Confronting the demons of the past…Part I

“One day I’ll face the hell inside me,

Someday I’ll accept what I’ve done,

Sometime I’ll leave the past behind me,

For now I accept who I’ve become.”

~Five Finger Death Punch

I can remember the pain like it was yesterday.  Standing in front of the mirror, staring blankly at my reflection I could hear that awful Imp of the Perverse whispering softly in my ear urging me to dig my nails into the flesh and tear away the skin; to rip and tear until the outside looked as hideous as the inside felt.  I was haunted by a demon from the past that was threatening to destroy the peace I had originally found in Christ.   The voice was telling me that because of my dirty secret Christ could never, ever love me.  I knew this was not how a child of God should feel and I made the bold decision to reveal my secret to our pastor.  With the adrenaline pumping and the feeling of shame overwhelming, I stared at my feet and spilled as much of the story as I could remember as fast as I could before I lost the nerve.  With my story finished, I looked up to see my pastor sitting in his chair horror-stricken, all the color drained from his face.  When he had regained his composure, he said simply, “I don’t know how to help you.” Those words bit deep into my psyche; the Imp was right, I was beyond redemption.

Those words bit deep into my psyche; the Imp was right, I was beyond redemption.

For several years, I managed to suppress memories of the abuse.  I became very adept at faking the victorious Christian life; however, the Imp was always there threatening to reveal my charade.  My dreams turned to nightmares, my health began to falter, and I started drinking heavily to silence the voices in my head. Soon the memories invaded even my waking moments, the drinking became heavier still, and sleep only came by mixing alcohol and sleeping pills.  Finally, the secret exploded.  This time I found myself sitting in the office of a Christian counselor, eyes fixed on the floor, spilling my story of the abuse yet again; however, while she had the same horror-stricken face as my pastor had years before, she said that it was going to be okay.  She knew exactly how to help me fight this demon and finally be rid of it.  The first thing she did was give my demon a name, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The second thing she did was hand me a copy of Neil T. Anderson’s book, Victory Over the Darkness.  I was finally on the road to freedom.

Many Christians have similar demons haunting their past. The fear and shame that accompany these ghosts prevent many from seeking out the help necessary to effectively put them to rest.  A lie pervades the Church that says upon the moment of salvation, all things are made new and there is no longer room for the pain these past events produced. After all, Christ died to set us free and that freedom comes at the moment we accept Him into our life…or does it? While it is true that the believer is made new at the moment of accepting Christ as Lord and savior, when approached from a theological standpoint, salvation is a process.

While it is true that the believer is made new at the moment of accepting Christ as Lord and savior, when approached from a theological standpoint, salvation is a process.

The first step toward a saving faith comes with the admission of being sinful and in need of a savior.  The second step is confessing that sin and personally accepting the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  The final step, sanctification, is a process that takes a lifetime to complete and part of this process is working through a painful past and slowly releasing that past into the hands of a loving God.  This does not happen all at once, for God is not only a loving God, but he is a merciful God as well and He knows that it would be incredibly overwhelming to deal with a lifetime of transgressions all at once.

In his second ghost story, Le Fanu touches upon this process and explores what happens when a person feels the weight of conviction yet remains in bondage to Satanic forces.  The story’s protagonist, Sir James Barton, is a former naval captain who, from all appearances, is just an average bachelor.  He led a quiet, morally upstanding life.  He was financially savvy, prudent, and relatively unsocial in nature (Le Fanu 35).  Despite all appearances to the contrary, Captain Barton was hiding a dirty secret that, after he announced his engagement, threatened to undo him.  The manifestation of Captain Barton’s ghost, much like Mr. Jennings’ imp, began as a relatively harmless presence; however, as the manifestation continued it became more intrusive.  The situation began to not only take a toll on Captain Barton’s health, it also began to erode his “utter disbelief in what are usually termed preternatural agencies” (Le Fanu 36).  Regardless of the mental, emotional, and spiritual toll this haunting placed on his life, Captain Barton stubbornly refused to share his secret or actively seek out a means to end its intrusion.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and revisit E. A. Poe’s short story, The Imp of the Perverse. The major premise of Poe’s argument is that man can be afflicted with what he deems as the perverse, an inoculation of the desire to do wrong for wrong’s sake (638).  It is this “radical, primitive impulse” that drives man head-long into disaster without a care of the danger involved; the impulse is so strong that any desire for self-preservation is negated (Poe 638).  Once an idea is birthed in the recesses of the mind, the thought of the action is no longer satisfying.  Poe writes:

“The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences) is indulged” (639).

Once the action is completed, it becomes of paramount importance to keep the actions secret for fear of exposure.  This, Poe notes, is where the Imp of the Perverse begins to work in the opposite manner, threatening to expose the sin (640).  The secret begins to haunt the mind.  Thoughts of confession become all-consuming and paranoia begins to take hold (Poe 641).  In this particular story, Poe’s protagonist finds himself constantly repeating “I am safe. I am safe” in a futile attempt to feel better about his sinful actions (641).  At every turn he feels that people know he had committed a murder, his mind can no longer suppress the desire to scream his confession at the top of his lungs as he realizes that he “had been guilty…as if the very ghost of him whom I had murdered- and beckoned me on to death” (Poe 641).  The protagonist finally gives way, shouts out his confession, and boldly faces the penalty rejoicing in the fact that even though he faces execution for his crime, his mind is finally free.

