Is Anything Neutral In This War?

In which we take a break from my 1 Corinthians 13 series for some rambly musings. 😛

Me with my Eowyn sword, 2009. (Photo by Rebekah Michelle Photography.)

Me with my Eowyn sword, 2009. (Photo by Becks Carbajal.)

As you may have noticed, I’m big on the analogy of spiritual warfare.  I find it helpful to think of my struggle against sin as a cosmic battle against the forces of evil inside and outside myself.  It reminds me that there are greater and deeper realities than we see on the surface of life.

But often I catch myself falling into the assumption that every single thought that comes into my head is either a nudge from God, or a prod from Satan…that every impulse, every contemplation, every inclination is either a snare I need to flee, or a huge “sign” of some kind that I should be following.

It’s exhausting.

But is it actually true?

God didn’t create us to be robots.  He gave us minds to reason and wonder, to work things out for ourselves.  We are human beings, capable of our own contemplations.  Surely He is aware of each of our thoughts, and even in control of what we think, because He is sovereign.  But can we ever have a neutral thought?  Or is everything that goes on in our hearts part of this war?

When I pull open my drawer and dither between choosing brown or black socks to go with my burgundy shirt, does God care which color I choose?  Are there deeper spiritual implications to whether I decide to put ham or turkey on my sandwich?  Are demons sitting around “vying” with the Holy Spirit to sway each of my minuscule life choices?  Probably not.

Not all my decisions are “moral” ones.  Many of them are (or could be, depending on the situation), but some simply aren’t.  In the same way, are some of my thoughts and inspirations morally neutral?  Or should I pick every one apart, looking for the signs, nudges, traps, and pitfalls that are buried in each one?

Isn’t my brain sometimes just a human brain, affected by human impulses and musings?  Or is everything pulled to and fro between the Old Man of the Flesh and the New Man in Christ?

Take Every Thought Captive?

When I was growing up, my mom framed 2 Corinthians 10:5 and put it on my homeschool desk to inspire and challenge me in my worldview studies:

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… – 1 Corinthians 10:5

On the surface, this passage indicates that every single thought we have should be scrutinized or else we are disobeying God.  In the context, though, this passage refers more to worldviews, philosophies, and theological ideas – things outside of us that we should not simply imbibe, but study and compare to Scripture like good Bereans.

So there’s the rub.  Am I expending excess energy interrogating random thoughts that are simply “civilians” in the war?  Am I right to treat every musing as a potential spy coming to betray me into sin if I don’t conclude the train of thought properly?

For example, I recently hung up from a brief phone call and cringed because it felt like an awkward conversation.  As usual, I immediately tried to diagnose what made it so awkward to me.

I wasn’t bubbly enough when I said “thank you” to her.

Well, I’m not a naturally bubbly person.

But if I’m not bubbly, what if people aren’t able to tell I’m genuine?

Maybe my lack of bubbly-ness comes from a lack of gratitude!  Maybe if I was more appreciative of that person I would be bubbly!  Maybe this is an attitude problem and I should be changing it…

No, I’m just comparing myself to others, and being jealous that they’re more naturally bubbly than I am.  I need to stop.

But what if this is God telling me I need to be more grateful?

But what if I’m just being insecure and this is Satan trying to discourage me?

You get the picture!  I start to feel like Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove, with his shoulder angel and shoulder devil heckling him from each side.

“Reason #2! Look what I can do.  Haha!  HA!”  “I’m not sure what that has to do with – ”  “No, no…he’s got a point.”

At any point in this spiraling catastrophe of introspection, I could take a step back and say, “Eh, this isn’t a big deal – I’ll just let it go,” but there’s the other part of my mind saying, “This IS a big deal!  What if there’s a lesson here for you, and you’re missing it?  If there’s sin here, you need to confront it!  Fight, fight, fight!”


Is All Introspection “of the Devil” or of God?

Morbid introspection delights in finding faults, and goodness knows we all have plenty to keep ourselves entertained if that is what we want to do. While a little bit of godly self-examination will keep us humble, morbid introspection paralyzes and discourages us. It is not fruitful.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of specific sins, like snapping at Johnny with annoyance. The accuser has another agenda all together, and accuses us of “being a bad mom” or “being a bad friend” or whatever. You can repent of snapping at Johnny, but how do you repent of being a bad friend? What specific duty did you neglect? Accusations of this sort are usually muddled and general and designed to confuse and disable.

