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Poisonous thoughts

Escaping the “kingdom of noise,” Part 1

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MY NORMALLY PRIVATE next-door neighbor once told me she felt like running down the street to get away from her thoughts. Can anybody relate to that? (“For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”—Romans 7:15.)

Eckhart Tolle could. In 1997 the German-born spiritualist published The Power of Now, unpacking my neighbor’s problem. He said most people are under control of “compulsive” and “involuntary thought processes” and “continuous monologues or dialogues” that they can’t get rid of. There is a voice in our heads that “comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes” and “imagines things going wrong, and negative outcomes; this is called worry. … You no longer feel that you have the choice to stop.”

It gets worse:

“I would say about 80 to 90 percent of most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless but, because of its dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is also harmful. Observe your mind and you will find this to be true. It causes a serious leakage of vital energy. … It is always concerned with keeping the past alive. … It constantly projects itself into the future. … It says, ‘One day, when this, that, or the other happens, I am going to be okay, happy, at peace.’”

C.S. Lewis calls it “the kingdom of noise” (The Screwtape Letters). Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird likens it to a radio station (whose acronym I can’t repeat) playing “in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness. … Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well.”

If you want to get highbrow about it, 20th-century European psychology also talks about internal voices in the psyche. Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought Nietzsche wrong in assuming that after the “death of God” man could create his own values. Their reason, in psychologist Jordan Peterson’s paraphrasing of Freud: “We are not the masters of our own houses … we’re more like a haunted house filled with autonomous spirits.”

Jung went further down the rabbit hole than Freud and found that those voices are not mere “complexes” or “systems,” or just metaphors. Peterson again: “He made the case that we are haunted by demons and gods.”

It is with some amusement that a Christian who’s read the Bible a time or two sees how painfully close, yet far away, the great secular seers veer toward Truth—like seeing shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave, or like those blind men of the Orient who grope about the elephant and find some piecemeal truths but miss the pachyderm entirely.

Meanwhile God’s Word, without ostentation, simply speaks of a twofold etiology of this mental nuisance of obsessive nonproductive thinking—namely, the old-man nature, and the prowling lion who tempts. Like other conundrums of our day (how men can fancy themselves women; how fully formed babies in the womb can be thought not human; how the whole world has Jew hatred derangement syndrome), the answers lie in the spiritual, not material, domain.

God puts it bluntly in Ephesians 6, lest we think we are just up against a psychological condition: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” One is challenged to imagine how He could have put it more plainly.

We are apprised of this from the earliest pages of Scripture: The serpent introduces poisonous thoughts (Genesis 3). The devil crouches at the door, and we must resist him (Genesis 4). Even as blood-bought believers with a brand-new nature, we are to be diligent in putting to death the old nature because it ever seeks resurgence: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts” (Romans 6:12).

(To be continued in my next column.)

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.


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