The Original Heresy, pt IV: Overview.

Thus far, I have gone over some of the core beliefs of Gnosticism, shown you some of the ways that it conflicts with Scripture, and highlighted some of the history involved. We have looked at the Nag Hammadi library, the Corpus Hermeticum, and have even taken a glance at a more modern example of Gnosticism known as “Mystic Christianity”. Now, we need to take a closer look and bring it into focus by showing who they are.

Who are they?

I will begin with a list of the various forms of Gnosticism that have shown up throughout history, along with a brief synopsis of their history and particular belief. Much of it will be unfamiliar, but there will be the odd name here and there that you just might recognize. Do note that this list will not be exhaustive, as the number of Gnostic groups that have sprung up in history is tremendous. If this is a subject that happens to catch your attention, by all means, chase down the information.

Valentinians: Valentinus (100 AD-155 AD) was a second century mystic and poet, who placed great importance in Gnosis. It was for this reason that he was labeled “Gnostic”. He was a disciple of the teacher Theudas who had supposedly been a disciple of Paul. He made the claim that Theudas taught him secret wisdom that Paul had taught privately to those in his inner circle.

According to the teachings of Valentinus, there were esoteric teachings which originated from Jesus who passed them on in secret. When Jesus spoke in public, he used parables that did not disclose his complete teachings; choosing to pass them on privately to His Disciples. He referred to this when he said: “The knowledge about the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but to the rest it comes by means of parables so that they may look but not see and listen but not understand.”(Luke 8:9-10; Ireneus Against Heresies 1:3:1). Similarly, when Paul encountered the risen Lord in a vision (2 Corinthians 12:2-4; Acts 9:9-10), he received the secret teaching from him. Valentinus claimed that he learned this secret teaching from Theudas.

Sethianism: This particular Gnostic sect hails from Egypt and Judea. While some have suggested that they are a pre-Christian Gnostic sect, there are those who would argue that they are also a true Gnostic Christian group.

The Seth that they venerate is Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth, who was born after Cain murdered Abel. He is typically regarded as God’s replacement for Abel, and seen as the father of all mankind, given that he is the direct ancestor of Noah.

According to Jewish texts, dating between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, Adam gave esoteric knowledge to Seth that would eventually form the basis for Kabbalah, the Gnostic form of Judaism. The Book of the Zohar, a book on Jewish mysticism, refers to Seth as the “ancestor of all the tzadikkim” (righteous ones). (Zohar 1:36b)

While their belief structure is primarily Judaic, they also adhere to the standard Gnostic theology, with strong Platonic influence. They regard Seth as being a divine incarnation along the same lines as Jesus, and see his descendants as making up a higher elect within humanity. It is worth noting that Seth is listed as one of Jesus’ ancestors.

Naassene: Known only through the works of Hippolytus, this is believed to have been the earliest Gnostic sect to exist. This sect taught that there were three levels of Man:

1. Material, or Bound: unbelievers held captive solely by physical reality.

2. Psychic, or the Called: ordinary Christians.

3. Spiritual, or the Elect: the few chosen Naassenes.

They taught that the way to enlightenment lay with Gnosis and celibacy, possibly indicating why they did not last very long. There is very little known about the Naassenes, except that their theology was regarded as so close to the teachings of Jesus, they had to be the first to part ways with what would become orthodoxy. In spite of this, what could be drawn out from Hippolytus’ work shows the standard “material existence bad, spiritual existence good” beliefs of the other Gnostic religions.

How to fight them.

Part of me says, “Don’t bother.” The reason why is that they have taken Scripture and twisted it into such a way as to support their idea, and there is not a single thing you will say that will change their mind until they are genuinely ready to listen. At best, you can use the discussion as an opportunity to demonstrate the folly of this belief for the audience, if there is one.

That being said, should you choose to engage a Gnostic, knowledge is power. The more you know about the true history, and the philosophy, the better. I strongly recommend the following books, to further help:

“The Gnostic Gospels”, by Elaine Pagels

“The Fifth Gospel?”, by Nicholas Perrin

“Against Heresies”, by Irenaeus of Lyons

“The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics”, by Jean Doresse

These were of tremendous use in this series, and provided a lot of valuable information. As always, I encourage you to do your own research, and draw your own conclusions.

