What About Involuntary Thoughts and Fancies?

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Involuntary evil thoughts, fancies, or associations of ideas usually are the result of Satan’s whispering. Just as a battery has two poles, so do our hearts have two central points or poles. Like the two poles of a battery, there are two central points or poles in man’s heart: One receives angelic inspiration, and the other is vulnerable to Satan’s whispering.

Satan attacks those believers who are trying to deepen their belief and devotion. If they are scrupulous and delicate in feeling, he attacks them from different directions. When confronted with unbelievers, who follow him voluntarily by indulging in passing fancies and bodily pleasures, he whispers to them new and original ideas. In this way, he encourages them to increase their unbelief and learn new ways of struggling against true religion and all believers.

Satan’s attacks from different directions. When God cursed Satan because of his haughty disobedience, Satan asked for respite until the Day of Judgment and permission to try to seduce human beings. God granted his request, and Satan retorted: Then I shall come upon them from before them and from behind them and from their right and from their left, and you will not find most of them grateful (7:17).

Satan does everything he can to seduce us. We are very complex beings, for God manifests all of His Names on us in this world of testing. We are sent here to be trained so that we can serve as a mirror to God and earn eternal happiness. In order to do this, we must train and develop all of our God-given feelings, faculties, and potentials. If some of these are not trained (e.g., intellect, anger, greed, obstinacy, and lust) and directed to lofty goals, but abused and used for disagreeable purposes, we will place our present and future life in danger. This is also true if we do not restrict our natural desires and animal by satisfying them in acceptable ways.

Approaching us from our left, Satan uses our animal aspect’s feelings and faculties to tempt us into sin. When he approaches us from the front, he drives us to despair over our future, whispers that the Day of Judgment will never come, that whatever religions say about the Hereafter is mere fiction, and that religion belongs to the past and so is irrelevant to our present and future. When he comes upon us from behind, he tries to make us deny Prophethood, God’s Existence and Unity, Divine Scriptures, angels, and other essential matters of belief. Through such whispers and suggestions, Satan tries to sever our connections with religion and steer us toward sin.

Satan cannot seduce devout, practicing believers in these ways. Rather, he approaches from the believer’s right and encourages him to display and ostentation, to taking pride in their virtues and good deeds. He whispers that they are such good believers, until the believers’ feelings of self-conceit and desire for praise are aroused. When this point is reached, believers begin to travel the road to perdition. For example, if we pray the superrogatory late night prayer and then proclaim it so that others will praise us, and if we begin to take credit for our accomplishments and good deeds while criticizing others behind their backs, it means that we have fallen under Satan’s influence. We must do our best to resist Satan when he comes upon us from this direction.

Another of Satan’s ruses is to make unimportant things seem important and vice versa. If believers dispute with each other over a secondary matter (e.g., using a rosary when glorifying God after the daily prescribed prayers) while their children are being dragged along ways of unbelief and materialism, or are drowning in the swamp of immorality, this indicates that Satan has seduced them.

Satan’s whispering disagreeable thoughts and fancies. If Satan fails to seduce devout believers, he whispers some disagreeable thoughts and fancies to them. For example, through the association of ideas, he pushes believers toward having some negative conceptions of the Divine Being or of thinking about unbelief or disobedience. If we dwell on such thoughts, Satan pesters us until we fall into doubt about our belief or despair of a virtuous life.

Another ruse is to cause good, devout believers to suspect the correctness or validity of their religious acts. For example: Did I pray perfectly? Did I wash my face and hands completely while making wudu’? Have I washed the specific bodily parts the required number of times? Believers pestered with such involuntary thoughts, fancies, and doubts should know that their hearts have no part in them. Just as thieves attempt to rob rich people and strong countries try to control rich countries, so does Satan make a last-ditch effort to seduce believers by troubling their hearts.

This is similar to a sick person having a high temperature. We know that antibodies formed in a patient’s blood to inhibit or destroy harmful bacteria or germs. This causes the body’s temperature to rise. Similarly, a heart troubled with Satan’s evil suggestions defends itself by fighting against them. Thus, the heart does not generate such thoughts, and neither does it approve of or adopt them. A reflection of something foul is not itself foul and cannot make us foul. In the same way, thinking about unbelief is not the same thing as actual unbelief.

We might even say that Satan’s evil suggestions actually benefit believers, for they cause us to remain alert, to struggle against our carnal selves and Satan, and to progress toward ever-higher spiritual ranks.