The other day I was thinking about a different set of ten plagues, however. The flash of insight came as I was studying the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) which is a clinical guide for mental health professionals who are trying to diagnose mental conditions. I don't particularly agree with a lot of the theory and use of the DSM and that's not even my point in this article. Theoretically, the DSM (now in Fourth Edition, soon to be Fifth) was designed around what are called “axis” of problems. I won't go into all of them here but I do want to highlight what is called the Axis II diagnosis. Axis II problems are called “personality disorders” and the editors of the DSM-IV highlighted ten of them. Notice that number: ten. Now you know where I'm headed in this article. There is an uncanny parallel between the ten personality disorders and the ten plagues of Egypt. And in a turn of events, there is also an uncanny parallel in what happens when they are ignored.
The plagues as they appear in the Bible are:
Water, which turned to blood and killed all fish and other aquatic life (Exodus 7:14–25)
Frogs (Exodus 8:1–8:15)
Lice (Exodus 8:16–19)
Flies or wild animals (Exodus 8:20–30)
Disease on livestock (Exodus 9:1–7)
Incurable boils (Exodus 9:8–12)
Hail and thunder (Exodus 9:13–35)
Locusts (Exodus 10:1–20)
Darkness (Exodus 10:21–29)
Death of the first-born of all Egyptian humans and animals. To be saved, the Israelites had to place the blood of a lamb on the front door of their houses. (Exodus 11, Exodus 12)
Bible teachers have often commented on the escalation inherent in these plagues. They kept getting worse and worse. Others have noted that each of the plagues represented a false god of the Egyptians and, in the process of summoning the plagues and then overcoming them Moses (and ultimately God) demonstrated their power over the gods of the Egyptians.
Now, let's take a look at the ten “plagues” of personality as mentioned by the DSM-IV. They are divided into three larger groups or categories called “clusters.”
Cluster A (odd or eccentric disorders)
- Paranoid personality disorder: characterized by irrational suspicions and mistrust of others.
- Schizoid personality disorder: lack of interest in social relationships, seeing no point in sharing time with others, anhedonia, introspection.
- Schizotypal personality disorder: characterized by odd behavior or thinking.
- Antisocial personality disorder: a pervasive disregard for the rights of others, lack of empathy, and (generally) a pattern of regular criminal activity.
- Borderline personality disorder: extreme "black and white" thinking, instability in relationships, self-image, identity and behavior often leading to self-harm and impulsivity.
- Histrionic personality disorder: pervasive attention-seeking behavior including inappropriately seductive behavior and shallow or exaggerated emotions.
- Narcissistic personality disorder: a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Characterized by self-importance, preoccupations with fantasies, belief that they are special, including a sense of entitlement and a need for excessive admiration, and extreme levels of jealousy and arrogance.
- Avoidant personality disorder: pervasive feelings of social inhibition and social inadequacy, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation and avoidance of social interaction.
- Dependent personality disorder: pervasive psychological dependence on other people.
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder): characterized by rigid conformity to rules, moral codes and excessive orderliness.
1.) Natural Events Out of Balance
Each of the ten plagues in Egypt represented a natural phenomenon that ran amok. Flies, lice, hail, darkness—are all natural events and fairly harmless by themselves. I suggested earlier that they were likely forces worshipped by the Egyptians. But when summoned by Moses and relentless in their persistence, unbalanced by other natural forces, the natural events became plagues. This is my first observation about personality plagues. They result from natural processes run amok.
Look at the list of personality disorders again. Notice the broad descriptions of the three clusters: Cluster A are “eccentric” or “odd” behaviors. We all have eccentricities and oddities. Those alone don't make a personality disorder. However, when the eccentricities become prominent and primary features of a person's life, and even more importantly, are not kept in balance by other traits, it likely qualifies as a personality disorder.
In other words, eccentricities, oddities, dramas, anxieties—all the stuff of personality disorders—are in us all to some extent. It's when they get out of balance we have problems with them. In nature, God generally superintends this balance. High pressure weather systems are counterbalanced by low pressure. Summer follows winter. And in terms of personality, relaxation follows stress and happiness follows tears. At least, that's what happens “normally.” When it doesn't is when personality disorders are evident.
The False Gods of our Age
I also want to note that each of the natural events in Egypt was a force of nature worshipped by the idolatrous Egyptians. Here is a brief summary of what I mean:
Nile water into blood - Hapi: god of the Nile
Frogs - Heket, Hekhet, or Heqt: Egyptian goddess of Fertility
Gnats or Lice from dust - Geb: Egyptian god of the Earth also Khepri god of creation
Flies (gadflies) - Khepri: Egyptian god of resurrection, creation, movement of the Sun, rebirth; beetle-headed
Cattle/livestock disease - Hathor: goddess of love and protection
Boils - Isis: goddess of medicine and peace, Im-Hotep: real person turned deity, patron of wisdom and medicine
Thunder/hail - Nut: Sky goddess, Shu: god of air; associated with calm or cooling
Locusts - Senehem: possibly locust-headed, god of protection from ravages of pests
Darkness - Ra or Amon-Ra: god of the sun
Death of the firstborn - Anubis: god of the dead and embalming;
What about the ten personality disorders? Am I suggesting that Avoidant Personality Disorder or Schitzotypal Personality Disorder represent false gods and not merely psychiatric conditions? Yes. That's exactly what I'm suggesting.
Note the three clusters again. Cluster A disorders, characterized by oddity and eccentricity, are actually indications of erroneous belief patterns about ourselves and others. I call them Cognitive Distortions. Ultimately, these false belief patterns indicate that God is not on the throne of our lives. That we are. This is the case for each of the other disorders as well.
The imbalance I described above is one of the evidences of this. It's so easy for us to talk about “balance”--a person is mentally balanced or emotionally balanced. But rarely do people explain how that can happen. If something is going to remain balanced it has to be balanced around something. A wheel can be in balance but that means it isn't wobbling and that's because it is in perfect alignment to the hub.
See, that's the problem with personality. It isn't just aligned to itself. God intended that it be aligned to him. The only way a person can stay mentally and emotionally balanced is when he or she is “spinning” through life in harmony with God himself. Failure to do so is the reason for all our problems.
Now, this sounds harsh and insensitive I know: to suggest that someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Histrionic Personality Disorder is not just “sick” but is worshipping a false god does not go over very well in modern clinical evaluation. However, I will firmly maintain that this is true. And I will also argue that the “bigger purpose” of such afflictions is, like it was in Egypt, to give God a stage on which to demonstrate his sovereign power.
See God's Deliverance
Why would God allow someone to suffer with a mental affliction? The same reason he allowed the Egyptians to suffer: to reveal to them his strength. And by the way, I would say the same thing of any affliction—including cancer or divorce. God's design in every weakness and tragedy in this life is to point us away from ourselves and to him. He intends to show the impotence of the gods of this world—including those of our own personality. Unfortunately, most of us react to suffering like the Egyptians did. We beg “God” for mercy but then, when he grants it, we once again harden our hearts.
I have considerable compassion for those who suffer various personality disorders. I have devoted my life to helping them. But seeing their situation against the backdrop of the plagues of Egypt helps me appreciate what they really need. They don't just need sympathy. They don't even just need therapy. They need a radical transformation of their hearts—something only God can do. I know they can often find short term relief without God—just as some of those Egyptians no doubt found ways to avoid some of their discomfort. But without God those strategies were only temporary. God alone provides the ultimate cure.