[Note: On Perrin’s, “The Fifth Gospel?”, this is not a book, it is an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 49/1 (March 2006) 67–80]

Above all else, trust that the Lord will provide you with what you need. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:19, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” Remember to trust Lord Jesus, and not yourself. All else will flow from there.

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The Original Heresy, pt III: The Corpus Hermeticum

Introduction

This particular work hit my radar during a conversation with my younger sister. Like me, she is a lapsed Methodist, and like me, she strayed into a purely secular life after leaving the Church. The only difference between us is that I finally found Jesus, and she’s still mired in Sin. While neither of us intend to ever return to the UMC, based on our own reasons, I am still a firm believer in Jesus, and she is not. I have not ceased in praying for her, her husband, and their son. May they find their way back to the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and may my nephew be brought up knowing the Lord.

What is the Corpus Hermeticum?

The Hermetica is a volume of work dating back to the Second Century. It takes the form of a series of dialogues between an instructor (Hermes Trismegistus) and his students, during which he enlightens them about the cosmos, the divine, the mind, and nature. Among the topics he covers, he includes astrology and alchemy, reincarnation, along with various related topics.

The entire collection is believed to have originated with the school of Ammonius Saccas, and is believed to have once been under the care of Michael Psellus, as the oldest known copies are 14th Century manuscripts. All of these works are remnants of the syncretic, intellectualized paganism of their era, a cultural movement that also included the Neoplatonic philosophies of the Greco-Roman mystery religions, late Orphic literature and which also influenced the Gnostic versions of the Abrahamic religions.

What does it teach?

While the teachings found in the Hermetica are heavily influenced by Judaism, like Gnosticism, it does teach that our universe was not created by the Supreme Being, but rather the Demiurge. Extant texts also focus on the oneness and goodness of God, the purification of the soul, and support various pagan practices like the veneration of images. Of course, their ultimate goal is spiritual enlightenment, but they tend to take a more practical approach.

Seeing within myself an immaterial vision that came from the mercy of God, I went out of myself into an immortal body, and now I am not what I was before. I have been born in mind!” (Corpus Hermeticum XIII.3.)

In this quote, what is apparent is a subtle reminder that the physical realm is something we must want to leave behind. The idea is to evolve beyond the physical, and find freedom, happiness, and enlightenment in the spiritual realm.

Another thing that the Corpus teaches is that there is one original religion, that all other religions contain a piece of that original religion, and that the Corpus contains the tenets from that faith. It also teaches that Jesus was not so much THE Son of God, as He was A Son of God. Just like Gnosticism, enlightenment leads to Salvation, which elevates us to the level of gods, thereby negating Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross by rendering it pointless. If we can achieve Salvation through Gnosis, then why did He need to die on the Cross for us?

“Mystic Christianity”

This particular book is not a part of the Corpus, but was so very clearly influenced by it that it bore mentioning as a modern example. A few years back, I was exploring an old secondhand book shop and stumbled across this very interesting book. As it turns out, this book was the compiled collection of 12 lessons written by a man using the pseudonym “Yogi Ramacharaka”, but whose real name was William Walker Atkinson.

These lessons were published in the early 1900’s, and can still be found today. The quotes I’ll be providing in this and any future posts come from a pdf copy I downloaded for free. That is exactly how pervasive these heretical teachings are, and illustrates how easily the world gravitates toward Satan.

The book maintains that John the Baptist and Jesus were both Master Adepts and Occult Masters of the Essenic Brotherhood, and that the reason why John objected to baptizing Jesus had to do with the fact that He outranked him in the order. (Note that the Essenic sect of Judaism was an ascetic branch that lived near the Dead Sea, and were likely the authors of the Dead Sea scrolls. The Essenes lived a monastic life, avoiding life in Jerusalem, in favor of a cloistered one in which they constantly studied Scripture and served God.) It goes on to state:

“The Essenes believed in, and taught the doctrine of Reincarnation; the Immanence of God; and many other Occult Truths, the traces of which appear constantly in the Christian Teachings, as we shall see as we progress with these lessons. Through its Exalted Brother, John the Baptist, the Order passed on its teaching to the early Christian Church, thus grafting itself permanently upon a new religious growth, newly appearing on the scene. And the transplanted branches are still there!”

