mental illness, demon possession, and crazy dangerous by andrew klavan

photo credit: Idhren via photopin cc
photo credit: Idhren via photopin cc

There are several accounts in the Bible of Jesus casting out demons from people. Some of the demon-possessed were mute and/or blind (Matthew 9:32-24, 12:22). Others were incredibly strong, violent, and prone to self-injury (Mark 5:2-20/Luke 8:26-39/Matthew 8:28-34), another poor boy suffered from convulsions to the point he would fall into the fire or water because the demon was trying to kill him (Matthew 17:14-20/Mark 9:14-29). The latter was an especially difficult case where the disciples were not able to cast out the demon(s) and Jesus had to do it.

I have a dear friend who works with severely autistic children in public school. I’ve seen the bite marks and bruises left on her by a tween girl who became incredibly violent and was also prone to self-injury. She often was forced to wear gloves and had to be bound to prevent her from hurting herself. Why would a child be afflicted like this from childhood? Is it a chemical problem in the brain outside the understanding of medicine and science? So far, yes, because they have yet to find an effective treatment for her. But I’ve often wondered whether certain cases of mental illness, especially when the parallel Bible symptoms, could be more spiritually than physically based.

Last week I read a fantastic novel by Andrew Klavan called Crazy Dangerous. Part of the story is told from the POV (point of view) of a girl that can hear demons speaking and sees things that no one else can see. This ability appears to be linked to prophetic warning visions. You spend the book, along with the main character, wondering about the basis for her visions. Andrew Klavan connects to dots for one way demons and metal illness might be compatible. I’m not going to tell you what it is, because that would ruin the book for you and it is certainly a book worth reading. 

So what are the implications of demon possession on mental illness. I don’t have an answer for you and I’m only going to dip my toe in the waters of speculation because I am not an expert on this subject. Not at all.

What I will say is that in Bible times, demons caused a variety of physical symptoms including muteness, deafness, violence, and convulsions. Some mentally ill people still experience those same symptoms today. Does that mean they are demon possessed?

I think the parents of a profoundly autistic child would take umbrage with the notion their child was demon possessed. So would the parents of a child that suffered from epilepsy, particularly if the epileptic was a believer. If the Holy Spirit resides within us, we’re safe from demon possession.

So where does that leave us? If it’s in the Bible, then there is a possibility that demon possession exists today–possibly more than a possibility. Many people believe that miraculous gifting (healing, prophecy, visions, speaking tongues) ceased at the end of the apostolic age. It could be that demon possession ceased then as well. God knows and I do not. What I do know is that medical professionals should be consulted. Medicine is part of God’s grace to us. I would suggest involving a certified Christian counselor. I would also recommend lots and lots of prayer. Nothing is impossible with God. He is the Great Healer.

Alright, I’m opening up the floor? What do you guys think? 

23 thoughts on “mental illness, demon possession, and crazy dangerous by andrew klavan

