November 12, 2021
Scripture: And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” And Saul eyed David from that day on. The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. 1 Samuel 18:8-10 ESV
Observation: How tragic, in his old age, Saul became increasingly more paranoid. But the root of his sinful state was his ego, his pride. And as his moral decline worsened, a “harmful spirit from God rushed upon him.” This wording raises a couple of questions. Is the harmful spirit a mental illness? Why would a loving God send a “harmful spirit” into one of his creations?
Takeaway: Regarding the correlation between mental illness and demonic oppression or possession, our biblical worldview holds that mind, body, and spirit are fully integrated and cannot be separated. The spiritual decline will also impact mental and physical wellbeing. But is mental illness related to an evil spirit? Not necessarily, but it is related to sin. The Bible distinguishes sin inherited from Adam and Eve and passed on to all generations (original sin) from that by our volition (condition of sin). Research has shown a genetic predisposition to mental illness (original sin), but it can also result from learned behavior and drug abuse (condition of sin). Thankfully, Christ bore both in his body to set us free from the eternal consequences of sin: separation from God and all that is holy and good in all creation.
Regarding the question of a loving God sending an evil spirit into a human, the author intends to communicate a Hebraic view of God’s sovereignty: that he has authority over good and evil. The phrasing in this verse is awkward concerning God’s will. But the apostle Paul reminds us that the Lord uses good and evil people to accomplish his purposes (Romans 9:14-18). The best way to explain this seeming contradiction about our good God is that he permitted an evil spirit to take possession of Saul. Jesus taught that entrenched sin invites demonic possession (Matthew 12:42-45). We see this in the darkened worlds of drug abuse and pornography. Still, in this age, under the Covenant of Grace (ushered in by Christ’s death and resurrection), no one is beyond the reach of the Father’s arm of salvation.
Prayer: We praise you, Father, that you are sovereign over good and evil. And we thank you for your Son, who has borne all sin in his body to bring forgiveness and freedom in him. Through the sanctifying work of your Holy Spirit, would you please help us to care for our minds, bodies, and spirits, that we would not allow the ill effects of sin to mar your divine image in us? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling