Do you ever get unwanted, evil thoughts from the devil?
Don’t worry! You’re in company with many other Christians — you just might not realize it.
John, for example, was a pastor who preached to thousands of listeners every week. He wrote a bestselling book. His personal life was spotless and characterized by a deep devotion to Christ. On the outside, it seemed like John was successful in his spiritual life.
But what others didn’t know was that John was plagued by thoughts urging him to blaspheme Christ or to pray to Satan.
He would argue back intensely against these thoughts. He would literally spend hours at a time beating his arms in the air and saying, “I will not, I will not, I will not!”
Eventually, John, who is a real person, did find relief — but not through arguing. In this article, we’ll take a look at when Christians experience demonic thoughts or urges to engage with the devil.
What Kinds of Evil Thoughts from the Devil Are We Talking About?
He had a number of chronic, bad spiritual thoughts. He wrote an account of his experience in the book Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. It is through his own autobiographical account that later psychologists were able to diagnose John Bunyan with religious OCD, also known as scrupulosity.
What we find is that John Bunyan was not unusual. Many people with scrupulosity get unwanted, horrible anti-religious thoughts.
Often these thoughts are about blaspheming God or committing some form of sacrilege, but fairly often these unwanted thoughts will be about the devil.
Some people get this thought that they should worship Satan or pray to him, others will feel an urge to sell their soul to the devil, or might question if they already sold themselves to Satan unintentionally.
And some people who recognize that these intrusive thoughts are not normal wonder if they are demonically possessed.
I recently shared an article about religious intrusive thoughts, and I would encourage you to check that out so that you understand what we’re talking about when we refer to intrusive thoughts.
These chronic fears about the devil are a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder, and in this article I want to talk more directly about intrusive thoughts of a demonic nature.
Where Do These Evil Thoughts Really Come From?
Let me give you a crucial psychological insight.
Every thought and behavior that you have falls into one of two categories: ego-syntonic or ego-dystonic.
An ego-syntonic thought is something that aligns with the values of your ego, your true self. They are consistent with your self-image of who you really are.
An ego-dystonic thought, on the other hand, conflicts with your self-image and is viewed as something foreign or alien to the self.
Ego-syntonic thoughts and behavior are viewed as good and wanted (whether or not it really is good, you think it’s good). Ego-dystonic thoughts and behavior, on the other hand, are viewed as unwanted.
Let me give an example.
A woman with severe paranoia disorder locks all her doors and windows and even locks her refrigerator out of fear that someone will steal her food. If confronted about her behavior, she will tell you that it is a good thing to protect herself. Her paranoid beliefs are ego-syntonic — she sees them as appropriate.
In the same way, an anorexic person might be at a dangerous BMI or even on the verge of dying but feel like it is completely appropriate for him to purge his last meal. He is unable to see anything wrong with his condition, so we would call his thoughts ego-syntonic.
A person with OCD, on the other hand, has intrusive thoughts that are perceived as abnormal, disgusting, unwanted, and alien.
They seem to come from outside of him.
They seem to be out of his control.
But he recognizes that they are very inappropriate, so we would call these thoughts ego-dystonic.
As long as a thought is in conflict with your ideal sense of self, it is ego-dystonic, and we would rightly say that it is not from the real you.
But if you have a demonic thought that is not from YOU, where is it from? There are only two options. It is either from a demon, or it is from your OCD.
Evil Thoughts from the Devil Are Simply Called “Temptations.” But There’s Another Option…
Now, this is great news, because if Satan is telling me to worship Satan, that is called a temptation. And the Bible says we will experience tribulation in this world and we will go through many trials.
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial that is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
We know that the devil “walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Evil thoughts from the devil would definitely fit into the schemes that he has been throwing at humankind for thousands of years. If the devil is tempting you, rejoice that you may be counted worthy to suffer like Christ!
But there’s another option to consider.
Maybe it’s not demonic harassment, maybe it really is your OCD.
Maybe you have a mental health condition that has hijacked your faith experience and is manifesting itself in these bad thoughts.
Whether these thoughts come as a temptation or as a manifestation of OCD, either way you are safe.
