Look who's captive
In 2 Corinthians 10:5 it says "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Whilst speaking at the Christian Resources Exhibition I was approached by a woman who had become very distressed by troubling thoughts. It was obvious that she that she took no pleasure in the sort of automatic thoughts that she had been experiencing and had been to see her pastor to talk the issue through.
Everybody has troubling thoughts from time to time, yet people who are over tired, emotionally fraught or suffering from anxiety or depression can find they increase in frequency and are less easy to shake off. The woman in question had become very anxious that the sort of thoughts she was experiencing made her a sinful persona and illuminated something deeply flawed about here character.
The woman's pastor led her through confession and encouraged her to, 'Take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ'. This appears to be very sound biblical advice, however it was having a deeply adverse impact on this woman's emotional health. Rather than give the woman mastery over 'sinful' thoughts, she was in fact becoming captive to them to a far greater extent than before.
Why might this have happened? When we become deeply sensitized to our thoughts we become very aware of their content and can begin to classify them in terms of their moral rightness. This sensitization could be called conscience and it is an important part of our Christian discipleship. However there is an undoubted difference between an ego dystonic thought, i.e. One that we do not enjoy and do not wish to have and a fantasy that we partake in contrary to our Christian virtue.
If someone becomes highly sensitized to their thought life they may lump these two groups of thought together and believe that everything that crosses their mind is in fact an act of moral disobedience to God. In reality not all thoughts are the same. You may have a very disturbing dream that leaves you feeling uneasy, yet that is not the same as contemplating the same subject whilst awake and rather enjoying it. You may imagine an accident taking place in your mind, that is not the same as planning an accident. Humans have thousands of odd and nonsensical thoughts each day, yet these say nothing about the individual. They are no more important than the amount of time you blink in a day.
As the woman in question began to take her pastors advice she began to examine and question every single thing that crossed her mind in a day. Rather than taking malevolent, lustful or blasphemous thoughts to the cross, she became consumed by every thing she dispassionately thought and began to analyze whether it was also in fact sinful. This attempt to take every thought captive had become a horrific prison, she had become the captive, forcing herself to constantly consider and repent of the never ending stream of nonsensical thoughts that she was having. She also experienced the huge increase in such nonsense thoughts, that is a product of an over stimulated and overly anxious mind.
Does it matter what we think than? Yes, absolutely. Jesus has taught us that what we think is hugely important. What we bring out of our hearts is as important as what we do with our hands. And this is the key distinction. There is a difference between what is in your heart and what crosses your mind. Jesus talked about things that consume our hearts within the frame, 'The love of money, sex, power'. It was the love of these things and the priority of then which became sin. It was effectively idolatry that took the place of God. These sorts of hearts desires and this form of fantasy thought life which must be taken captive.
The sort of nonsensical automatic thoughts that flash across your mind are another thing. Ask yourself. Is this a head thing or a heart thing. Do you long to do what you have thought or does it make you fearful. Do you enjoy having the thought or would you rather not to have had it. If it is a head thing and not a heart thing the best way to have mastery over it is just to let it pass through the window of your mind without response. These sort of thoughts can be like fly paper, if you grab it and examine it and confess it, it gets stuck to your fingers and then quickly takes you captive with anxiety.
So was the woman's pastor right? He was right in a sense, and certainly well meaning. However, he hadn't comprehended the difference between the head and the heart. She needed not to take these head thoughts captive, but she did need to take the heart thoughts captive. It would be the distinction between the two that would set her free to live again.