Nancy Wilson

Satan likes to tell us that we’re not enough, and will never be enough (because it’s true! – without Jesus, which is the part he doesn’t want us to remember).

I can spend all day grappling with bouts of morbid introspection, convinced that I am only doing my duty and taking every thought captive!  But sometimes walking away is the answer to these kinds of thoughts, not doing battle with them, because countering them is often just giving the devil a hearing.

But even that quote from Mrs. Wilson suggests that such moments are from “the accuser.”  Is that always true?  Is all introspection either “morbid” (and therefore of the devil) or else Spirit-led?  Are there any times when my mind is just a human mind and not actively on the battlefield?

I can’t pretend to have the answer to my own question.  Maybe it comes down to choosing your battles and I’m simply a poor judge of which battles are worth fighting.  Or maybe it’s wishful thinking for me to dream of ever laying down my weapons, until eternity comes and we are able to rest from our battles.  That is an exhausting idea – but if that is what it means to take up our crosses and follow Christ, then that is what it means!

I look forward to hearing your perspectives on this!  Do we ever have “neutral” thoughts, or is every contemplation a battle to be fought?  Let me know in the comments…

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  1. Ugh. I go through phases like this and it is certainly exhausting! I must say that I am more aware of it after having learned about TULIP. It begins to feel like living a double life, one that’s relating outward whilst one is having an ongoing diatribe inward. It becomes a lot to keep up with. I think Nancy Wilson’s quote is a great way to frame and evaluate our thoughts when we start analyzing them. I’m not saying it’s the right way every time, but it seems like a recipe for sanity 🙂

    • Good to know I’m not the only one! How did TULIP make you more aware of it, may I ask?

      • The Sovereignty of God in election, when studied at length, can lead to many conversations on how there’s no such thing as coincidence, or anything that God does not expressly allow. From there, conversations about supralapsarianism left me mentally tired and a bit jaded. Easy for me to become a fatalist. I’ve had to pull back from looking too deeply and trying to understand God’s perspective because it is really not possible from my fractured worldview.

        • Ahhh, yes! Yes! That is totally my struggle too. I start thinking, “Well, God *ordained* me to have this thought at this moment, so it must MEAN something!” I have the same struggle with dreams, too. Did that dream mean something? What am I supposed to take away from that? Does it mean I have a hidden sin? Is it just my subconscious being random? Etc.

          That’s a good thought to not try to look at things from God’s perspective, because we truly can’t. Being fond of the “big picture” I try to do that far too often, probably, and sometimes I need to take a step back and say, “Hey, if God means something by this, He will work it out, but I can’t agonize over this right now.” And then just pray He would make it clear. 🙂

  2. Bethany, it is comforting to know there are others with the tendency toward morbid introspection, so thank you for sharing! Sometimes, it gets so bad I feel near panic. The only thing that stops me from spiraling out of control is to say, read or think some scripture. Like, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That verse in particular has helped me many times.

    • I know I’ve heard you talk about morbid introspection before! 🙂 I don’t tend to think of mine as “morbid,” since I’m usually not agitated about it, but in the sense of unhealthiness, it certainly can be morbid! My trouble is that I tend to look at it from every angle out of concern that it stems from some REAL guilt somewhere.

  3. I think the key is not to “introspect” on everything, but to pray without ceasing. Sure you can exhaust yourself considering brown socks or black, because what if brown socks associate yourself with an editor at the writing conference who goes, “Same socks! We think alike! Let’s talk about your book!” or black socks associate you with a certain gang down in downtown LA who shoot you? The possibilities are endless.
    Instead, pray about everything. if you find yourself suddenly pondering sock choices and what that means about the meaning of your life that day, just pray, ‘Lord, help me choose the right socks?” it may feel silly at first, but once it becomes a habit, it’s pretty fun and special.
    “Is this thought from you? Show me if there’s any sin in my heart.” And then go on your merry way. He’ll be there for you when you need Him. 🙂

    • Whoops, did I never reply to this comment? I meant to! I agree, some things are not worth introspecting over, at least at great length, and if thoughts – especially destructive ones! – are spiraling out of control, it’s best to just stop and pray for wisdom or insight, and then go on in peace. 🙂


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