Avoiding Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome in 2018
This is a tough article to write, and it will be tough to read. But please do. And after you read it, share it. It is a truth we all need.
In August of 1973, a paroled convict named Jan-Erik Olsson took four employees hostage during a failed bank robbery at Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden. For six days he held the three women and one man in the bank vault and tortured them repeatedly. However, upon their release six days later, none would testify against him. In fact, they raised money for Olsson’s defense and would even visit him later in prison. One of the women would even become engaged to him. As psychologists tried to understand how exactly they were brainwashed, the phenomenon became known as “Stockholm Syndrome.” And although it is not a recognized disorder in mental health, and only rarely works as a defense in court, there is something remarkable about it that feels very familiar .
The Bible talks about sin in terms of bondage. It is a slave master that will brutalize us. Sin will rob us of joy and peace, and take from us everything good, leaving nothing but carnage behind. Thankfully, however, Christ has set us free from sin, and rescued us. Consider the words from John 8…
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
That’s good news for sure. We have freedom in Christ.
So why is it that we sometimes fall in love with our sin? Why do we return to it time and time again, even though we know it will continue to rob and enslave us? Why do we abandon the one who sets us free, and run to the thing that will most assuredly make us a prisoner yet again?
We could call it “Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome.” But in reality, it is a simple matter of forgetting the truth. Sin is powerful because of two lies. The first lie is that the sin will give us happiness. This happiness may exist as pleasure, or success, or a feeling of confidence or worth, or something similar. If sin didn’t promise this, there would be no enticement at all. And the sin reinforces this lie with a quick and temporary payoff that many of us (ok, all of us) find irresistible at some point. The second lie is less obvious, but more important. And that lie is that God’s way will somehow be less satisfying that sin’s way. We don’t usually think about it in these terms, but we must believe it in order to abandon the way of God and follow sin’s path.
So the “cure” for this syndrome is truth, and the second truth is more important than the first.
The first truth is that sin always takes more than it gives. The pleasure (or success, or worth, or whatever) is always eclipsed by the cost of the sin itself. Remember, the “wages” of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So no matter what the offer, the resultant cost is the death of something: self respect, joy, life, relationship, etc.
But the second truth is where you will find strength. And that second truth is that if you will fall more in love with the one who set you free, then the enticements of your “captor” will pale in comparison. The secret then, is not in trying to resist sin–sin is too clever for that–but instead, focusing on your relationship with God. The deeper and more intimate that relationship gets, the more satisfying it will be, and the less enticing sin will be as it tries to draw you away from Him.
I’ve been down this road a few times, my friends. I’ll spare you the details–I’m saving those for the screenplay. It will certainly make an exciting movie some day. For now, I hope you will join me in 2018 by focusing on your relationship with God above all else. There is nothing that will give you greater satisfaction and happiness than that.