Credit: Alan Frost
For almost three years now, I’ve written mainly about the doctrinal questions that separate Catholics and Protestants, hoping to remove from Reformed minds some of the obstacles that had existed in my mind when looking into the Catholic faith. But perhaps the most perplexing and anxiety-inducing question in becoming Catholic wasn’t a doctrinal question at all, but a personal, spiritual one: am I being deceived by the devil?
Growing up Reformed, I held it to be an undisputed fact of reality, like water being wet, that the Catholic Church had forsaken the gospel to follow traditions of men. The Mass, priests, veneration of Mary, purgatory, holy water, transubstantiation, relics, the Pope – it all seemed so obviously unscriptural and ungospel-like to my Reformed mind that I didn’t think anyone with a modicum of scriptural knowledge could take it seriously. I don’t think I ever considered the Pope to be the antichrist, but I certainly thought of the Roman Catholic Church as having been thoroughly corrupted by the devil. The very name “Roman Catholic” conjured up all sorts of wrongness.
I won’t rehash here why I got started looking into the Catholic faith in my fourth and final year of Reformed seminary, which you can read about in my post, With Faces Thitherward.
But in short, when I realized that Catholic teaching was not some historical novelty, but went right back to the beginning of the Church; and when I encountered that teaching, not as it had been easily dismissed by me, but as taught, believed, and defended from Scripture by devout Catholics themselves; and when I began to see some of the glaring problems in my own Reformed beliefs – well, the whole thing was accompanied by an acute fear that I was being deceived by the devil.
There was no easy way to deal with that fear. I remember kneeling on the floor of my study many times, emotionally spent, in exasperation begging of God to protect me from evil and to show me the truth. I prayed from Psalm 25 repeatedly:
O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
There was a terrible helplessness that plagued the whole ordeal. The more I prayed and searched the Scriptures, the more my objections to the Catholic faith fell away. I read the best Reformed apologists I knew of, and yet their case against Rome crumbled when answered by Catholic apologists. I was doing exactly what my Reformed background had taught me to do, and it was the Reformed case against Rome that was failing.
But what if this was due to some spiritual trick? Was I being blinded to something obvious? Was I, in some diabolical way, being kept from seeing the truth of Reformed teaching and the falseness of Catholic teaching? If so, what could I do differently?
That was the troubling part – there was nothing I could do differently. I was already immersed in Scripture and prayer, not to mention attending a Reformed seminary. I couldn’t do anything differently – and all the while I was being convinced of the thing I always thought was the enemy.
At times, I wondered if my whole sense of truth itself was twisted, so that what I was convinced was true was actually false. Of course, that would apply to being convinced of Reformed teaching no less than being convinced of Catholic teaching – it would all be illusory.
It seemed that if I was being deceived, then I could never really know it, and there was nothing I could do about it. This is a wretched and dangerous place to find yourself in, for there appears to be no way out.
But there was a way out. There was a reason why I was experiencing that particular psychological turmoil. The feeling of helplessness was being produced by an incoherence in my thinking, and I was able to pinpoint that incoherence by reflecting on what Scripture said about deception.