Archive for April, 2009

Evil, suffering and the original psychopath

Posted in evil, loving people, loving your neighbour, psychopathology, Satan on April 15, 2009 by Steve

We know about the destruction and hurt inflicted by those who are cruel, cold and deeply hurt. Psychologists describe psychopathy or sociopathy – an existence which seeks self-gratification at the expense of others’ comfort, exhibited in behaviours such as remorseless cruelty, violence or rape. Sadly, those who have been cruelly treated as children often become the ones to inflict cruelty onto others. The humiliated seek to gain power over others. The abused become abusers. Thus, the cycle of abuse continues generation after generation, seemingly impossible to break. Whole family and cultural patterns may be responsible for the continuation of such pain-filled existence.

On one level, such behaviour seems motivated by a ‘pay-back’ mentally: “If I can’t have what I should’ve had when I was a child (love, kindness, warmth), then I will won’t let anyone have it. Instead, I’ll treat them how I was treated (cruelly, coldly, un-humanly), because that’s fair.” Of course, there are much deeper psychological realities operating, but it seems that, on one level, these people believe they are justified to hurt and mistreat others.

This sort of behaviour (cold-blooded murder, programmed torture and genocide, calculated repeated rape) is often described as ‘evil’, since no other language seems to quite do justice to the horrors of it. Furthermore, such a label seems appropriate since many would believe this type of behaviour is beyond explanation: it must be of another world, of the devil. Such postulations may well be true, since it is so difficult to understand what motivates the rapist, murderer, etc. Yet, out of love for neighbour, we must strive to understand, for the sake of the offender, the victim and for the prevention of future crimes of the same type. Inconceivable as it is, psychopathy and sociopathy seems to make sense; it is the product of a cruel and emotionless upbringing…

All this now leads me to pose some questions: “Is there a  place for interpreting spiritual forces of evil psychologically? If so, how do the spiritual realities of the devil and evil spirits intersect with the findings of psychological disturbance? What is Satan’s psychological state? Is Satan is the original psychopath? Is he purely evil, or has he somehow been deeply hurt? Lastly, if psychopathically disturbed people are simply hurt, not evil, then what happens to the concepts of guilt and culpability? How does God judge those who have sought to re-pay the cruelty they suffer as children?” I do not intend to try to answer these questions, but more so I want to dare to ask them.

I think it is worth considering the psychological make-up of the powerful spiritual forces around us.  Indeed, Biblically it appears to me that Satan may display some psychopathic motivation: “[T]he devil has gone down to [the earth]. He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12), “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Perhaps Satan feels that it is unfair that he should suffer, but not others with him. Biblically, it does not appear that Satan has ‘suffered as a child’, something which might have explained his behaviour. Perhaps he simply belongs to the category of “evil” by himself, having nothing which has caused his behaviour (psychopathically woundedness) such that we can understand him as we try to understand those who suffer cruelly in this world.

Indeed, those who struggle with the desire to “repay” others with suffering do need to be desperately understood and loved for all the ways in which they themselves have suffered. But it is also right to perceive the evilness of such behaviour and to lovingly to hold each other accountable for our actions, as much as our knowledge of this allows. I think it is appropriate to apply the following verse in a psychological way: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48) Some will have been abused so greatly, that a godly life for these people will consist of simply struggling to not hurt others, to such a degree perhaps that others may not even be able to perceive it. But we know God does.

So now we live in a world which has the potential for much cruelty and suffering, which is most probably one of the prime activities of Satan. In Satan’s final short moments, he is wanting to take down as many people with him as he can. He is angry because he knows he has been conquered and will soon be eternally condemned and punished. At Jesus Christ’s  return, all suffering and evil will finally be put an end.

So, whatever the exact relationship of evil, suffering and responsibility, we all are in need of a Powerful Rescuer and Righteous Judge who has promised us vindication and justice against our humiliators, as well as psychological wholeness and emotional vitality; the experience of overflowing fullness of joy and pleasures of the God’s presence (see Psalm 16). We all have the offer of forgiveness, renewal and hope, knowing that “His mercies begin afresh each morning”.

1 I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.

2 He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light;

3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones.

5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.

6 He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.

7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.

8 Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.

9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help.

12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.

14 I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.

17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.

18 So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:1-26