Try to breathe in that thought for a moment — you are safe. Because fundamentally, OCD is not an issue with thoughts, it’s a matter of feeling unsafe, of feeling like things are uncertain and unresolved.
But you ARE safe, even though your feelings tell you otherwise.
What If I Really Did Originate the Evil Thought?
But let’s dig to the bottom of these evil thoughts about the devil: what if you feel like you really DID want that evil thought?
What if, for at least a moment, that thought seemed to be ego-syntonic?
What if it seems like you DID choose it?
Sometimes, people with religious OCD do get to this point where you’ll finally cave in to the obsessive thought and curse God or agree to whatever evil thought has been torturing you. But then, in a few days, you’ll be back to God, sincerely begging for forgiveness.
Honestly, it’s like people who confess to crimes they never committed just so that the interrogator stops torturing them.
Why does this happen? The OCD cycle of intrusive thoughts is so intense and exhausting that it can push us into mental and emotional overdrive and cause us to act in uncharacteristic ways that are unlike our normal selves. Here’s the cycle:
You begin with a triggering thought. You know what your exact trigger is. Perhaps it is the urge to curse God or pray to Satan.
When you experience that trigger, your anxiety immediately spikes.
You then enter a period of rumination.
You turn circles around yourself, trying to figure out if that nasty thought was genuinely from you or not. As you ruminate, your anxiety goes even further up.
But the evil thought doesn’t go away. So you begin resisting it.
You push back, hoping against hope that you can pray the right prayer or find the right verse that will completely neutralize the terrifying thought.
Your anxiety goes even further up…
Exhaustion begins to set in…
You aren’t sure how much more you can take…
Finally, you reach a point of utter exasperation. You’ve hit the OCD explosion point. Every last reserve of mental and emotional energy is gone.
You let go and agree to the thought, awful as it may be.
At that moment, your mind and emotions enter a state of free fall.
The intrusive thought is gone.
It is in this stage of the OCD cycle that you may experience a loss of emotions, numbness, depersonalization, or derealization.
You have completely emptied your emotional tank in the struggle to analyze and resist that intrusive thought.
Eventually, you reach a feeling of semi-normalcy again, with one exception.
You miss God.
You miss the sweet communion and close relationship you know is there in the “real you.”
So you return, wishing desperately to reconcile with God.
You ask for forgiveness and feel the sweet embrace of reconciliation…until it starts all over again with your next intrusive thought about the devil.
If experience this cycle, it is OCD. A truly devil-worshipping person will not have this cycle.
What Should I Do to Stop These Evil Thoughts from the Devil?
If you’re a Christian having evil or demonic thoughts, what should you do?
Well, you should do something very counterintuitive. You should resist the urge to argue back against the thoughts.
Imagine there are ten angry little chihuahuas yapping at your heels, and you’re scared to death of getting bitten. Do you start kicking at them, or do you stand still?
Well, I hope you don’t start kicking at them, because chances are they’ll start attacking!
It’s the same with intrusive thoughts.
The more you fight against them, the worse they become.
The more you try to search the internet for positive verses to neutralize the thought or engage in spiritual disciplines that make you erase it, the clingier it will be.
The way to respond to these thoughts is actually very counterintuitive, you have to prevent yourself from responding in any way.
That’s why it’s usually the best course of action to get professional help. Religious OCD does respond well to therapy, especially if you pair it with spiritual mentorship at the same time. However, these kinds of methods where you learn not to respond can feel very counterintuitive, so it’s usually best to get a pro to help you over the tough parts.
I would encourage you to look at one popular article on this website in which I discuss three powerful spiritual methods for dealing with scrupulosity. It also includes free worksheets that can help you. (Find it here!)
If you have awful, scary thoughts about the devil, you’re in company with spiritual giants like the great John Bunyan. You’ll be happy to know that he was eventually able to cure his scrupulosity and went on to live a live of devoted service to Jesus. Like Bunyan, I believe you’ll do the same.
Wherever you are in your journey with scrupulosity — whether you’re just finding out about it, whether you’ve been doing some internet searches, or whether you’re in formal therapy — take the next step.
It does get better, but not by accident.
What’s your most helpful go-to method for dealing with demonic intrusive thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.
Best wishes on the journey,