Deflecting the Coming Wave of Doubt
By Mark Sandford
On a recent morning as I read Psalm 2, I experienced something I never have before—thoughts of doubt about the Bible! As I read verse 7 (“You are my son; today I have begotten you”), pesky thoughts invaded my mind: “Could this just be about an Israelite king?” I recalled that the writer of Hebrews [in 5:5] quoted this verse as messianic. “Could he have misinterpreted it?” Instantly, I knew that these thoughts had not come from my mind, and I did not for a moment seriously entertain them. “This isn't at all like me,” I mused. I rebuked the invasive voice in prayer, and it immediately fell silent.
All this didn't trouble me; I knew that demons can do nothing without God's permission. Instead of fretting that I was under spiritual attack, I trusted that God was in control and that He had His purposes in allowing it. So I asked Him, “What was your reason for letting this happen?” What came to me was that Maureen and I were being alerted to pray for those who might be swayed by a coming wave of doubts about God's Word, whispered to them by demons. Having been through a moment of it myself, I could now pray more compassionately, for when a demon plants a thought, it can sound so authentically like it's your own.
I shared about this experience with Maureen, and she showed me the words of St. Anastasios of Sinai (late 600's), which she had just read in that morning's prayer calendar:
If we want to resist evil thoughts and expel them from ourselves, we can do so with God's help. . . . However, this pernicious thought of blasphemy—even if we vehemently desire to cast it out . . . we cannot drive away; precisely because it is completely foreign to our nature and involuntary—deriving solely from satanic influence.*
In other words, if a thought is planted by a demon, we cannot drive the thought away as if it is our own. A lot of modern Christians think that demonic influence is rare. But until the last few centuries, with one voice the saints and church Fathers warned that the majority of our evil thoughts are suggested by demons. I am not saying they blamed demons for what we choose to think. They were well aware of Jesus' words, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:9, NAS). But they were also aware of the source from which our hearts often borrow them. Jesus also said: “Whenever [Satan] speaks a lie [to whom? To us!] he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, NAS). And St. Paul warned St. Timothy: “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1, NAS). Maureen and I prayed for those susceptible to being fooled into believing that such thoughts spring from their own minds.
Later that morning, we counseled a young woman plagued with thoughts that she could never do enough to please her parents, her employer, and especially God. As I spoke truths about the source of these thoughts and why she was susceptible to making them her own, I began to cough and hack. The coughing grew more and more violent until I could hardly breathe! She wisely suggested this might be demonic. I motioned in agreement. She rebuked the demon, and the coughing ceased instantly. Later that same day Maureen and I counseled another woman beset by demonic voices that told her, “God is not real.” Again I began to cough violently. I silently rebuked the demon, and again, the coughing instantly ceased.
Once again, I asked the Holy Spirit, “Why did you let this happen?” I sensed that the demon that tried to choke me will try to choke (metaphorically speaking) the voices of persons who speak against false teachings based on clever misinterpretations of the Bible. Demons behind the coming wave of unbelief will use these teachings to tempt people to doubt. Having experienced a couple of moments of this opposition myself, I could now pray for these brave persons more compassionately.
This is nothing new; demons have always tried to inspire doubt. But Maureen and I see clear signs that this generation is far more vulnerable than those before it. The demons start by planting doubts about the true interpretation of Scripture. They move on to plant doubts about whether portions of Scripture are true at all, no matter what the interpretation. Ultimately they try to incite outright skepticism about whether the entire Bible is true or whether God even exists.
In our thirty-six years as prayer counselors, with the exception of teens going through a normal questioning phase, Maureen and I have found that most doubters were raised by parents who, in one way or another, had neglected them. Their parents were the first Bible they had ever read, and too many of the pages had been left blank. As my Father, John Sandford, used to say, “Parents body forth God to their children.” My generation has not done well at portraying Christ as Immanuel—“God with us.” No generation has been more neglected than that of our children. None has been more often aborted, raised in broken homes, or shuffled off to daycares. Because so many us have not shown God to be real, they are sitting ducks for false teachers who will offer false comfort for the wounds we have inflicted on them. Already, false teachings are presenting a false picture of God's “kindness”—for instance, the idea that once we become Christians we never again have to repent, or that God no longer judges anyone, or that there is no hell, or that the bible doesn't really forbid homosexual acts or even any kind of fornication.
That is one reason why Maureen and I believe that Malachi 4:5-6 is more important today than ever before: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (NAS).
Pray that the next generation is hidden from principalities of unbelief and theological confusion that are about to burst forth through an increasing flood of false teachings. Pray for those who will speak out against these teachings, that they may speak graciously and without arrogance. Most of all, ask God to show you which young people He wants you to take under your wing. Pray that you may provide them with the loving parenting they have missed. Their future depends on it. The fifth commandment is, “Honor your father and mother . . . so that it may go well with you” (Ephesians 6:2-3, NIV). Help them forgive and honor their parents, and model an example that makes it easier for them to do so. “Body forth God” to them. Teach them sound Bible truths, but more importantly, fill in the blank pages and become the living Bible they never had an opportunity to read. Model repentance as a merciful reunion with a God whose tender loving care is in no way diminished by His hard stance on moral issues.
As you do this, be forewarned that demons of doubt will continue to speak. But if your voice is louder than theirs, they may not convince.
*Tom and Georgia Mitrakos, The Daily Lives, Miracles, and Wisdom of the Saints and Fasting Calendar (Pittsburg, PA, Orthodox Calendar Company, 2018), page dated Thursday, March 13.
© Mark Sandford 2019