Monday, October 2, 2017


Coming to terms with the reality of a stronghold

What is a stronghold?

Admittedly, the concept of a "stronghold" is barely Biblical. The word usually translated "stronghold" in the New Testament, ὀχύρωμα, only occurs once in the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 10:4.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete (1 Cor 10:3-6 emphasis added).
It is possible to find thousands of blogs and websites devoted to the concept (including this one). Googling "demonic strongholds" returns almost a million hits and googling "spiritual strongholds" produces over one million hits. That's a lot of hits based on one word that only occurs once in the Bible and rarely (if ever) in other Greek documents of antiquity. Without more context than this, I could never really even be comfortable with the translation, not that there are any alternatives I know about.

So, because of the loose scriptural basis, I think it's probably not a good idea to hold too tightly to the concept of a stronghold. Like a lot of things, it is a useful concept as long as it is a useful concept and can easily become a stumbling block (another barely Biblical concept), when it stops being useful. So, lets not take it too far.

First off, it's a metaphor.

Demons or the Devil don't really build houses in our minds or bodies. That is silly. I am not even convinced that Demons or the Devil have corporeal forms under normal circumstances that could live in houses. Furthermore, while these strongholds might be really useful to the broad class of spiritual beings who wish our downfall, I'm not even sure that they are necessarily always involved in creating them, maintaining them, or inhabiting them even in a metaphorical sense. So, let's not get too hung up on the metaphor either.

Like I said, however, they are useful to them. I'm sure that if they can figure out how to make a stronghold in our lives, they will. They don't like us and these strongholds are bad. Still, people who deal a lot in deliverance will tell you that they can drive out a demon, but if the stronghold is still there, it doesn't always solve the problem.

And that's important because in a real, literal, stronghold, the stronghold is good or bad depending on who's living there. If the bad guys are there, it's bad. If the good guys are there, it's good. But strongholds here are bad no matter who's "living" there and, like I said, I don't think anyone has to be.

They are made out of "arguments" and "high things" that are not "captive."

The reason that they're so bad is that they're made out of bad things. One thing that they're made out of is arguments. Some translations say "imaginings" or "speculations" and I don't get that. The Greek word here is λογισμός, and while I don't always feel confident enough in my Greek to argue over translation with the professional, credentialed, translators of most of the translations, λογισμός is a word with which I am intimately familiar as a rhetorician. λογισμός is logical argument.

And arguments are not simple assertions. Arguments are complex things composed of premises (in deductive cases) and inferences (in inductive cases) and conclusions. It is that complexity that makes strongholds strong. These premises and inferences are often intimately tied to our ontological perceptions and our sense of being in the world. What is real? Who are we? What are people like? What is the nature and essence of various things? The answers to those questions come together as premises leading us to conclusions about the nature of other things, ultimately leading us to act in the world in a certain way.

Then when we see or hear that these actions are sins, it can be overwhelming. Perhaps we will try to change the behavior, but that is difficult in the long-term because the behavior is behavior that makes sense. Or perhaps we will intensify the complexity of the logical argument in such a way as to say that it is not sin in this or that circumstance. The concept that our perception of reality is so flawed as to result in bad behavior is hard to take.

They are also made out of "high things" or  "lofty opinions." I am not entirely sure what this means, but I get a sense of "pride" coming out of it. Basically, elevating of the self one's own thoughts beyond where they should be. I think it might have something to do with the idea that we can take it. We can deal with it. We are strong enough. We are smart enough. Therefore, our opinions are good enough.

Then there are these thoughts that run around our mind not "captive." Failing to think about what you're thinking about. It is pretty easy to live an unexamined life from time to time. This leads to "mindlessly" doing things.

Do I have a stronghold? 

I don't know if you do, but I do. I just hit my top weight, again.

Now, don't get me wrong. Being a certain weight is not a stronghold, it is evidence of one for me. I have a recurring sin in my life, the sin of gluttony. I like to eat foods high in fat and carbs and eat a lot of them. I "like" to do so. There is my "lofty opinion."

Furthermore it seems "natural" for me to engage in this sinful behavior. I have altered the behavior many times. My guess is that in the past 10 years I have probably lost 500 lbs (which is significantly more than I weigh). Still, it is always easy to fall into "bad habits" which is a euphemism I like to use for my sins, whereas yours I will just call "sins." Cookies taste good and it is easy to eat six or seven of them. I don't like many cold foods, on the other hand, so salads are generally out.

It's not a sin to eat one doughnut, but how about two? Probably not. What about three? What if I only eat one, but then have a cheeseburger later and with that I have fries, well at that point I might as well have a soft-drink, right? Where is the line for gluttony? My entire ontological structure blocks me from knowing when I've crossed that line into sin.

And I generally don't even care (how's that for spitting on Jesus), until the sin reveals itself in my body. Then I have consequences. Then I alter the behavior, but the stronghold is still there. The arguments still make sense to me.

So what do I do about it?

I am not sure (this is why I'm a teacher, not a preacher. I don't have the answers to declare; I have the questions about which we can think). I think I've come close to getting this one before. The beginning is taking thoughts captive. Specifically, for my stronghold, that has to be thoughts around food. I've noticed that when I carefully keep track of calories and pay attention to macro-nutrients, I do better. So, I've spent the past week doing that and Monday-to-Monday lost three pounds.

The thing is that I've lost weight this way before. I've changed the behavior before by "taking thoughts captive" in exactly this way. It's a start.

Submitting myself to the Holy Spirit is important.

Lifting it up in prayer is important.

But there's something else. 

I think I've gotten them down in other areas. I don't smoke at all or get drunk anymore and haven't for a very long time. Those were once areas of my life I had to fight. Even the notion of looking at pornography on my computer frightens me now, whereas at one time I had no compunction at all against it and rolled my eyes at people who seemed to imply that merely looking at pictures was a sin.

Of course, merely looking at  pictures is not a sin, but looking in order to sin is a sin, and financing sin is a sin. It was when I realized the type of sins I was financing that really pulled me away from that stronghold. After I'd met and talked with women (my own students) trafficked into that industry and realized what was done to them and how their "consent" was obtained I realized that I was causing these awful things to happen by gleefully clicking my mouse. I didn't need special software or accountability partners after that. I was not going to go near the stuff.

David Hume (whom I would not say one should consult on theological matters generally) said that the will is "the slave of the passions." What he meant by this is that there needs to be some intense impression made that moves a person emotionally in order to bring arguments in line. I can point to several things that have tied intense emotions to food for me. Those produce the arguments.

Equal passion needs to arise in order to bring down the arguments. I don't know how to get that, but I think it's true. Somehow, overeating, gluttony, needs to become "exceedingly sinful." I need to really, really, see that it's wrong, not just that I don't want to be fat. I think when that happens, the stronghold will come tumbling down.

Until then, I am going to keep fighting, keep taking every thought captive. I pray the rest will come and  come before this kills me.

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