Mental Disorder or Demonic Oppression or Possession

I realize that some will not agree with what is written here. My hope is that we can look at these differences in the light of God's word, and through experience. I know when the enemy is at work in an individual, and can discern when he is present.

There are differences between a mental disorder and demonic oppression or possession. It's important to know the differences and not to lump all activity of behavior that is strange or unusual as 'satanic.' I believe that the body of Christ needs to expand its understanding of these things, in order to arrive at a place of wisdom and truth in this matter.

Let's look at both sides of the coin. Demon possession is a supernatural occurrence and involves powers above our thinking and comprehension. We see a good example of this in Mark 5.

5 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: 4 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. 5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. 6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,7 And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. 8 For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. 10 And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. 11 Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. 12 And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.13 And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.

Mental Illness and the Bible

Some Bible references to mental illness are false accusations designed to stigmatize or isolate another (David, 1 Sam. 21:12-15; Mark 3:21; Paul, Acts 26:24-25). Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 4. This example may show that God might use mental illness as a chastisement, but we may not generalize Nebuchadnezzar's example to all. Furthermore, the delusion that one is an animal is an extraordinarily rare disorder. It is definitely not a common symptom of schizophrenia.

Deut. 28:27-29,34 mentions 'madness' as a divine chastisement

Note that all items in these verses are medical problems (boils, tumors, scabs, blindness). This means 'madness' is also a medical problem even if sometimes God uses it to discipline. Mental Illness and Demons - Are mentally ill people demon-possessed?

* In the New Testament demons spoke in rational dialogue. Untreated people with schizophrenia speak in 'word-salads'.

* Demons have an aversion to Christ. Mentally ill people often want spiritual help.

* Demons might give supernatural knowledge to their host. Mentally ill people never exhibit clairvoyance.

Assuming demons to be secretive, we presume those who claim to be demon-possessed are not. Supernatural phenomena are indications of evil spirits not mental illness.

If medicine alleviates the problems, it was not demons.

In the case of Mark 5:15 the restoration to a 'right mind' may only mean the former demoniac was no longer suicidal or violent. There may not be any reference to schizophrenia. If a "right mind" does refer to a healing from insanity, then we still may not view all cases of mental illness as caused by demons. In the New Testament, demons cause epilepsy, deafness, blindness, muteness, and suicidal feelings. Would anyone want to diagnose demons in all modern cases of these problems?

The Bible itself makes a distinction between disease and possession (Mark 6:13). At least six factors differentiate schizophrenia from demonic possession as described in the Bible. These factors can be helpful when trying to determine if an individual is possessed or has a mental disorder.

1. Attraction to vs. Aversion to Religion. Demons want nothing to do with Christ. Conversely, people with a mental disorder are often devoutly religious.

2. Irrational Speech vs. Rational Speech. In New Testament accounts involving demons, the demons spoke in a rational manner. Untreated people with schizophrenia will often speak in nonsense and jump rapidly between unrelated topics.

3. Ordinary Learning vs. Supernatural Knowledge Demons in the New Testament would speak through people to convey knowledge that otherwise could not have been known to the possessed individuals. Those with a mental disorder have no such ability to know facts which they have not acquired by normal learning.

4. Normal vs. Occultic Phenomena. There is an aspect to demon activity that is just plain spooky (ex.: poltergeists, levitation's, trances, telepathy). These have an impact on others in the room not just the possessed. With schizophrenia, the effect of the disorder is only on the disordered, not others.

5. The claim to be possessed Authors who have clinical experience both with demon possession and mental illness, believe those who claim to be possessed are very likely not possessed. Demons wish to be secretive and do not voluntarily claim to be present.

6. Effects of Therapy. If prayer solves the problem, then it was probably not schizophrenia. If medicine helps alleviate the problem, it was not demon possession.

In other words, we can think of someone with a mental illness driving a car but having trouble finding their way through a snow storm or fog. Someone oppressed by a demon, on the other hand, is having to wrestle with the demon for control of the steering wheel to stay on the road.

Lastly, children and adults who have autism or those who have higher thinking skills associated with autism, (asperger's), are not those who have been oppressed or possessed by a demon. These people have different thinking skills and patterns, and while some are quite intelligent, they typically are lacking in social skills, and also are prone to be very sensitive to textures, tastes, sounds, and light.

Although mental illness is affecting a lot of Christians in distress, it is considered a disability that many still do not accept. If someone experiences delusions of some form, they may be thought of by some in Christian circles of being under satanic influences and, they need to be delivered of this. While some churches accept mental illness and believe in its existence, and yet there are still others that deny it as a valid illness. This is one reason why people who suffer from mental disorders might refuse to seek treatment or take medication. Most Christians believe that mental illness is a disease like any other, and understand it is caused by the imbalance of biochemical hormones to make the brain function properly. On the other hand, it is important to take note that God’s love is unconditional and can provide healing.

We know that Jesus is the great healer of all afflictions both mental and physical. If someone has a broken leg or arm, we wouldn't necessarily immediately lay hands upon so that the broken bone was cured, but we may more wisely, take them to the emergency room where the proper treatment could be done for them. God gives us wisdom in life to know what to do in a situation and then to discern what type of treatment is best to help the person.

Stephen Hanson