Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Jesus and the psychiatrists

My approach to the NT is usually that of a scholar, but in the area of exorcisms it is likely that my personal background will color any conclusions reached. Before going into academic Biblical studies, I studied medicine for four years. My main interest was in psychiatry which resulted in the neglect of other areas, so I never completed my training. My thinking has therefore been shaped by modern psychiatric theory and practice. However, certain experiences I had while I was a medical student, and subsequently when I was a Baptist minister, have also shaped my thinking in a completely different way.

Most psychiatrists do not accept the reality of demons or exorcism. They would regard the exorcisms of Jesus as old-world descriptions of psychiatric problems…A psychiatrist could therefore feel fairly satisfied that the Gospel accounts of demonization can be dealt with in terms of modern psychiatry or medicine.

However, I have personally been persuaded away from this viewpoint by a series of events which occurred while I was studying psychiatry, and during my time in pastoral work…I went once to interview a patient but found that he was asleep. He was lying on his bed, facing the wall, and he did not turn round or respond when I walked in. I sat in his room for a while thinking that he might wake up, and after a while I thought I might pray for him. I started to pray silently for him but I was immediately interrupted because he sat bolt upright, looked at me fiercely and said in a voice which was not characteristic of him: "Leave him alone–he belongs to us". 

Startled, I wasn't sure how to respond, so we just sat and stared at each other for a while. Then I remembered my fundamentalist past and decided to pray silently against what appeared to be an evil spirit. I prayed silently because I was aware that an hysterical disorder could mimic demon possessed…I can't remember exactly what I prayed but probably rebuked the spirit in the name of Jesus. Immediately [as/after] I did so, I got a very hostile outburst along the same lines, but much more abusive. I realized then that I was in very deep waters and continued to pray, though silently. 

An onlooker would have seen a kind of one-sided conversation. I prayed silently and the person retorted very loudly and emphatically. Eventually (I can't remember what was said or what I prayed) the person cried out with a scream and collapsed on his bed. He woke up a little later, unaware of what had happened. I was still trying to act the role of a medic, so I did not tell him anything about what had happened. His behavior after waking was quite striking in its normality. He no longer heard any of the oppressive voices which had been making him feel cut off and depressed, and his suicidal urges had gone. 

This incident made me question every assumption I had made about Gospel exorcisms. Unfortunately for the person involved, this was only the beginning, and as time went on there were many more spirits which had to be dealt with…The story has a happy ending in that this person is no longer troubled by such problems, and has remained so for several years. 

When I was dealing with strange personalities which spoke out of this person I was always careful to speak silently, even if the person appeared to be asleep…These voices answered specific silent questions such as What is your name?, When did you come? This gradually convinced me that I was not dealing with with a purely psychiatric disorder. David Instone Brewer, "Jesus and the Psychiatrists," A. Lane, ed., The Unseen World (Baker 1996), 133-34,140-41.

What's striking about this account is the veridical element. It defies a naturalistic explanation inasmuch as the patient couldn't physically hear what Brewer was thinking. To react to the specific content of silent prayer is telepathic. In fact, initially, the patient wasn't even in a position to be naturally aware of Brewer's presence in the room–much less be able to read his mind. 

Apparently, Brewer is someone from fundamentalist background who rejected his religious upbringing in light of secular science, then, due to firsthand experience as a med student, became convinced that his religious upbringing was right after all. 

1 comment:

  1. My in laws were jungle missionaries during the 60s in remote area Columbia, South America. They have many stores of encounters with demons and possession. Many nights things were so bad they just shut themselves in their hut and prayed all night.