  1. Hi, Lisa
    I am a parent of a child on the autism spectrum. I also believe my husband and I are on the spectrum. (The DSM 5 no longer makes diagnoses of Aspergers, which makes it very difficult for me to confirm my self assessment.) I have spent the past 20 years researching this with a particular sensitivity to the spiritual aspect of the various sensory, neurological, and mental affects of autism.
    First of all, thank you for bringing this discussion to your forum. There is a lot of misunderstanding about autism as being a mental disorder. It is actually neurological, based on the brain’s differences in wiring between neurotypical people and those on the spectrum. An autist might experience severe sensitivity to sensory input. To give you some perspective on how this feels to a sensory person, they might hear the low hum of a motor whirring but to them, it is almost like a lawnmower, or they might get a headache from a flickering fluorescent lightbulb. The colors of all the pretty packaged items on a store shelf might be so overwhelming the person gets dizzy and disoriented. I could give you more examples. The EFFECTS of this over-stimulation often lead to panic and aversion so severe, it results in a flight or fight response–ie tantrums, meltdowns, screaming, biting, etc. You see, the input their brain receives is magnified, and if the stimuli reaches the point where they can’t take it in anymore, they need an escape–one way or the other. The average person witnessing an autistic meltdown might assume it is due to bad behavior or lack of self control (read: antithesis of fruits of the Holy Spirit) but I can assure you that this is not the case–there is so much more going on than meets the unaware eye).
    Other autists might have a very depressed sense of their sensory input, and are considered “sensory seeking”–for example those who will swing on a swing set for hours at a time, who might bang their head, or rock back and forth. They are seeking sensory input to fill a void in thier neuroreceptivity.
    Many autists hold a deep faith in the Lord, and feel disenfranchised by the thought that other Christians consider them spiritually dysfunctional or their behavior motivated by evil. Personally I have been deeply wounded by friends in the faith that have accused my son and my husband for being in sin when their anxiety/overstimulation got the better of them. I do not feel that personal pain is an excuse to sin, but only the Lord knows how any of us would respond to extreme pressure and provocation.
    Then there is the social component of autism. The autistic brain is not wired the same in the parts that regulate social interaction, facial expression recognition, language, and body language nuance. Socializing can be extremely stressful and exhausting–think of an introvert’s social anxiety and multiply that to the tenth power.
    I appreciate the opportunity to debunk the idea that all behavior which makes people uncomfortable to observe is caused by demonic influence. As is the case in most autists, there are underlying and very real reasons they react–sometimes violently–to stimuli that might be “invisible” to the average person. Most people would react in “fight or flight” mode if their skin were on fire–the metaphor describes the intensity of these experiences for autists. I am so glad the Lord looks on the heart and sees what man cannot see. Prayer and kindness go a long way to comforting those like my son and my family who undergo such continual bombardment from environmental and social stress. If the church would commit to learning about how we are all fearfully and wonderfully made with differences, it would have a more empathetic and intelligent response to those who seem so foreign.
    I am currently writing a story about a sensory character and others with hidden disability, in hopes to bring a face and a name to these brave, courageous and strong people who endure not only the neurological tricks of a fallen world’s genetics, but also must endure the stigmas and prejudices that still exist in the world, and sadly the church. Sorry for the sermon. Hope my thoughts were helpful.
    Blessings!
    Kathy

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    1. Hey, Kathy. Thanks for sharing! It’s nice to hear the point of view of someone with your knowledge. I’m sorry that you guys have to struggle with that, though.

      A doctor friend once told me that since autism is a spectral disorder, we’re all affected on some level. I think she was mostly joking, but there’s some truth in that, isn’t there? We all have our days.

      It’s very sad when people in the church jump to the wrong conclusions about people in the world that need their love and help. It’s good that you’re there to be a voice for Truth.

      You book sounds wonderful. In addition to Crazy Dangerous which deals with mental illness, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is a great story about a girl that cannot communicate because of her severe cerebral palsy. Both are great books where characters are trapped inside their own heads. You can’t help but sympathize.

      Thank you so much for sharing. I will pray for you and your family. ❤

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      1. Thanks, Lisa. I really am enjoying the various responses here. Very good discussion. I’ll have to check out these titles you suggested.

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  2. First, I absolutely loved this book and Klavan’s Homelander series. Fantastic writer! Good reads for non-adults of all ages. 🙂
    Second, I’ve always separated mental illness from demon possession. Although, knowing how blindness, paralysis, leprosy, etc. were treated, the idea that Biblical demon possession and mental illness are one in the same could be valid. However, I believe demon possession in the Bible was just that. I think “ghosts” and paranormal activity are the way demons work in the modern world. And in the modern world, a person with a mental illness is not demon possessed but has a legitimate medical condition.

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    1. It’s my first Klavan book, but I’m totally interested to read more from him. Hopefully they have him in the library. I’m not going to buy any more books until I finished all the ones I already have to read. 🙂

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        1. I love it when I find a new author I really enjoy. 🙂 Not that I suffer from what to read next like I used to before I started writing. Isn’t that strange? I used to worry about what to read next, now my TBR pile is up to the ceiling. That’s irony for sure!

