Obsession: The Hostile Action of an Evil Spirit
By Douglas Van Dorn (Dec 19, 2023)
"You Are An Obsession"
In this post, I want to deal with a threat to the church that few seem to want to talk about. Have you ever had or seen or known a stalker? Have you ever been one yourself? I’m not talking about someone you don’t know outside your house trying to break in and kill you or anything, although that would also fit the larger context of my point in this post. I’m talking about that person who was so obsessed they could think or do nothing else but the stalk. They follow. They call. They text. They hound. They troll. They always seem to appear somewhere close by. They are the Boogyman.
In 1983, the synth-pop band Animotion came out with a seriously catchy cover-song that you really don’t want your mother hearing you listen to. And I apologize in advance if simply by mentioning it, with it's famous hook, that it worms its way into that part of your brain that ends up becoming a stuck record, because even bringing this song to my mind makes it stick there for uncountable endless tormenting ages! For the sake of this post, it is important to put a bunch of the lyrics here, because it exemplifies the danger and evil of the subject before us: Obsession.
In the song and video, it’s a man and woman singing in dialogue. The man opens, seemingly in lament:
You are an obsession (you are an obsession)
I cannot sleep (I cannot sleep)
I am a possession (I am your possession)
Unopened at your feet
There's no balance (there is no balance)
No equality (no equality)
Be still, I will not accept defeat (be still, I will not accept defeat)
Next the woman responds:
I will have you, yes, I will have you
I will find a way, and I will have you
Like a butterfly, a wild butterfly
I will collect you and capture you
In unison they start to sing:
You are an obsession, you're my obsession
Who do you want me to be to make you sleep with me?
You are an obsession, you're my obsession
Who do you want me to be to make you sleep with me?
It’s probably rather absurd, because if they are singing to each other, why don’t they just hook up? Maybe they are too afraid to admit it? Maybe they are obsessed over two other people? Maybe they’re best friends and lamenting the loves they can’t have? Or maybe they are simply in love with the obsession?
Whatever the case, they are truly all-consumed and no matter how bad it gets for them, how dangerous, how self-destructive, it just doesn’t matter. All that matters is the obsession. And for the record, there’s really no redemption in this song. It really is just about the obsession. That truly is ALL that matters. And that in itself may be the lesson, if there’s even supposed to be one.
The Origin of a Word
The etymology of the word “obsession” is fascinating. Around 1500, the word meant, “action of besieging” in a sense now obsolete. It’s from the French obsession and directly from Latin obsessionem, "siege, blockade, a blocking up."
Woah! Did you see that? The word obsession comes from the world of the military and warfare. Besieging a city! Ever seen Masada or know about those people living high up on a mountain in the deserts of Judea where the steadfast Roman army spent two solid unbroken years building a ramp of dirt in 120 degree plus heat to finally take the fortress? That’s an obsession!
Perhaps most interestingly of all, about 100 years later the word came to mean "hostile action of an evil spirit" (like possession but without the spirit actually inhabiting the body). It was only after this when our western world began to become obsessed with Naturalism that the word transferred to an "action of anything which engrosses the mind" which in the 20th century finally became a psychological "idea or image that intrudes on the mind of a person against his will.”
None of that sounds good to me.
Enter the world of Christianity. Yes, I could broaden this out far beyond our world, as Christians are far from alone in this trap. And yes, I could turn this quite easily to the world of sexual sins (which quite frankly are sometimes the secret behind the outward obsession). But I’m particularly troubled these days by obsessions that too many Christians and Christian leaders have in secondary, minor, peculiar, odd, tertiary areas of theology, areas that they blow up to become the absolute most important thing a human can ever think about.
I’ve seen first-hand how destructive these can be and more, how oblivious or even nefarious people can be to their own obsessions as they use the obession as a cover for deeper sins, often egregious sins of power and control over people. I've seen how these obsessions are justified in the name of God, good theology, orthodoxy and how they turn outward and blow up churches and denominations all while feigning that they aren’t the one with the problem. It’s really pretty frightening in the self-delusion of it all.
