Christ must surely suffer from paranoia. Although they may not be consciously aware of it, in truth they are paranoid concerning God. Just as the natural paranoid person may be highly suspicious of people who truly care for them and have their best interests at heart, the sinner thinks the same about God. He is convinced that God is out to spoil his fun, rob him of his delights, and make his life dull, miserable, and joyless. He studiously avoids church, he wants nothing to do with ministers, and if he happens to come across a Christian television program while changing the channel, he will jump past it immediately. He wants nothing to do with Christian books, Christian music, or Christians in general.

He could not be more wrong! Jesus Christ came, not to rob us of our joys but to give us joy and fill us with life “more abundantly.” He declares, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Peter writes: “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). And if you don’t believe Jesus and Peter, then go out and find someone fully committed to Christ, someone who reads God’s  word daily, prays, and is exercising some sort of service to his or her fellow man. Ask them about how much misery Jesus has inflicted upon them. I think you know what kind of protest you would hear!

The opposite of delusion is truth. And God is big on truth. He is called the God of truth, Jesus is called the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth, and the Scriptures are called the Scripture of Truth. And through Christ God calls each of us, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).

We do not have to exaggerate our own importance with bizarre delusional thoughts. It is enough for us to know that we are greatly loved by our Heavenly Father, and chosen by Him before time began. We do not need to worry about what others may be plotting against us, for we are told, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper.” We can relax, we can go about the business of worshiping God and serving others. Our Father has our lives in His mighty hands.


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