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  3. I saw a documentary on children with Tourette’s Syndrome once and it immediately made me think of the stories of demon possession from the Bible. I don’t think all mental illnesses have some root in demon possession or anything, but I do think demon possession is still alive and well. And who’s to say Satan can’t use mental illnesses as a mask for a different problem.

    I agree with Gretchen’s thought about paranormal activity and ghosts too. I’ve felt that way for a long time.

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    1. Ghosts, UFOs–I agree there’s a great chance these are all rooted in the devil. When I think of demon possession, I think of people that are pure evil, or commit acts of pure evil. If by our actions you can tell that we’re Christian, then the reverse would have to be true, wouldn’t it?

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  4. “Medicine is part of God’s grace to us.” Amen to this! That is my answer to certain people I know who adhere to the “vaccinations are poison” mentality. While I don’t believe in instantly medicating everything, I do believe that God is behind the science of the medical field just as much as He is behind the benefits of certain homeopathic remedies. But that’s a bit off your topic…

    Demon possession is a tricky subject. Like you said, any parent wouldn’t be all that thrilled with the notion. I have a brother with fairly severe Asperger’s. Depending on his diet & lifestyle, symptoms can be so mild he just comes across as socially quirky or so severe that one suspects tourette’s or other conditions. I do not believe there is anything demonic about his situation anymore than I think my daughter’s dyslexia is demonic.

    However, my former brother-in-law had severe anxiety and several other issues. He frequently saw and conversed with a man in the house that no one else could see. My sister whole-heartily believes it was a demon (not that he was possessed but definitely harassed by). She had her home anointed and prayed over by her pastor after he moved back in with his parents. I watched a documentary a year or two ago that was about a few girls with schizophrenia and I’ll admit the first place my mind went was to wonder about possible demonic influence. But truly I have no idea.

    I do, however, think Satan will attempt to use anything and everything. Like my anxiety when it comes to driving on snowy or icy roads. I used to wonder how people could allow fear to so completely rule them. But after my last winter car accident, I don’t wonder so much anymore. Because it’d be so easy for me to give in to that anxiety and lock myself at home the minute I see a single flake in the sky. And on those days I have to pray for Jesus’ presence, strength and calm before I can put the car in gear.

    This subject is actually the only thing that gave me pause when I finally read The Healer’s Apprentice last week. I’m still mulling over how I feel about the way it was handled.

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    1. Sparks,

      I know what you mean by the Healer’s Apprentice. It’s the only thing in her books that doesn’t strike me as something real. My guess is that it was some form of opiate/laudanum that he gave her that made her hallucinate, but I don’t know.

      I’m sorry to hear about your winter wreck. It must have been super scary to put you off driving in the snow. When I was in highschool, a semi changed lanes into my car and I wrapped around the front of his grill and he drug me a really long way. I had a HUGE tire print in my driver’s side door, but I was able to make it home and no one got hurt. I still get a little fluttery passing semis, and I won’t do it on the right side at all. And that was 20+ years ago!

      So, after reading these posts, I think people can certainly be influence by demons, but whether people are really possessed is a question. And honestly? I’m happy to not know that much about it. I’m blessed to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and able to pray to God. 🙂

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      1. Yes, I know what you mean about feeling fluttery passing semis. That must have been terrifying at the time! My first accident ever 14 years ago (and I wasn’t even driving) left me that way. It took over 6 months to not get fluttery going over 60mph on the interstate after that one. (We slipped on black ice, flipped and then rolled down a snow-covered embankment several times, ending right-side up, facing the opposite direction). Then in our last town, every winter, there was a spot on my route home from work where I was guaranteed to slide. I always deliberately steered toward the curb to stop myself from gliding into the intersection. Not a good feeling, ever. The most recent accident 3 years ago was just the final straw, I think. Someone slid down a drive and hit the side of my car. It wasn’t too bad – neither of us were going over 5 or 10mph. It just drove home that no matter how careful I am, some things can’t be controlled.

