THE VOICES IN OUR HEADS (or, at least the voices in my head)
Psychologists assume that all of our thoughts arise from within ourselves, influenced by our genetic makeup, life experiences, families of origin, neurochemical balances, and, (perhaps) our choices. That assumption is based on the supposition that there are no spiritual forces in the universe that can affect our thoughts. Hence, it is presumed, for example, that dreams arise from within, that every character in a dream represents some aspect of ourselves and reveals something about ourselves.
Cognitive interventions are based on the premise that we have the ability to choose what we consciously think. We can learn not to ruminate on the negative and focus on the positive, to replace toxic self-talk with uplifting inner messages. Scripture seems to agree. The Apostle Paul invites us: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8 NLT)
Science and Scripture agree that our conscious thoughts are under our control and that, with help, we can learn to focus them appropriately, and my so doing enhance our mental health, increase our sense of wellbeing, and enrich our relationships.
That we have control over our thoughts does not, however, mean that taking control is always easy. The inner tapes of harsh or neglectful parents and authority figures, intergenerational trauma, neurochemical imbalances, and early childhood experiences are a few of the things that make redirecting negative thoughts difficult for many adults. We can’t just knock off the negative. Skilled cognitive therapists can be invaluable. Authentic community is essential.
Scripture also indicates, and spiritually minded people have historically attested to the reality that in addition to our own thoughts, which undoubtedly derive from within the psychological and physiological mysteries of the human mind, both God and the evil one can and do speak to us in our inner minds. In my experience, it is often hard to tell the difference. Is it I speaking to me, the devil lying to me, or God guiding me? To me, all the voices sound alike.
But they feeldifferent.
Sometimes, it’s just me talking. The feelings are generally neutral; the thoughts are usually mundane – “time to take out the trash;” “I hope the lawn mower starts.”
When the inner voice, the thoughts, are demonic in origin, they produce anxiety, fear, hopelessness, confusion, discord, bitterness, anger, disunity, hatred, violent or self-destructive ideology, depression, self-centeredness, pride, narcissist fantasy, panic, bleakness, or despair. They lead to what Ignatius called “unfreedom.”
I am not talking about demon possession. Followers of Jesus cannot be demon possessed. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world,” (1 John 4:4) not, greater is he who is in you than he who is also in you. Christians do not need to be delivered from demons. We do, however, need to resist the devil.
(By the way, a good way to tell if an infliction is natural or demonic is to resist it in Jesus’ power. Demons flee quickly. Physiological and psychological illnesses stick around. Prayer alone cures demonic possession or oppression. Prayer plus professional intervention, plus medication, plus loving community cures the rest.)
When the thoughts are from God, they invariably bring with them feelings of wholeness, shalom, peace, forgiveness, mercy, grace, love for others, love for self, love for nature, hope, unity, connectedness, reconciliation, acceptance, humility, and contentment. God’s voice is never demanding, never coercive, never harsh, never condemning, never angry, never violent.
God’s quiet whisper in my heart does not always tell me what I want to hear, nor does it always affirm what I am doing. Conversely, it often corrects and redirects. At times, it tells me to do something I would much rather not do. But it always feels wrapped in love. It is always in my best interest and for my ultimate happiness. It always advances the Kingdom of God on earth (as it is in heaven), and always lines up with the biblical text as interpreted through the words of Jesus within the community of believers. We need each other. We were never meant to live this Kingdom life alone.