Heath Lambert: I’m honored this week to be joined on the podcast by Dr. George Sanders, an ACBC certified member and a medical doctor in Southern California, and we’re talking about this issue of hallucinations, and how to think of them from a Christian and a biblical perspective. Dr. Sanders, we are really glad that you’re here and serving us in this way. I want to begin by just asking you, what is a hallucination?
George Sanders: Hallucinations are very simply sensations that seemed to be real, but that are created in the mind. For example, your hearing, you might hear voices, or you might see things that are not real. You might even smell the taste things that aren’t real, or you may feel things crawling on your skin but when you look down, there’s nothing there. Hallucinations can be caused by a variety of things. First of all, most people who have hallucinations are without any type of disease, about 10% of all of us have hallucinations at some point in our lives. There are, of course, medical reasons for hallucinations. If you have Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, you may have hallucinations. If you have a seizure disorder or if you’re withdrawing from alcohol, you may have hallucinations.
Certainly, all of us think of LSD and certain types of mushrooms as producing hallucinations and mental illness, whether it be schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They say that up to 80% of schizophrenics have auditory, that is auditory hallucinations, they hear voices or visual hallucinations. So those are the categories into which people would fall who have hallucinations.
Heath Lambert: I’m talking to people all over the country and all over the world, and they would point to a problem like that, a hallucination, a potentially serious problem, and they would say it’s exactly this kind of problem that makes biblical counseling dangerous. They would say that the Bible just can’t understand these kinds of really serious problems and that if you come at people like that with the Bible, you’re going to make things worse. So, let’s talk about hallucinations and the Bible. What does Scripture have to say to help us understand this phenomenon?
George Sanders: Well, if you look in in the Bible, and I’ve done that in my life, my particular translation, nowhere is the word “hallucination” mentioned. There is a particular translation though, of Proverbs 23, I believe it’s verse 33, that speaks of the person who drinks a great deal as seeing things that are not real. So that is probably referring to someone who has a problem with alcoholism, and they are seeing things, which we know of course is indeed true. Some people would say, “well, you know, whenever the 12 disciples saw Jesus appeared to them, that was a hallucination.” Well, we know, of course, that is not true, because Jesus was seen by 12 people at the same time on that occasion, and you don’t have hallucinations in people’s minds going on simultaneously, and He was also seen by people, a large number of people in Galilee. So that of course is not the case.
Other people would point Saul when he was on the Damascus Road, right? There was the bright light, but that wasn’t hallucination because Christ did appear to Paul at that time. So again, we don’t see hallucinations in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean that Scripture doesn’t have something to say about how you care for someone with hallucinations.
Heath Lambert: Okay. So, let’s turn the corner then and talk about how can we understand the Scriptures to draw near to somebody who’s experiencing this problem.
George Sanders: Well, the type of person who’s going to come to you as a counselor with hallucinations, is someone who’s having problems with hallucinations. It’s not just a pretty light that shining or something of that type, it’s something significant; these tend to be auditory hallucinations, the types of things where you’re hearing voices that are telling you to hurt yourself or hurt someone else that are derogatory, that are perhaps even screaming at you.
These types of hallucinations are seen in people who are suffering from conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. So, they would come to you with hallucinations.
Now, many of these people are on drugs already and the drugs are effective, in many cases, in reducing hallucinations, but they don’t always eliminate them. So again, we always would want to point people to Scripture. We would say, let’s think about the character of God. God is a good God. Let’s talk about the fact you are in Christ, that is your relationship as a believer. You are in Christ. Let’s also talk about the types of things that Scripture tells us that we are to do. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. So, if someone were to say to you, “I think the FBI is following me”, to point out, “Okay, why are we concerned about this, because Psalm 23 points out that the Lord is your Shepherd, He’s going to care for you, not only on this Earth but in eternity future”, or if the person says you, “these voices are telling me that I should go and kill this person”.
We then point out that as a believer, we know that we are to be obedient to the things of God, to God’s law, and we know that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.” So even though hallucinations and schizophrenia, and these things may have a significant medical component, just like every other medical illness, there is a place for biblical counseling because these are hurting people in need and Scripture has something to say to everyone in a situation like that.
Heath Lambert: So my father-in-law who had Parkinson’s disease for 27 years, he’s in heaven now, he died just within the last eight months but was a dear and a precious and a Godly Man, and his body was just ravaged by the disease of Parkinson’s and throughout the last 10 years of his life as they were moving his medication around and tweaking it to try to keep him mobile, he would experience hallucinations. I can remember when our first son was born and he and his wife came to our home, to be with us, to just help us get adjusted to life with this new baby. They had just changed his medication and he was having hallucinations. It was really serious. He came to me, he got on his knees, and in tears, he was telling me that he was seeing gun men through the window walking around outside and he said, “Heath, please get Lauren and Carson out of here,” so here is this man who loves his daughter, loves his grandson, and he is desperate that his son-in-law protect these people and, you know, I just got down on the floor with him and I just told him, “Tony, I love you. I’m telling you, there’s nothing out there. I want to do what I can to protect Lauren and Carson and if there was something out there, I would do it, but that’s just not the truth.”
We talked about Philippians 4:8 and thinking on what’s true, and I said, “you can trust me, I wouldn’t tell you something that’s not so, and you trust the Lord even more than me. He’s going to protect us.” What happened over the years, first of all, they were trying to tweak his medication too, but I can remember a couple of years later he came into the living room and he said, “did you just bug your eyes out at me”?, and I said, “no, I didn’t”. He said, “okay, I didn’t think so. I’m just trying to think on what’s true,” and I just thought that is a powerful illustration of the Spirit of God overcoming even very powerful medications in this man’s body. It is so true that a believer can think on what’s true and obey the Lord, with the Spirit’s help, even when there are these powerful physical forces working against us?
George Sanders: Absolutely. The thing with Parkinson’s disease, as opposed to schizophrenia where the hallucinations are a part of the actual illness, with Parkinson’s, is almost always the medications themselves, so generally, with better management of the medication, you can eliminate the hallucinations, but that doesn’t mean that the person isn’t suffering from them. What they have is an alternate reality in their mind and if they’re hearing those voices and if they are giving way to them, they’re choosing to believe something that’s false.
Reality is God’s reality and we need to point them to that, Philippians 4:8, whatever is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good report, if there’s anything virtuous or praiseworthy, meditate on these things. We’re called upon consistently in Scripture to put off and put on and we are new creatures in Christ; our minds are to be renewed. We can put on the mind of Christ. So, we would encourage a person in the grace that the Lord has provided to us, prayer, reading of Scripture, meditation on Scripture, and again, a vibrant relationship with the Lord. These will go a long way toward minimizing the disruptive influence of these hallucinations.