In what I’m about to say, please understand that I’m not talking about the normal, and I think healthy, need that the human mind has for trying to grasp a truth. That can take time and if someone is really trying to work a thing out, it can become quite consuming. To me, that’s fine. Even on secondary or even peculiar doctrines. There's nothing wrong with that. That’s how God made us to learn, especially if one has to then turn around and teach it. Nor am I talking about something a person becomes “known” for. Sometimes, everyone wants to hear you talk about the same thing, not because they or you are obsessed, but because new people are constantly coming to learn the same truth. It’s like a professor teaching the same class for 30 years. That isn’t obsessive. It’s school. Nor am I trying to belittle people thinking about conspiracy theories. In my book on that subject, I actually detail how once-upon-a-time in America, it was the ability to think outside the box that defined a free-thinking mature individual.
What I’m talking about is when a thing becomes an obsession. We’ve all seen it. It can become almost anything. In the Reformed world I’m in, I’m seen it (I mean, I’ve even engaged in it to some degree) with topics like predestination or the nature of the atonement or in more recent days the doctrines of impassibility or simplicity. It isn’t just us, of course. And it's not like there’s really any doctrine or subject that is immune from our obsessive compulsions, because the problem finds its origin in us, not the doctrine itself. But we can all name many of these. Obsessions over freewill, over young or old earth (and now flat earth, strange how no one is obsessing over a hollow earth though, hmmm), over the supernatural and demons, over blurry creatures in the Bible, over the right “biblical diet,” over the a Christian's relationship to the state, over the return of Christ, over who a Christian should or absolutely must not support in politics, over the latest conspiracy theory (which these days is probably likely true!), over just about anything. You name it and people can and have become obsessed over it. There's nothing in-and-of-itself wrong with thinking through subjects like these. Many of them are profitable. Some we need to think through for the pitfalls implicit in them. Some are very difficult to think through and take time. None of them should be obsessed over.
And these are just the obsessions that are cool to talk about. What about those who try to one up each other over how to be the most woke person possible, or how to make sure we obsess over how there is no such thing as the supernatural, or how anyone who has a different view of the millennium than I do is probably not a Christian? We could go more and more liberal, such as the obsession to make sure we deconstruct any miracles Jesus may have performed, or how God didn't really author the Scripture, etc. etc. etc.
When does such a thing move from a healthy and important need to think through a subject to an all-consuming obsession, indeed a worship of the subject that steals our worship of the Creator? Here’s a few thoughts.
First, the person truly cannot think about anything else. You can see it in their posts, hear it in their speech. It’s literally all they talk about. It oozes out of them, emphasis on the ooze, as in slime. That’s not exactly a glorious word.
Second, this lasts much longer than it normally should. It’s kind of like a child that’s never scolded or disciplined and they just continue acting like children well into adulthood. Spiritual maturity is stunted or even turns backwards when people are clearly taken captive by the obsession. I tend to think that the more unbiblical the obsession, the worst this gets. However, I'm not entirely certain that is the case. Even true and good things that become obsessive can do this to people's souls, because again the problem is the obsession itself.
Three, they start to feel the need to fight, to quarrel, to besmirch, even to damn those who disagree with them. It often stems from a kind of paranoia that accompanies the obsession. I'm right and everyone who doesn't agree with me is a hereitic! My narrowly defined nuance of this doctrine is the only view the church has ever had. Stuff like that. This is where it really gets bad, because the inward problem of the soul now turns outward against others. Strangely, the obsessed often find themselves attacking those who are closest to them relationally or theologically.
Four, it can happen from people whom you may not otherwise think are obsessed, because they don’t talk about it positively, only negatively about others. But in their hearts, they are. And they have to make sure you know you are wrong (or everyone else knows you are wrong) for your obsession that you really don’t even have, but they are projecting onto you out of their own obsession! It’s really quite strange. Because this one is cryptic, here's an example. I write on biblical giants. I try to make this as biblical and objective as possible in my presentation. But for a few people, the second I talk about it, they go absolutely ballistic. They want nothing to do with me and speak badly about me to others, spreading lies having never even talked to me personally. They've projected onto me something I don't even have, and I tend to think it's because they have some obsessive view about some related topic that is being challenged by something in this doctrine, something they hold as absolutely essential, but which must not be discussed rationally, only attacked negatively. It's strange. But I think many of us have seen these kinds of reactions in people on many different kinds of topics. I think many of us have probably had those same kinds of visceral reactions against things we don't agree with ourselves.
