To Consider: The Convert’s Confusion

The following is the lead article in the November/December issue of Intercede, our bimonthly prayer publication. To download the full version of Intercede, click here.

Man Praying

The Convert’s Confusion

For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. . . (I Cor. 14:33 KJV).

Why are you cast down, O my soul ? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me (Psalm 42:5-6 NKJV).

God is not the author of confusion, not in the orderly universe he created, not in the Church he bought with his own blood, and not within the soul of his redeemed children. Yet many converts to Christ who come from Islamic families face significant and even overwhelming confusion. To the convert the source of their confusion seems to be their new relationship with Jesus Christ, when in fact it is the result of a combination of natural and demonic effects. This confusion militates against joy, peace, and confidence in the Lord and can deeply shake the faith of the new believer leaving Islam.

Confusion at its most basic level is the inability to think with clarity or act with understanding. Some would say it is to assemble issues, ideas, or events (mentally or physically) without order or sense. It can be caused by physical as well as psychological and spiritual states and conditions. It can range in severity from mild to intense, and in longevity from momentary to pervasive and continual.

Imagine yourself in a new town and nation, in a culture entirely foreign to you, and all around you the native people only speak a language unknown to you. Now imagine that the social cues you have learned from your home culture do not apply at all. A smile in this strange culture means one is frustrated, a handshake is a threat, tears are signs of pleasure, and laughter is a declaration of sadness. No matter what you do in this setting you find that you can’t understand your surroundings and you can’t make yourself understood. The result would be confusion and frustration.

While I am perhaps overstating a little for effect, the fact is that the Muslim convert to Christianity can feel that he has made a trip to an alien world where he cannot understand or be understood. The result is often that he has latent regrets for having made the trip. Islam is for most Muslims an all-encompassing religion, worldview, social context, and ideology. Therefore, leaving Islam is for most a multifaceted attack on all aspects of the framework the ex-Muslim had always used to understand himself and his world. Without the framework the ex-Muslim can feel bereft.

Psychological Confusion
Psychological confusion resulting from leaving Islam and converting to Christianity comes as a person has to wrestle with how she understands her own identity or self concept. Before coming to Christ the Muslim had a number of aspects of her personal identity clearly demarcated. Carl Rogers taught that the self concept has three different components: (1) self image–how you look in your eyes; (2) self worth–how valuable you think you are; and (3) ideal self–what you wish you were really like.

All these are things that Christ powerfully heals, corrects, and augments within the believer’s soul as she walks with him in increasing sanctification by God’s Holy Spirit. But before a convert builds the new framework for such self interpretation, the old Islam framework through which the Muslim constructed her self image, self worth, and ideal self has to crumble. That often leaves the Muslim in an existential angst; hers is now a homeless mind, a soul unanchored and cut adrift from all the moorings that once held her secure.

In his book The Cry for Myth, Rollo May writes, “A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence. Myths are like the beams in a house: not exposed to outside view, they are the structure which holds the house together so people can live in it” (15). Islam has been for the Muslim the defining myth of her culture, family, society, and self. As it crumbles in conversion to Christ it is profoundly disorienting and often causes massive confusion.

As we intercede for converts from Islam to Christ Jesus, we can effectively pray using these passages:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly (1 Tim. 4:7 NIV).

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty (2 Peter 1:16 NKJV).

Relational and Social Confusion
The convert from Islam is not only facing his self concept questions, but he is also trying to reposition himself in his old society while maintaining his new spiritual identity. This is confusing and challenging. First, it means that he will have to face his relationship to Muhammad bin Abdullah, the prophet of Islam, and all representatives of official Islam. Many Christians and missionaries do not really understand this aspect of the convert’s challenge in leaving Islam. But Muhammad bin Abdullah is not merely a religious figure for many Muslim societies; he is their ideal religious, cultural, and social icon. Further, those imams, ulema, and fuqaha, the religious experts of Islam, are all Muhammad’s representatives. To leave Islam and follow Christ necessarily involves directly lowering Muhammad from his elevated status and as a consequence indirectly lowering the relative status of all his representatives, living and past. It is the effective erasing of one’s cultural heroes. This is akin to an American Christian coming to believe that the apostle Paul was spiritually deceived and George Washington was a fraud. How does one relate to a society while rejecting the foundational iconic figures upon which that society is built?

This same process applies to all of the convert’s Muslim heroes and models. The convert must now process the fact that the college professor who is the most intelligent man he has ever known is wrong on the most important topic of all. His father, the bravest man he knows, is wrong on life’s central reality. His grandmother, the most loving person in his life, is wrong, and horribly so, on the most consequential matters of life. Even the most influential friends in his life are wrong. This social isolation and relational reassessment creates potential for major confusion.

As we intercede for the convert in this matter, we can benefit from divine wisdom taken from Romans 11:28: Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers (NKJV). Notice that Paul here shows how the believer must at times develop a bifurcated or dual-natured relationship with a population. On their side they are enemies to us; that is they oppose, resist, hinder, and impede all our goals. Yet, they remain beloved to us. This is not a simple matter to either emotionally embrace or mentally to conceive. It is an application of our Savior’s command to love your enemies (Luke 6:35). Pray for the convert to be given divine wisdom to reframe his view of his role in society at large and among his friends and family in particular.

Spiritual Confusion
This is the most important and dangerous area of confusion that the convert will likely face: spiritual confusion. This is experienced in three basic ways: (1) confusing the voice of one’s own spirit for God’s voice; (2) confusing the social pressure of peers and family for the voice of God; and (3) confusing demonic voices for God’s voice.

One’s Own Spirit: The new convert from Islam is especially in danger of confounding the voice and work of the Holy Spirit with the voice of his own inner man (Eph. 3:16). Watchman Nee wrote, “Satan can operate through undisciplined souls; he also can directly attack those who know nothing of the cross. Our soul life constitutes the adversary’s fifth column within us. It gives ground to the enemy.” Many Muslim Background Believers have little discipleship, little spiritual fellowship with believers, and little training in developing spiritual discernment. They can easily confound the voice of their own spirit or soul with God’s voice.

Social pressure: It is not uncommon that the drumbeat of criticism, ostracism, rejection, and persecution from the convert’s society and even family can deeply influence the emotional and psychological state. The convert can sometimes feel deep inner impressions that he confounds with God’s leading. A cacophony of voices from around him form into a single chorus and resonate within him until he feels the voice must be supernatural.

Demonic Voices: Satan and his minions are speaking to the heart and mind of the ex-Muslim. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:2-3). The key word here is simplicity. Walking with Christ is a simple and pure concept but Satan calls God’s word and will into question. Demonic forces utilizing concepts coming from Islamic and folk Islamic sources complicate issues in the mind of the Muslim Background Believer.

Praying for Clarity:
• Pray that converts from Islam experience clarity that Islam cannot answer the tragedy that is sin. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

• Pray they maintain clarity that God is truly their loving and gracious Heavenly Father who is ever mindful of them. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matt. 10:29-31).

• Pray for clarity about the supremacy of Christ. A good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him (1 Peter 3:21-22).

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