Behavioral Approach to Spiritual Mental Health

There is a behavioral pattern among people that we continually return to our fractured busted dangerous habits.  Addicts of any type continue destructive behavior even though they hate it, and themselves because of it.  The result of shame from the activity, feeds the need for the activity, and the cycle continues.  Eventually, they loose everything to this destructive pattern, even though they see it coming.  What is wrong with us?

Now Abimelech ruled over Israel three years.  Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood might be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. (Judges 9:22-24 NASB)

Israel’s first king was Abimelech, not Saul.  Saul was the first king chosen by God, but he wasn’t the first king.  The first king was a dismal failure of a human known as Abimelech.  Abimelech had it all going on too.  He was popular, powerful, and probably rich.  He was smart, and charismatic.  And he was a warrior.  What more could a people want in a king?  He and Saul did have something in common though.  Both were visited by an evil spirit from God.

The city of Shechem was not the “capital”, such as it was.  A place we can’t find called Arumah, was the capital.  Perhaps that is what started the problems, Shechem not being chosen as the place of power.  Whether or not that was the reason, Shechem stopped supporting Abimelech.  Abimelech stopped favoring Shechem.  A guerilla warfare festered between them, Shechem bushwhacking trade along the central mountains, and Abimelech setting ambushes against the people of the city.  It could not end well.

Whatever they might have thought started the trouble, the true source of the problem was God.  It sounds weird to say, but God inspired the animosity between them.  There’s really no other way to understand what the writer means here.  God sent an evil spirit between Shechem and Abimelech.  That’s what it says, and that is the explanation provided for the remainder of the chapter of madness.

Did you know that behavior can cause our brains to “re-wire” itself, and parts of it to become disabled?  It doesn’t happen quickly, but it happens.  In addictions, the pathway through which we experience “good feelings” of reward can become tied to destructive behavior.  That re-wiring results in “shame” until the part of our brains that suppresses bad behavior becomes progressively disabled.  But then the reward diminishes, and the behavior has to ramp up to get the same result, cementing the pathway, and increasing the damage to the sense of right and wrong.  Perhaps this is why God wants to decide that for us, since ours is so fragile.

This is not just a pattern in addictions though.  Serial killers experience this damage to their sense of right and wrong.  War has this effect on soldiers in continual battles.  All sorts of serious trauma can damage our minds in ways we’re shocked to discover.  Some people come out relatively intact.  Others become destructive monsters, always destroying themselves, but often others as well.  Is it that God has sent an evil spirit upon them as punishment?  Has He visited the iniquity of the fathers on the next generation?

Who knows but God the confusing patterns and choices which lead to destruction.  What we can know is that our Master offers a different way.  Treachery doesn’t have to be the choice we make.  We don’t have to choose the dopamine highway in our brains.  Choosing positive behavior actually results in the healing of our sense of right and wrong.  The pathway offering reward for evil can diminish through disuse.  The re-wiring of our brains can be reversed.

Just as our Creator made us with brains that could re-wire to protect ourselves, He also provided a “wiring diagram” to help us maintain good mental health.  The complexity of the human mind is made healthy through our experience of the complexity of a relationship with our Creator.  The experience of having the attention of the One forming stars redefines our sense of self.  Having closeness with the One having all things, Who having already given all things for us, desires us, redefines our priorities.

Abimelech and Shechem thought the “Lord of the Covenant” was a lot like the gods of the people around them.  They thought he had a wife, made up myths of his interactions with people, and practiced worship and offerings like the people around them.  They forgot the things God had said about Himself, and replaced them with the practices and stories of the culture around them.

But the myths of the cultures around them didn’t elevate the people to where their Creator intended.  These myths sought to explain why stuff was so messed up by pointing out how messed up the “gods” were.  They demeaned humanity rather than elevated us.  And, just as they did so long ago, we tend to favor the negative stories about ourselves.

But when we replace our stories with His stories, our minds are renewed (Rom 12:2), our minds become like His (Phil 2:5), and we can love Him with all our mind (Matt 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27).  It’s at that point we can prove the good and acceptable will of our Creator and Redeemer (Rom 12:2).  He restores the pathways in our minds, we see ourselves as He sees us, others as He sees others, as precious, worth everything.  Let the re-wiring begin!

What do you see through the knothole this morning?


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