It can be plainly seen that “Mystic Christianity” teaches a form of Gnostic Hermeticism, which has managed to find its way into the modern age.

“Of course, the true history of the real connection between the Essenes and Christianity is to be found only in the traditions of the Essenes and other ancient Mystic Orders, much of which has never been printed, but which has passed down from teacher to pupil over the centuries even unto this day, among Occult Fraternities.”

It is also worth noting that there is no historical evidence to support the idea that these are the things that the Essenes believed. So little is known about them, but what is known is that they were ascetics who taught a very strict and severe form of Judaism, which has never believed in reincarnation. As for the Gnostic form of Judaism, Kabbalah, there is simply too much to be covered in this post. I may address it in a future post.

Conclusion

According to the Corpus Hermeticum, the Demiurge created the universe. It also insists that it contains the tenets of the world’s oldest and original religion. It seeks to justify both through Scripture, as well as outside sources. The fact of the matter is that this could not be farther from the truth.

This body of works actually teaches things that are absolutely contrary to what the Bible teaches, such as Gnosticism and Hermeticism. The challenge is not in proving that the teachings contained run counter to biblical doctrine, but rather in convincing adherents of this fact.

The truly funny part is that they will accuse the Church fathers of hiding the truth, in order to cement their positions of power, all while seeking to push an obvious fraud written centuries after Jesus, in an effort to subvert His effort to bring Salvation to Mankind.

In part four, we will explore the various ways in which we can combat the influences of Gnosticism, some of the different types of historical Gnosticism, and the Scriptural arguments against Gnosticism.

What are the Standards of Heresy?

“Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than truth itself,” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies” 1.2)

[Note: For this post, we will need to define a few terms, so that we are all on the same page. Each definition presented comes courtesy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the dictionary I tend to use most often, so if any wish to take issue with the definitions I have presented, take it up with the people who compile the dictionary, and not this guy.]

Heresy: adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma

Dogma: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church 

In Christian terms, a heresy is a false teaching that contradicts what is found in the Bible. A person who teaches or believes such teachings is known as a heretic. Any Church doctrine, policy, practice, or teaching is heretical if it does not find justification in Scripture. Examples of heresy found within the Christian realm would be ArianismModelism (Sebellianism), GnosticismDecisionism, and the Prosperity Gospel. These are doctrines and teachings for which there is little to no Scriptural basis, as they either deny the Triune nature of God, the deity of Jesus, other essential Christian Doctrines and/or Jesus’ teachings in whole, or in part. In this post, we will take a look at what constitutes heresy, and maybe dispel a few myths that might be associated.

Where to Begin?

This post will be the beginning of a series on the various heretical teachings that can be found out there. Admittedly, I have already covered one such heresy, Mormonism, but that is just one of a whole host of heresies that the Church as whole has been unable to shake. As such, I will not be going into tremendous detail relating to the specific heretical teachings in this post, just giving a basic overview. While the names of some of these teachings might not be very familiar to some of you, their modern equivalents will ring more than a few bells, and my hope is that you will come away with more information with which you can use to disarm any arguments. Jesus did warn us about false prophets, false doctrines, and false teachers (Matt. 7:15-20), and these constitute some of the most dangerous of them.

To begin, we will discuss what the word Heresy means. It originates from the Greek word αἵρεσις (airesis), which means “choice, opinion” (Strong’s Greek Concordance #139). While the word did not originally carry the negative connotation it has been given today, the Church was beset early on by a variety of disparate and patently false ideas and teachings that ran counter to Orthodoxy. Though it was never their original intent to do so, these various teachings forced the early Church to deal with these heresies by answering the questions that arose from their teachings. One example of this is the Council of Nicea.