The mind is the true battleground when it comes to sin.  Just like Poe’s Imp of the Perverse, Satan works to deceive by placing thoughts in the mind that he wants us to believe are our own (Anderson 159).  As Satan works to gain a stronghold, he will bombard the mind with obsessive thoughts that begin to unleash uncharacteristic behaviors (Moore 41-42).  Captain Barton was originally a man of even temperament, not given to superstitious behavior, and had never fought with depression.  As the ghostly manifestation continued to haunt him, he found himself fighting off superstitious fear, uncomfortable sensations, and began suffering from a variety of health ailments that became noticeable to those around him (Le Fanu 37, 43, 47).  What became most noticeable to his friends, however, was an uncharacteristic change in his public behavior:

“Barton, who had been at first gloomy and abstracted, drank much more freely than was his wont- possibly with the purpose of misspelling his own secret anxieties- and under the influence of good wine and pleasant company, became gradually (unlike himself) talkative, and even noisy” (Le Fanu 45).

When confronted by his friends about the changes taking place in his life, it became obvious that Barton was holding on to “certain passages in his past life which of all others he hated to remember” (Le Fanu 40).  His friends tried desperately to get him to open up and his only response was to ask seemingly unrelated questions to divert attention.  Finally, he convinced his friend to write him a prescription for medications to ease his alleged malady, a prescription his friend inadvertently found him placing in the fireplace.  It was painfully obvious to those who cared for him that the “mind, not the body…was in reality the seat of suffering” and he was tightly clinging to his secret despite the emotional turmoil it caused (Le Fanu 44, 45).

The first mistake that Captain Barton made was to wall himself off from those who were in a position to help him.  The first time the ghost appeared to him was in solitude. As he walked along, alone, on a dark, deserted road, feeling a haunting presence, Captain Barton felt the urge to call out and break the oppressive silence.  Upon doing so, he was struck with such an “utter solitude, and followed by total silence” the isolation of the scene causing “something unpleasantly dismaying, and he felt a degree of nervousness which he had perhaps never known before” (Le Fanu 38).  In her book, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things: Arming Yourself in the Age of Seduction, Beth Moore describes sixteen characteristics that accompany demonic strongholds, two of which involve isolation and secrecy.

Beth Moore describes sixteen characteristics that accompany demonic strongholds, two of which involve isolation and secrecy.

Of the people she had interviewed, all admitted to feelings and practices of isolation and maintaining some levels of secrecy in their behaviors (Moore 42-43).  Being an anti-social personality from the start, Captain Barton exerted a strong emotional effort to maintain his pride and keep the secret bottled up.  He was afraid if he revealed the feelings evoked by the manifestation it would be perceived as weakness by not only his friends, but his new fiancee (Le Fanu 38-39).  Driven by this fear, Barton was overwhelmed with:

“…An unpleasant foreboding of some coming mischief, and with a mind haunted with a thousand mysterious apprehensions, such as, even while he acutely felt their pressure, he nevertheless inwardly strove, or affected to contemn” (Le Fanu 46).

This stubborn adherence to secrecy and his view of the situation as revealing a painful weakness in his own character, he allowed the haunting to progress and become all-consuming.

Beloved, there is danger in isolation.  When confronted with ghosts of the past, it is crucial to seek out the fellowship of the Church and to openly confess these sins and seek forgiveness.  Scripture is full warnings against the deadly trap posed by isolation.  Once in isolation it becomes easier to seek after the desires of sin and reject all sound judgment (ESV Pr 18.1).  Solomon states that when life is lived in fellowship if one falls there is someone there to pick him up; however, if one falls alone there is no pexels-photoone there to help (ESV Ecc 4.9-10).  If a believer, faced with sinful temptation, tries to stand alone it is so much easier for the enemy to attack and defeat; yet if there is just one other person, the enemy can be conquered (ESV Ecc 4.12).  I learned this deadly lesson all too well when I bought the lie that I was beyond redemption and sought to fight my enemy alone.  I eventually fell and that fall threaten to take my family and close friends with me.  In retrospect the pain my stubborn pride caused was not worth failing to humbly face my demons in the presence of the Church.  I feel so blessed to say that the people I hurt in the fallout have been willing to forgive and stand with me as I sought help.  I will forever be indebted to them for their love and support. Do not be afraid to stand firm, relinquish the pride that ensnares, and humbly seek help from the Church; the freedom that will follow is beyond anything imaginable.

Works Cited

Anderson, Neil T. Victory Over the Darkness. Ventura: Regal. 2000. Print.

Biblegateway. Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles. 2001. Web. 9 July 2016.

Five Finger Death Punch. “I Apologize.” Got Your Six. Project Park. 2015. M4A.

Le, Fanu Sheridan.  In a Glass Darkly. London:Wordsworth. 1995. Print.

Moore, Beth. When Godly People Do Ungodly Things: Arming Yourself in the Age of Seduction. Nashville:B&H. 2002. Print.

Poe, Edgar Allan.  The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York:Barnes and Noble. 1992. Print.

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