The Way Out
Essentially, obsession is the opposite of love of neighbor and love of God. Truly oddly, it often claims to be “loving” because what matters is truth! But all it is in love with is self. When someone needs at all costs for you to know that truth, it can often be because of their own obsession. In all honesty, I think we should take back up that idea that obsesions have at their root evil spirits that take people over, because the havoc wrought by them can be truly destructive and contrary to biblical peace.
When you step back and think about it, the person has gone through some deeply life-changing thing in the realm of the obsession. It can have a good or a bad source. But something short-circuits at some point. Their life-change does not result in a greater desire for peace and love and unity and harmony and ability to agree to disagree, but in its opposite. War and hatred actually end up consuming the heart, even at the very moment that the person is absolutely convinced that they are the ones striving for peace and love with others while everyone else is out to get them (or God or the church or whatever). That’s the old need to make sure everyone who disagrees with you is a heretic, or at least a neo-heretic. Neo-heretic has a much ring to it, doesn't it? That's because we really aren't trying to be jerks when we call people heretics, right?
What’s so interesting to me about this psychosis, and I don’t really know what else to call it, is that most other people can see it quite easily. It’s the person him or herself who becomes blind. It's the little group they are in that just creates the feedback loop of self-approval. That’s our song. Obsessions blind us and even groups to objective reality, while lying to us about that same reality, making us think that everyone else has the problem.
It makes sense to me the word came to be used of some kind of evil spirit that grabs hold of a person against their will … that this really gets to the heart of obsession. It really is an evil spirit. The spirit realm is quite real, contrary to the popular opinion of some. And that’s really quite terrifying on one level, especially if we know ourselves to be obsessive over something and can’t find ourselves stopping it.
But it’s just here that I tend to think we can actually see the cycle broken. At least admit that, yes, you are obsessed. I guess, putting it that way, it gives me hope for the singers of the song. They know they are obsessed. That doesn’t mean they can break it by themselves, especially if they don’t think it is wrong (I’m pretty sure the song writers did not think this was a bad thing). But the person who is obsessed and refuses to admit it? This is the truly dangerous place. Especially when it starts turning outward against friends, loved ones, brothers and sisters in Christ. Most obsessions end up that way. Ever watched Fatal Attraction?
This isn’t a topic that I’ve seen a lot of people deal with publicly. But it is one I’ve seen exhibited a LOT throughout the course of my life. I admit, I’ve had tendencies to become obsessive. The best thing for me in those times is when someone tells me the truth and doesn’t hold back. But does it in love, I mean actual love, not self-love that wants to see me destroyed. That itself can be hard, tough love. And it isn’t necessarily fun.
I pray that if you have any sense that your interest in a person or subject has turned to obsession that you would ask yourself if this is doing anything harmful to your soul, to your relationships, to the body of Christ (if you are a Christian), and to your relationship with God. It is seeking the peace of the body? Is it really worth dying on the hill for? Is it really THE most important thing in the history of earth? Unfortunately, that’s very difficult to think through for the obsessed person, because like I said, obsessed people are almost completely convinced that the obsession isn’t their problem.
I can’t make obsessed people stop it. But perhaps by talking about it, I can help one person think through it in a way that would be helpful to them and those around them.
If you are going to become obsessed with something, may it be loving the Lord Jesus who died for this sin and in thanking him that he has the power to break its demonic power over our lives. There's irony in how I just said that of course, because such an obsession would not be from an evil spirit at all! It comes from actual true love--love of God and love of neighbor. And may you become obsessed with the bonds of peace and love while holding firmly to your new beliefs without compromising. That's right. That's actually possible to do. You really can hold to your own beliefs tenatiously without it being obsessive and destructive. Christ and all his benefits is an obsession that this world and the church and families and couples need much more of in these darkly obsessive evil days.