The Council of Nicea (325 A.D.)

This famous ecumenical council is the go-to for many anti-Christian critics when they want to attack the Doctrine of the Trinity, as well as the age and authorship of the Gospel accounts. They also erroneously insist that the Council named Christianity as the official state religion of the Roman Empire, at the direction of Emperor Constantine. (This actually took place roughly 55 years later, in 380 A.D., under Emperor Theodosius I with the Edict of Thessalonica.) I have lost count of the number of times a Unitarian or an Atheist has gleefully said to me, “You do know that the New Testament was written in the Third Century, right?” Sadly, this historically unsupported lie is really difficult to uproot, and I blame popular media and intellectual laziness for it.

No thanks to the efforts of people like Dan Brown, author of “The Da Vinci Code“, people have formed the opinion that Jesus was married, that He fathered a child, that He was only a man, and that the New Testament canon did not exist prior to this council. In “The Da Vinci Code”, for example, the character Sir Leigh Teabing insists that Jesus had been just a man prior to the Council of Nicea, and that one of the issues decided by the council was His divinity; basically stating that Jesus was an extraordinary man one day, and God the next,

“until that moment in history Jesus was viewed by many of his followers as a mighty prophet, as a great and powerful man, but a man nevertheless. A mortal man.” -Sir Leigh Teabing, “The Da Vinci Code”

Of course, this could not be farther from the truth, but the issue with popular opinion is that it is popular; blasphemy or no. Most people simply want to accept these ideas without ever trying to find out if they are true, and seem utterly confused when I point out that Dan Brown is not in fact a historian.

Once you take all of that into consideration, there is a question that does come to mind. If New Covenant canon and Jesus’ divinity were not in fact decided at the Council, what was the purpose to it, then? Why did they call the council, and summon every Bishop from the Christian world to what is now Turkey? Well, the primary purpose to the council was to address the heretical teachings of an Egyptian Presbyter named Arius of Alexandria. The main thrust of his teachings, known as Arianism, is that Jesus, though divine, was nothing more than a created being. He was not God incarnate, and there is no Trinity.

A modern day example of Arianism is Islam. Though not a part of Christianity, this is exactly what the Qur’an teaches about Jesus and God. Occurring a few centuries before the birth of Muhammad, the Council of Nicea excommunicated Arius and his followers, many of whom migrated to the Arabian peninsula and formed their own communities in places like Mecca, the hometown of Muhammad ibn Abdullah. Islam was heavily influenced by the Arian heresy, which shows in the Quranic approach to the Trinity. Take Qur’an 4:171 for example,

Those who say, “God is the Messiah, son of Mary,” have defied God. The Messiah himself said; “Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” If anyone associates others with God, God will forbid him from the Garden, and Hell will be his home. No one will help such evildoers. Those people who say that God is the third of three are defying [the truth]: there is only One God. If they persist in what they are saying, a painful punishment will afflict those of them who persist. Why do they not turn to God and ask his forgiveness, when God is most forgiving, most merciful? The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger; other messengers had come and gone before him; his mother was a virtuous woman; both ate food. See how clear We make these signs for them; see how deluded they are.” (emphasis added)

What the council resulted in was less than ideal for Emperor Constantine, who had just legalized Christianity within the Roman Empire. He had presided over the council hoping to bring about unity within the Church. The result was the excommunication of Arius of Alexandria, the expulsion of his followers from the Church, and the formulation of the Nicene Creed, which is as follows:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

This creed had been meant to be as much a repudiation of Arianism as it was a declaration of an official Church position on the topic of the Trinity. It is worth noting that this creed is just as valid for Protestant Christians, Orthodox Christians, and any other type of true Christians, as it is for the Catholic Church. The reason why resides in the meaning of “catholic”. According to Merriam-Webster, catholic means, “of, relating to, or forming the church universal”. This creed is a basic overview of what true Christianity teaches. (In case any are wondering, yes, I will eventually address the Catholic/Protestant schism, and will weigh in on whether or not I believe Catholics are Christian. All in due time.)

