“And so we beat on, boats against the current; borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I suppose that last line from “Gatsby” as much as anything characterizes the ongoing narrative in my thoughts. In sailing, a “beat” is heading into the wind at an angle, tacking back and forth—a difficult but not impossible course. In trying to sail forward my life often seems like a beat. And I have recently concluded that time present is just a past and an amorphous hope-charged future which I (we) beat on toward, and yet one from which we are inexorably pulled back by a voice from the past.
And no, my own little voice is not the “still small voice” of Scripture (I Kings 19:11-13) that Elijah heard, tho I do believe at whiles the Holy Spirit’s voice inserts itself into my unique stream of consciousness. My voice is in the running narrative in my head, and that dialogue in my brain is pretty much a constant. It is not an auditory hallucination. They are just thoughts, tho we might refer to them as voices. That narrative, with accompanying images, is the past, and is the future. And in my particular case, I’m borne much more into a habitual past by “the little voice” in that stream than the future.
I think that most people have a similar ongoing conversation in their thought-life. Most people generally accept it for what it is and don’t get too alarmed, tho some may wonder when at odd moments they answer it out loud. But inserted into the mix of voices is a voice which is a bit unsettling and dissonant at first but eventually seems to become very much a part of us. It is a critical, negative voice. It is the voice of despair. It is the same voice that the schizophrenic and actively psychotic experience. Only in their case it’s louder, more malignant, and insistent to the point where they believe it is not a part of them—that it is being beamed into their brain from somewhere outside of the body. It is a voice that says it’s okay to do unto another the same evil that was done unto you. It is a voice that says you are God, or perhaps that God hates you. That malicious voice is toned down by phenothiazines and other powerful anti-psychotics, but it doesn’t completely go away. I also believe that it is the last voice that the suicidal hear. It is the one that shouts: “JUST DO IT. . .JUST DO IT!”
In my particular case the voice is extremely critical, negative and judgmental. It provides a not very flattering commentary on my behavior and on other people’s as well. It says things like: “You moron!” or “So and so doesn’t like you.” or “You piece of crap, if you really loved the Lord you wouldn’t do things like that.” or “She looks like hell in that dress.” or “That slob, why doesn’t he lose some weight? And, btw, you’re looking a little porky yourself.” or “Maybe I don’t always do right, but I’m not as bad as him.” or “It’s hopeless, things will never change.”
It even critiques sermons with thoughts like: “That’s a pretty lame analogy. I could do better than that.” or other’s prayers with, “He’s said, ‘Father God’ fourteen times in two paragraphs. Please, just get on with it.” You get the picture. It’s pretty ugly and it’s distracting. It doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of how I like to think of myself. It is, as we say in the mental health biz, “ego-dystonic.”
But I think that voice lives in me much like Paul says sin lives in him (Rom. 7:17-20). Paul accepts salvation in Jesus and thus is no longer defined by sin, but sin still has its way with him from time to time. He writes in Romans 7 almost as tho sin is a foreign entity living in his thoughts. And Paul may be on to some truth concerning the voice as well, because sometimes it seems as tho “the voice” is a foreign entity renting space in my thoughts.
Though I cannot offer a shred of proof from neuroscience, I tend to think that the paranoid schizophrenics might be on to something when they believe that their voices are from outside themselves and are being beamed into their heads. I think the basic content of their voice (and ours) comes from a pain-ridden past that we are ceaselessly borne back into by demonic amplifiers. I do not believe for a moment that demons cause mental illness but I believe they exploit it. Satan’s plan is always to attack the most vulnerable, the helpless, the defenseless. It is his essential evil—his signature. The seriously mentally ill have a biological/genetic basis for their illness. They have an inborn vulnerability to disorganized thoughts and auditory hallucinations. And I believe that the relentless assault of the voice in them (and us) is demonic. Now, that does not mean they or we are possessed. It just means the demons are there in some outer orbit of our consciousness ceaselessly transmitting or amplifying garbage in our thoughts. We “normals” do a pretty good job of filtering it out or masking it—schizophrenics, as well as some bipolars, can’t.
The degree to which we are impervious to those voices is the extent to which the Holy Spirit and His fruits are alive in us. We cannot think away a negative; we can only replace it with a positive. We cannot say “bad voice, go away” and expect that will happen, but we can push it back into the dark with a focus on increasing the nine fruits of the Spirit in our thoughts (Gal. 5:22). Also, I think in a rather opaque parable, Jesus warns us of the consequences of an empty head (Luke 11:24-26). An evil spirit leaves a man and when it does not find a more comfy home it returns to a head “swept clean and put in order” and thus it brings seven more demons with it.
Now there may be some blessed souls for whom the voice is almost always that of the Spirit, and thus a joy-filled voice full of praise and positive commentary—but I suspect those folks may be in the minority. For the rest of us, we must do as Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “Think on these things.”—the honest, the just, the pure, the lovely, the virtuous and the praise-worthy. If we fill our thoughts with those things then there is no room for the little voice from the darkness—the voice that ceaselessly carries us back into a pain-ridden past.