Becoming Thought's Captor
|Lady Macbeth - Elisabeth Ney|
image via popartmachine.com
Doctor: Not so sick, my lord, as she is troubled with thick-coming fancies, that keep her from her rest.
Macbeth: Cure [her] of that. Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas'd, pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, raze out the written troubles of the brain, cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart?
But Lady Macbeth could not, or perhaps would not minister to herself. For in order to be healed it would be necessary for her to face the terror of the fanged serpent within. She would have to admit her guilt and face the shame and consequences her actions deserved. Finding herself trapped between two intolerables, she went mad. Refusing to contemplate her wicked acts while awake, she suffered the somnambulant lunacy of a conscience at war with her monster-self.
Shakespeare's clairvoyance of human nature has kept his work alive and relevant through the ages, but this is only so because human nature has not changed. His tragedies reveal to us the furthest ends to which unrestrained evil will go, and the toll it takes on sinner and victim alike. So, for the sake of the tragedy, Shakespeare did not offer his characters redemption, or when he did, he deepened the tragedy by not permitting them to accept it.
My thanks fly to highest heaven that Shakespeare is not the author of my life, because mine is not a tale of tragedy or comedy (though it contains plenty of both). Mine is a story of redemption and peace. Though I was no Lady Macbeth, I lived with my own dark character, deeds, and fears and had my own shame and consequences to avoid. But perhaps even more daunting than those was the embarrassing lack of desire to be the kind of person I knew I should be. Why should I do good when others do not? Why should I forgive others when they don't forgive me, or when they refuse to change or even be sorry? Why should I deny myself the pleasures of my undisciplined ways? Why should I commit myself to the hard, hard work and oft-denied pleasures that are part and parcel of a virtuous life?
Hence came the temptation from within and the encouragement from others to medicate my condition.
For a time the sin nature's hissing would be quieted. I was always, on some level, aware that it lived there still, but as it more silently went about its business, its ways of undermining my life and peace only became more secretive. That subtle creature remained my captor. Taking the medication away did not set me free from my depression. I did not expect it to. Pain, you see, has its purpose. It's an alarm to alert us that something is wrong. It is not meant to be ignored. I knew when I gave it up that living unmedicated would be a challenge, but hoped that the arduous ordeal of grief and withdrawal, once survived, would make any depression I suffered later seem insignificant. It didn't.
Dark, bitter, and hopeless ways of thinking had spent many years making their home with me. Our relationship was both passionate and abusive. As in an abusive marriage, the patterns of life we'd settled into together were intricately woven. My thoughts, on the one hand, charmed me. They loved me and would defend me ferociously. They would take my side against others, make excuses for me, absolve me of guilt, and soothe my self-image. They would encourage me to build cases against people who'd hurt or offended me, or people whose excellence made me feel inferior. They would judge them to find them lacking. Sometimes they would goad me into acting against them in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, trying to make them feel sorry for me, or to lay guilt on them for their behaviors. Once things had gone too far in this direction, they would take the other hand, team up with my troubled conscience and turn on me, telling me how everybody hates me and will never forgive me (even God....even though they should forgive me because they're no better than me...see how fickle the thoughts are!), how I'm a monster who should never have been born, and how I'd be better off dead.
Though this deceptive cycle characterized of years of my life, I was none the wiser. I continued to fall for it. When my head is clear, I can see that it is little different than the relationship I had with alcohol. I would welcome, nurture, and trust in it until it turned on me, which eventually and inevitably it would. I was no match for the forces that were destroying me. I was truly my thoughts' captive.
But the day I first trusted Christ, a new life truly was born in this worn out old body of mine. This life was characterized by an all-consuming love for Christ and desire to be like Him. For the first time I saw Him and His words, even His commands as beautiful and right. This had never happened before. This new life in me cried out to be lived, wanting to be fed, and like a new mother with her first baby, I had to learn, listen, and respond appropriately to these new cries, letting them pull me out of the deep ruts of a life devoted to myself. I had to put off that old "body of death", that clung so tightly and felt heavy enough to drag me back to darkness. Like the apostle I would find myself crying, "Who will deliver me?" and I would find my answer in the words, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
This excruciating struggle, which continues to this day as the life of God in me grows and finds itself at war with my lingering old self, is what the Scripture refers as "spiritual warfare."
"For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ..." 2 Cor. 10: 3-5
"and take... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Eph. 6:17Our minds are the spiritual battleground. Our thoughts are the weapons which either defend or destroy us. The intent of the enemy is to steal, to kill, and to destroy. Christ came to give us abundant life (John 10: 9-11). According to the Scripture, my part in this battle is to take captive the very thought life that once made a prisoner of me. The only way to win the battle is to take responsibility for my thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. In order to do so, it is essential that I set my mind on the things of Christ.
"Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Romans 8:5-8A mind set on the Spirit means a mind deeply rooted in the Scriptures, which are God's words given to us by the Holy Spirit through his apostles and prophets. In His words we will find all we need. In them God reveals Himself to us. Through them that we can know Him and learn of His great power and His promises to us. And through this knowledge the unimaginable takes place - we become partakers of the divine nature:
"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." 2 Peter 1:3-4And all this transformation occurs not through magic, or osmosis. It is not an automatic result of exposure to Scripture - though God's Word is essential. It is the product of a mind determined to be changed by the knowledge of God. The sword of the Spirit must be wielded! Spiritual worship, the Scripture tells us, is a very practical and intentional matter:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:1-2I would say that the first step for the Christian struggling with battles of the mind is to become devoted to knowing God through the Scriptures and to believing what you learn of Him there. This will become the heart of your transformation. The first step for a non-Christian is to trust Jesus Christ, as He is presented in the Scriptures, and find peace with God through Him. This peace with God, made available to us through the loving sacrifice of Christ, is the purpose of redemption and it is the fountain of all peace.
In my next posts I will discuss some of the nuts and bolts that have helped me survive various battles for my mind. My prayer is that in whatever place you find yourself in your struggles, you will find some encouragement and some more weapons for your fight.
(You may read Part 4 in this series here.)