How Did They Decide?

How did the ecumenical council at Nicea arrive at the conclusion they did? This moment in history did not show up out of nowhere. Considering that these men had spent their entire lives being persecuted for their faith, it is clear that compromise was not anywhere on their minds. Yet, two of the three groups attending were able to hammer out a consensus statement that has withstood the test of time. They had to have had some basis for this decision.

The groundwork was laid centuries before, when the Apostles and Disciples began their writings. Modern biblical scholars agree that the books and letters we now know as the New Testament, or New Covenant, had all been written before the early part of the Second Century. Over the course of the next few centuries, the early Church fathers wrote sermons, homilies, and letters, all of which account for such a huge volume of text that one could reconstruct virtually the entire New Covenant Scripture from them. These collected volumes of work are commonly referred to as “Patristic writings”. Through this, modern scholars have not only been able to determine what it is that was considered Scripture in those days, but also see how they interpreted what that Scripture said. Through this, they are able to determine whether or not something is sound doctrine.

One of the things they have been able to determine is that the entire New Covenant canon was unofficially laid out by the middle of the Second Century, and that the Council of Nicea simply made official what had already been put into place by the Christians themselves. This means that several key doctrines were already established by the time of the council, including the Doctrine of the Trinity, the Doctrine of Regeneration, and the Doctrine of Salvation by Faith.

History also shows that Arianism was not the first heresy to be addressed by the early Church. Contained within Paul’s writings are hints of heresy beginning to appear in the congregations at Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, and Galicia. It would appear that a Greek philosophical belief known as Gnosticism was very quickly introduced into the Church, forcing Paul to address it just as quickly.

The Standard in the Text

If you were to go back through the Nicene creed what you would find is a direct reference to one of the ways the council arrived at their conclusions. One line states, “according to the Scriptures;”. Not only did they have access to the Patristic writings, but they also had Scripture itself to help them make a determination about whether or not Arius was correct in his teachings. As I have previously pointed out, the texts that point to Jesus as the Divine Messiah are extensive, so they would not have had to look far.

In addition to Scripture, and the Patristic writings, the men at the council also had access to the scholarly tradition of the Jews, along with that of early Christian scholars who had been in operation since the earliest times. Between these sources, we know that three is a definite standard. We begin with Deuteronomy, Chapters 13 & 18, which of course outlines how a person would be able to judge for themselves who would be a true prophet of God and who is not. These two chapters also provide an outline, an absolute standard that teachers must follow when teaching the Word of God.

The standard is:

  1. The teachings must not go against the Commandments, rules, or the expressed wishes of God, given through His Word.
  2. It must be consistent with the rest of the Bible, i.e. history, philosophy, and science must match up with what is known about the world around us.
  3. The interpretations of Scripture must be consistent with the original languages, culture, and history.
  4. They must be consistent with the teachings of the early Church, as found in the Patristic writings.

Their Reasons Were Not Self-seeking

There are some people out there who maintain that the theologians at Nicea came to their conclusions in order to consolidate their own power. What they fail to realize is that these men had survived to see the end of three centuries of outright persecution, having spent much of their lives facing the real threat of imprisonment, starvation, torture, and horrific execution. They had been abused, discriminated against, and outright persecuted for their faith, all without refusing to waver or recant. These were not the type of people who would have been concerned with their own comfort, or their own fortunes, and that is why they would not have been seeking to consolidate their own power. These were men of faith and substance who knew what they were about. In short, compromise was not in their vocabulary, which was unfortunate for Emperor Constantine because compromise was exactly what he had wanted.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are definite challenges that one must face in order for one’s teachings to be considered biblically sound. Decisions one way or another must not ever be made lightly, as this deals directly with matters relating to Salvation. The men of the council were clearly not motivated by greed or avarice, but rather Truth. While it might be possible that some members of the council might have had such motivations, it would be illogical and irrational to suggest that the majority or even the entirety of the council was.