        As for the Healer’s Apprentice – whatever he sprinkled on her didn’t bother me too much. But I didn’t like that her prayers & the prayers of Frau Geruscha didn’t drive the demons from her room in the first place and then that she was so terrified that she couldn’t even pray later and Hamlin had to save the day. And why was Frau Geruscha telling him what to pray? Didn’t he already know? Why didn’t she just pray herself? The man’s gotta do it?

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        1. You could move to Houston. It doesn’t snow here and rarely freezes. 🙂

          I don’t remember that much about the prayer thing, but your response has me amused in a good way. Sometimes things in books are just like that.

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  5. I know a gal who has mental illness and sees things too. As she says, when she sees things she first talks to the doctors and they adjust her medications and if that doesn’t cure it she goes to her Orthodox priest and he does an exorcism and that generally finishes them off. Her opinion from a lifetime of dealing with it is that the mental illness makes her vulnerable and so she believes that any treatment that does not cover both the physical and the spiritual is lacking.

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  6. As a parent of a child with autism I feel that there is still much work to be done on educating the public on our Childrens behalf. Obviously the notion our children are possessed is obsurd. Think about the salam witch trials. The puritans didn’t understand any illness they were not familiar with so they blamed the devil, in this case “witches”. Many a disease that was not understood was blamed on the victim. The victim must not be right with God. This would help them cope and feel that it could never happen to them. This is still going on today. When someone becomes ill it’s human nature to wonder what they did to cause this. If they didn’t do anything they must not be right with God. We can’t go around blaming the devil for things you don’t understand. As far as schizophrenia goes, if it were some kind of demon possesion, why do they stop hearing voices once they are on medication. As an RN I have to say that we all need to stop the fear and start looking at ways to help those who have a More difficult time just getting through the day while people are sitting around wondering if they are possessed. Lets not go back to the 1600s please.

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    1. Great point about medications, KrisW.

      Your post reminds me of the book of Job and how all his friends thought he did something to bring about his circumstances and kept urging him to repent. A common misconceptions is that nothing bad will happen to us once we’re Christians, but we know that’s not true because Christ suffered and we are told to expect to suffer too. While it’s not always obvious why certain things happen to us, sometimes down the road we get a glimmer of the purpose.

      Thank you for posting!

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  7. When we talk about demon possession, all sorts of horrific images present themselves. The term possession is a misnomer. In today’s terms, that word indicates ownership, but in the original language, the term used is “to occupy a place in.” We’re three-part beings: spirit, soul, and body. The enemy cannot own a Christian, but he can operate in the soulish or physical realms.

    Salvation is progressive: we’re saved, we’re being saved, and we will be saved. We’ve been given authority over demons, and can deal with them as the Scripture teaches.

    We lack much knowledge in this country about demonic activity, but ask someone from Africa or other parts of the world, and they’ll tell you it’s real.

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    1. Yes, I’m thinking about voodoo in Haiti. And I read an interesting book in college about an anthropologist in Africa that was cursed.

      I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “The enemy cannot own a Christian, but he can operate in the soulish or physical realms.” If you have time, I’d love to hear more of your thoughts.

      Thanks for commenting, Susan!

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  8. Hi Linda, Very interesting topic here. I haven’t read the book you mentioned but am editing a blog entry I am about to post that I started yesterday…closely linked to this (I think). I hesitated all day to actually publish the post, primarily because it is so RAW…

    A Blessed Thursday to you!
    -Kenzel

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  9. It is true that some people misdiagnosed with autism could be possessed. But there is also strong evidence that some people with autism have a genetic mutation that is not their fault and as such we must show the love and compassion of Christ. Know the difference. But how can you without knowing the individual’s genetic history? Most people on the spectrum don’t even have doctors that test for genetic links to autism. So please. Don’t be naive people. Just err on the side of love and compassion.

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