Ragy R. Girgis, M.D., On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry: Exploring Mental Illness in the Bible (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2020), 112 pages.
Overview and Purpose of the Book
When I received a copy of Dr. Girgis’ book, I was eager to read it. I am fascinated by the connection of body and soul, and I was excited to see a Christian’s perspective on mental illness in the Bible.
Dr. Girgis clearly states his goal on page 3, writing, “Therefore, the goal of this book is to help change misconceptions that have historically pervaded Christianity by educating both laity and clergy about serious mental illness.” In order to accomplish this goal, Dr. Girgis sets out to perform an “exegetic examination of Biblical accounts of what may have been untreated serious mental illness,” to see the biblical worldview of mental health as represented in a variety of passages of Scripture.
After mentioning a few books that have sought to accomplish this goal, Dr. Girgis sets his work apart as reading the Scriptures through a “post-Enlightenment narrative,” changing the way the Scriptures are interpreted to reflect a modern understanding of the
mental illness. Without denying the accounts recorded in Scripture, he desires to view them in light of modern, medical advancements. He writes that the reader will “gain an appreciation of the non-morality and non-spirituality-based, biological nature and timelessness of available treatments.”
Finally, Dr. Girgis ends the Preface and Introduction with a reminder that his book is written: “to be a resource for any Christian, including both the lay believer as well as clergy and Christian academicians.” He wants his readers to see that “mental illness” is not a spiritual issue but a physical one.
Chapter two provides a wonderfully succinct overview of mental illness. Chapters 3-9 are exegetical examinations of individuals who may have struggled with mental illness. These include Moses and the children of Israel (Ch. 3), King Saul (Ch. 4), King David (Ch. 5), Jonah (Ch. 6), Nebuchadnezzar (Ch. 7), the Gadarene Demoniac (Ch. 8), and the demon-possessed man (Ch. 9). In chapter 10, Dr. Girgis performs an overview of the various teachings regarding witchcraft and sorcery. Chapter 11 seeks to describe the power and limits Satan (and demons) have on the creation and human beings. He provides his own assessment of end-times views in connection with a demonic activity in Chapter 12. In Chapter 13, Dr. Girgis brings the book to an end with a message of hope and encouragement.
Strengths of the Book
This book is helpful for its contributions to the field. Dr. Girgis is an experienced psychiatrist. Additionally, he has published many articles in peer-reviewed journals and has contributed to several scientific books. His professional experience alone provides a wealth of wisdom. Added to this fact is his faith in God.
Another strength of Dr. Girgis’ book is his heart. Repeatedly you read phrases like “I find that many Christian believers, including both laity and clergy, have misconceptions about serious mental illness, such as that it is related to morals weakness, bad parenting, and/or volition.” Dr. Girgis seeks to help believers understand that mental illnesses are biological in nature, not necessarily a result of sin on behalf of the individual.
A third strength of the book is its accessibility. I am about a month away from completing a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling, and in the coursework, we are required to read many works in the fields of psychology and counseling. Thus, I was familiar with the terms and literature connected with Dr. Girgis’ field. However, the average layman (or, woman) would be able to pick up his book and read it with comprehension. He provides helpful definitions of a variety of terms and illnesses. For example, on page 17, he provides this definition of disorganized speech, as “is an abnormal thought process.” He then proceeds to provide several clarifying statements. He follows this method throughout his book.
A fourth strength is his inclusion of biblical references. In his 112-page book, Dr. Girgis devotes eight chapters to examining specific passages of Scripture. Then, two other chapters have many references to the Word of God.
A fifth and final strength is his desire to help individuals understand that mental illnesses are not the result of sin but are biological phenomena. He writes, “These misconceptions often prevent Christian believers with serious mental illness and their families from seeking professional mental health treatment when it is most needed. In many cases, they do not accept psychiatric medications as they would medications for non-psychiatric conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.” Many Christians completely reject this thesis, and this ultimately harms many who have biological problems causing mental disorders.
Weaknesses of the Book
While I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Girgis’ book, and as a whole, found it helpful, there are a few issues I have. First, Dr. Girgis, in his effort to reexamine Scripture, ultimately questions it. To his credit, he frequently reminds his readers that his view does not deny the miracle, it merely enhances it. He writes, “I would suggest that this additional understanding [i.e., that mental illness was the problem afflicting individuals that are described as ‘demon-possessed’] actually enhances our understanding of these miracles and, more importantly, of how we would understand serious mental illness.” He routinely returns to this idea. Why is this a weakness?
I see it as a weakness because it denies the literal understanding of the Bible. The authors of Scripture know what mental illness is (which Dr. Girgis acknowledges in chapter 3). Thus, the writers of the Bible were familiar with it, and if the individuals possessed by demons, or individuals afflicted with depression (such as Saul), our response should be to believe them, to take them at their word. By seeking to view the Scriptures through post-Enlightenment eyes, he inadvertently, regardless of claims otherwise, calls doubt to God’s Word.
A second weakness is a failure to acknowledge the effects of sin on the mind. I agree that Christians must change the way they view mental illness. In fact, this is a strength. However, it appears that he dismisses the potential that spiritual issues can cause mental illness. For example, in Saul’s case, he routinely rejected God’s Word. After a terrible verdict of judgment, he begins to experience the afflictions of “an evil spirit.” Saul’s rebellion brought about this tormenting spirit. This, no doubt, increased his hatred for David as well as contributed to his psychotic behavior. Likewise, the curses pronounced in Deuteronomy 28:28, God uses these distresses as judgments against sin.
A third weakness is an inconsistent and honest exegesis of Scripture. I mentioned one part of this in the first weakness, but I want to address another aspect of that. Dr. Girgis sets out to perform an overview of angelic power and abilities in the Scripture. After examining or referencing five passages, he concludes, “Therefore, Satan, or any angel or other spiritual being, has no power over Creation, or humankind, who was actually given dominion over Creation by God…These statements indicate that angels, in general, do not have power over Creation and have barely more power than humans.” This is simply not true. Angels are incredibly powerful beings. A look at most systematic theologies will provide ample references to prove this. The writer of Kings dismisses this by writing, “That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp.” This does not sound like they “have barely more power than humans.” Along the same lines, Dr. Girgis completely dismisses the clarify of Scripture concerning the possession of Judas.
A fourth weakness, though similar to weaknesses one and three, is that he fails to interpret Scripture in a cohesive manner. For example, the Bible clearly teaches mental illness exists (see Deuteronomy 28:27-28, 34). However, in the Gospels something changes. This is a weakness.
Who should read this book?
Pastors and church leaders should read this book. It is helpful because he brings awareness to the biological issues related to mental illnesses. I think it will help open their eyes to the fact that we live in fallen bodies, and many in our churches are afflicted, not with spiritual issues, but with the physical fallenness of life.
I think Christians, in general, should read this book. It is accessible and clear. Keep in mind the weaknesses, and you will enjoy this book and expand your view of mental illness.
 Dr. Girgis declares his faith on page 11.
 Girgis, On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry, 3.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 8.
 See, for example, pages 30, 45, 46, 48-49, just to name a few.
 See Deuteronomy 28:27-28, 34.
 1 Samuel 16:14, NIV.
 Exodus 17, Job, Genesis 3, Revelation 12:7-9, and Hebrews 2:5, 7-8; Girgis, On Satan, 81.
 2 Kings 19:35, NIV.
 Girgis, On Satan, 86.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.