What this means for the topic of heresy is that we get a clear standard of proof that cannot be disputed. The Council of Nicea is just one example of the Church dealing with heresy, and shows how that is to be done. When faced with a teaching we think might be heretical, our first stop is found within the pages of that wondrous volume of books made up of the Word of God. Delve into Scripture and determine for yourself the validity of a given teaching. Do be mindful, though, and check your understanding of Scripture with the Source. Never forget to go the Lord prayer and ask for understanding.

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” -1 Thessalonians 5:21, KJV

Fighting Through Brokenness

I am going to take the teacher’s hat off for this one. My intent for this post is to bring to your minds a few things I had taken for granted, such as the existence and machinations of demons. They are very much real, as real as you or I, and fighting them is seldom ever anything like the movies. What I am about to describe is not a work of fiction, nor was it my imagination. The events described happened, my thoughts, feelings, perceptions, all happened. This is all very personal to me, so bear that in mind as you read this.

A few months ago, I had the fortunate misfortune to take a trip to Ft. Polk, Louisiana. My unit went there for a training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). The food was horrendous and only marginally edible, the climate sucked (by our count we only had five days without rain), and we were very quickly reminded of just how low the Active Army’s opinion is of the National Guard by their casual disregard of our multiple requests for basic medical supplies that any other unit would have received in a heartbeat. That our Sappers outperformed their Active Duty counterparts at every turn only seemed to cement their utter disdain for us. Our commander’s foul mouth, and take-no-prisoners attitude certainly did not endear us to higher command, either. This was a once in a lifetime experience, or at least it was for me. Even if I were to decide to stay in the National Guard, I would absolutely refuse to go back to that place if given the choice.

Why do I refer to this trip in the terms that I do? Why do I say that I would refuse to go back if given the choice? During our training rotation I was asked what I thought of the exercise, and my response was, “This place has done so much for my spiritual life. I’ve never prayed so hard to get out of a place than I have since arriving here.” First, not long after we arrived everyone had to turn in their cell phones. For two and a half weeks we had zero contact with the outside world. No news, no calls home, no internet. For a man who is hopelessly in love with his wife and kids, this was pure, unadulterated torture.

Second, for more than two weeks our food choices consisted almost solely of MRE’s. While I am told it is better than starving, I can honestly say that I had eventually hit the point where the idea of going without eating had begun to take on a certain charm. Any longer, and I might have decided to go on a hunger strike until someone found a way to have Pizza Hut delivered to our simulated war zone. Ah, First World problems…

Third, chaos and disorder were the order of the day. We spent so much of our time mired in confusion that a certain 4 Non Blondes song became our official “unofficial” anthem, as we would repeatedly belt out that iconic line, “What’s goin’ on?!” While chaos and disorder are how the Army normally operates, this was on a level that was as impressive as it was unnecessary.

Now that you have either laughed, cried, or stared at your screen in confusion, we come to the fourth and most serious point: the warfare. Now, I’m not referring to the simulated combat (in which my unit managed to kick serious tail. Even our HQ element, as they were being overrun by a numerically superior force, managed to inflict serious causalities…or would have if OpFor hadn’t been cheating), but to the very real spiritual battle that took place on a daily basis while all of that comedy was happening.

Less than a week after we had arrived, I noticed that my dreams had begun to take a very odd turn. Not so much while I was still able to speak with my wife, but once the phones went away, I could not avoid the very dark turn my dreams had taken. On a nightly basis, I was assailed by nightmares that told me that my wife was cheating on me, that I knew about it, that I had allowed it to happen, and one dream even featured my wife’s voice telling me that she had picked wrong (meaning me). This went on for more than a week, robbing me of sleep, making me edgy and irritable, and basically making life even more miserable than it already was.

During this time, I had gotten into the habit of reading my Bible for 15 minutes every night before turning in. In this way, I read through all of Paul’s epistles, as well as the works of James, Peter, the Book of Revelation, and all of the others by the time we left Ft. Polk. In short, I read the entire New Testament, minus the four Gospels, in the span of two-and-a-half weeks.

