“A Holy Brain-Cleansing”

Several days ago, I was sitting in 2 Corinthians class at NTBI, listening to my teacher explain the numerous sufferings that Paul endured. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Paul wrote, “Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” As he was expounding on the text, he brought this passage into application by asking us if we had ever had a near-death experience. A few people gave their examples, and then he asked us what it would be like to experience something like that every month. It’s a sobering thought, to think of how we would view our lives, if we were constantly being reminded that we were only alive by God’s grace/choosing.

As I began to ponder this more deeply, I thought of my own “near-death” experience. It had been at a time when I was stuck beneath the forces of two opposing currents of water. I remember coming to the point where I prayed, “God, I’m ready to come home.” It was at that point, when I finally gave up fighting the current, that the water pushed me out on its own. I remember the thoughts of truly believing it had been the end of my life. And I remember the after-thoughts. But what if I actually did experience something similar every single month? I would be so grateful for life, and so convinced that it was only by God’s choosing that I had life. Shouldn’t I believe that now? Well, I do, but not to the extent that Paul understood it.

These thoughts continued to monopolize my attention, until I realized a psychological parallel of what God had done to Paul. The parallel was the concept of brain-washing. The Word English Dictionary, by Collins, defines “brain-washing” as, “to effect a radical change in the ideas and beliefs of (a person), especially by methods based on isolation, sleeplessness, hunger, extreme discomfort, pain, and the alternation of kindness and cruelty.” These are exactly the things that Paul had suffered. Haralan Popov (1907-1988), a Bulgarian pastor who suffered 13 years of torture under communist government, addresses brain-washing in his biography. He wrote, “It must be understood that the communists were not attempting to ‘brain-wash’ me. They knew they could never accomplish this. Brain-washing means to completely and permanently change a person’s mind and make his mind over to be totally dedicated to another and different way of thinking.” He writes a little later, “Brain-washing calls for alternating between good and bad treatment.” Apparently, Paul was going through an extended period of brain-washing. His experiences were gracious, yet extremely difficult. God is not a cruel God, but allows suffering into our life in order to grow us in His Son’s likeness. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” This world would see Paul’s experiences as cruel treatment, but Paul considers these things a blessing as they work to develop the life of Christ in him.

As I was coming to an understanding of these things after the class, I passed my teacher. I told him of my near-death experience, and again he brought it into application. I told him that to go through something like that would be “a holy brain-washing.” He responded and said, “It would be a holy brain-cleansing.”

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