When we look at the dramatic cultural changes taking place in the world in recent years, it is easy to throw up your hands in defeat. Yet God does not want us to lose hope, because He is still in control.
But giving up not only can have very real spiritual consequences but physical ones as well.
According to an article by the Daily Mail, researchers at Portsmouth University in Portsmouth, England recently released a paper in a journal called Medical Hypothese referring to a very real medical condition called “Psychogenic death.”
It is a condition also referred to “give-up-itis,” that described prisoners in the Korean war who while in prisons camps, simply gave up and were dead within a matter of the days.
These prisoners would stop speaking, quit eating and once into this cycle could be dead within three days.
The group lead by Dr. John Leach stated that the condition is very real and is not a form of suicide but rather a state of depression that leads to death.
The research group said they identified five stages to the downward spiral of “give-up-itis”:
1. Social withdrawal:
This is the first stage as the person withdraws from people and quits having social interactions. Prisoners of war in this stage also showed little concern about how other people were doing.
They started losing motivation to do even the basics of life. It is a struggle to even keep themselves clean. One man imprisoned by the Russians between 2003 and 2005, said the smallest task seem like the most difficult thing to do. Primo Levi who survived the Holocaust said “After only one week of prison, the instinct for cleanliness completely disappeared in me.”
At this third stage they stop looking after themselves. They quit eating and bathing. One concentration camp survivor said, “It was almost an iron law: Those who failed to wash every day soon died.”
4. Psychic akinesia:
When they enter this stage they are unwilling to make decisions or even initiate activity. At this stage, prisoners would lie in their own waste and seem to lose any sense of pain.
5. Pychogenic death:
This is the final stage when a a person has lost the will to live. Leach noted that people in this last stage in prison of war camps would oddly start smoking. Cigarettes were extremely valuable in camp and were often traded for food.
“When a prisoner took out a cigarette and lit it, their campmates knew the person had truly given up had lost faith in their ability to carry on and would soon be dead.”
I found this article interesting because we may have a similar instance of this happening in the Old Testament. However, in this case it involved spiritual warfare that resulted in a spiritual “giving up” with similar physical repercussions.
It all started with a marriage between King Ahab of Israel and a Phonetician princess named Jezebel. When Jezebel moved into the Ahab’s palace she brought with her 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah (1 Kings 18:19).
It was a satanic spiritual invasion as the demonic spirits swept into Israel as these false prophets set up idols and places of worship (1 Kings 16:31-34).
Under Jezebel’s domination, Ahab led Israel into a rampage of sin and idolatry. It eventually led to a confrontation between God’s prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel where Elijah challenged the false prophets to light an altar on fire (1 Kings 18).
Baal was considered the god of the weather and was often pictured with a thunderbolt in his hand, so this should have been a simple job for this particular god.
We notice in this confrontation that Elijah initially wanted the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to be there (1 Kings 18:19), but only the prophets of Baal showed up.
It seems Jezebel was unwilling to commit her full spiritual army and held the Asherah prophets in reserve.
When the prophets of Baal were unable to light the altar on fire and Elijah did, the people turned on these Baal prophets killing them all (1 Kings 18:40).
But Jezebel’s 400 prophets of Asherah were still untouched and when she heard what happened she sent a messenger to Elijah threatening his life.
2 So Jezebel sent a messenger (Hebrew: ‘malak’) to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:2 NIV)
Though the Hebrew word “malak” can refer to a physical messenger (1 Samuel 19:14), the same word also describes an angelic messenger (Exodus 23:20). Since satanic spirits are simply fallen angels, I suspect that the human messenger that Jezebel sent also had an invisible satanic angel tagging along.
We see the spiritual element at work, because as soon as Elijah received this message he was immediately struck with a spirit of fear:
3 Elijah was afraid[a] and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. (1 Kings 19:3-5 NIV)
I have written in the past how people can be influenced by the words and touches of demonic angels (Read: How the spiritual realm interacts with our physical world). I suspect something along this line happened to Elijah.
We read in this passage how Elijah had given up. He withdrew from people leaving behind his servant as the prophet fled into the wilderness and eventually to a cave on Mt Horeb.
He became listless, apathetic and even wanted to die.
Elijah was losing hope and clearly wasn’t looking after himself and had already stopped eating and drinking. But God sent an Angel of God who touched Elijah two times to restore Elijah’s hope and encouraged him to start eating again (1 Kings 19:5-7).
The prophet was also experiencing heavy levels of condemnation saying he was no better than his relatives. But I believe the source in this instance was demonic as we read of a similar situation involving Satan standing beside Joshua the High Priest and hurling accusations at him (Zechariah 3:1).
Elijah went through an experience very similar to what prisoners of war experienced in Korea, but in Elijah’s case the source of this “giving-up-itis” was satanic. He was attacked by a “Spirit of Jezebel.”
Though there are similarities between what Elijah and the prisoners, there is one key difference. Elijah had just come off a tremendous spiritual victory in the defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel and then in a matter of hours was cowering in the wilderness praying he would die.
This reveals the spiritual source of the attack as Satan tried to destroy Elijah’s hope.
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9 NASV)