Throughout the first week, I began feeling increasingly uneasy, anxious, and irritable. I began to withdraw a bit from the guys I was moving with, and just did not feel all that much like socializing. It did not help that one of the people I most often traveled with was our unit’s chemical warfare specialist (to any vets reading this, especially those who carry that particular MOS, I’m simplifying for civilian readers), and she is not an easy person to deal with under the best of circumstances. Between her unabashed belief that there is no God, and that life is just a “perfect storm of cosmic circumstances” (her words), and her constant whining about how life was so much better at Division, it eventually became difficult to be anywhere near her.

One morning, about a week and a half into the rotation, we were preparing to move from one town to the next, in order to link back up with the headquarters element when the anxiety came to a head. I was alone, grabbing my gear, and preparing to load up when my throat felt like it was closing, and I felt like I was about to collapse in tears. I just felt like I was at the end of a rope, and dangling over a fire. For just a moment, things seemed utterly hopeless. It was a full-blown anxiety attack!

It was in that moment that I lowered my head and began to pray. I told the Lord that I was not strong enough to bear up under the burden, and I asked Him to help me. In that instant, it all went away. No more anxiety, no more pain, no more fear. I felt nothing but resolve and certainty that I was going to make it through, and that no one had anything that I could not handle because of Who I have in my corner. Let me tell you, this is an amazing feeling.

It was not too much longer after this moment that I found out I was not alone. One of my friends, also a strong believer in Jesus, informs my Platoon SGT that he was mad at him for the first few days we were there because he had dreamt that his wife had cheated on him with the Platoon SGT. Their conversation got me to thinking about the origin of my dreams, and that overwhelming anxiety. Why was it that the believers in the unit were all having these really odd dreams? Why was the atheist chem. expert becoming increasingly agitated, even more than normal for her?

I eventually realized that there was something there, either in Ft. Polk or throughout the State of Louisiana, that was playing havoc with people. Given the hedonistic nature of Mardi Gras in NOLA, I do not doubt the presence of a Strongman over the whole state. On an abstract level, I found myself curious if infidelity and divorce were common on-post (moreso than usual). Given the thoughts racing through my head all day, and the dreams at night, it seemed to me that there likely were a lot of other people suffering through many of the same torments.

I eventually got to the point where I would immediately rebuke and reject every stray negative thought and image that ran through my head. In doing that, I very quickly realized that I would be fighting my way through this experience, tooth and nail. Y’all have to understand, those kinds of thoughts are unusual for me. I’m not the jealous type, and I have no doubt in my mind that my wife is not the cheating kind. If I had had a single doubt, I would not have married her.

As we moved through the training rotation, I would spend every moment I had to spare either praying or reading the Word. It consumed every moment I had available and was, as it turns out, building up to a very specific moment that I did not see coming: the night I finally cried out to God.

We were near the end of the event, and were camped out. As I was setting up my one-man tent, my heart began to feel like a lead weight. The sun was setting fast, the temperatures were dropping rapidly, and it was beginning to rain. In short, the night promised to be miserable.

As I lay in my sleeping bag, listening to the rain patter on my tent, I began to pray. As I was praying, I felt this massive upwelling of emotion deep inside. In short order, it all flooded out of me, and I lay there praying helplessly as I cried like a baby. I prayed for my two oldest children, both of whom are estranged from me. I prayed for my wife and my other children, for my mother, who is suffering through Alzheimer’s, my stepdad, as he suffers through taking care of my mother, and for my sister, who is running from God as if it were the Olympics.

I also repented of all my sins again and again, asking for forgiveness. I spent well over an hour in this condition, laying on my back, shattered into a million pieces, crying and praying, pleading with the Lord to bring my oldest children back to me (they are adults), and to help me fix the points where I had failed as a father. As I said before, we are all broken sinners, and I am a prime example.

This, as it turned out, was the last battle I would fight there. That night, I slept peacefully. The next morning, I awoke to a much lighter heart. I felt as if I had gone through a major trial and emerged victorious. It was glorious. I understand now, that God ensured that I would have this time with Him, as He had a few very hard lessons in store for me. This was one of my wilderness experiences. I can only imagine what else He had in store. We shall see.