Tag Archives: Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Sin-drome

Oftentimes we don’t see sin the way we should:  as a major problem.  Instead, we have a love affair with sin.  We’re bewitched and entranced by it.

On August 23, 1973 a man walked into a bank in Stockholm, Sweden.  Jan-Erik Olsson was a convicted armed robber and that day he was intent on doing it again.  Things didn’t go the way he planned and he ended up taking four hostages.  A stand-off with police lasted for five days.  It finally ended when police launched a gas attack into the vault where Olsson was holed up with his hostages.  What was remarkable was that afterwards the hostages seemed to sympathize with Olsson.  They were critical of the police and felt bad for the hostage taker.  Psychologists took an interest in this case and it led to observations of similar behaviour in other kidnapping and hostage situations.  People who are kidnapped or held hostage sometimes get emotionally attached to the kidnapper or hostage taker.  This became known as Stockholm Syndrome.  It’s exactly what sin does to all of us.  It enslaves us, it threatens to kill us, and then we become attached to it.  We may defend it, rationalize it, and even love it.  If we could see things rationally, we would see that what enslaves us will later kill us.  If we could see things the way they really are, we would see that we need deliverance.

Moreover, the world tells us lies that help keep us from seeing things the way they really are.  The world tells us that our captor is loving and kind, looking out for our best interests.  The world tells us that our captivity is not a problem, in fact, there is no captivity.  Slavery is freedom.  How can you have a depraved nature when there is no such thing as good and evil?  Or, if someone is inconsistent and does maintain the reality of good and evil, they’ll tell you that we’re all basically good.  “We all have good hearts,” they’ll say.

It should be clear that the Bible calls this what it is:  falsehood.  It’s all lies and snake-think.  It’s what the devil wants you to think so that he and his minions can keep you from finding hope and salvation in Jesus Christ.  If you don’t have a sinful nature, if you’re not enslaved by sin, you don’t need deliverance.  If you don’t need deliverance, you don’t need Jesus Christ.  Those are lies.  The truth is we all have a sinful nature, in the raw we are all enslaved by sin, and therefore we all need deliverance.  1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  We have sin, we need rescue.  Because we all need rescue, we all need Jesus Christ.  This is the truth the Bible lays before us.

(The above is an excerpt from a recent sermon with Lord’s Day 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism as the lesson – you can find the video here)

Kim Jong-il and His Odd Mourners

This appeared in the January 2012 issue of Reformed Perspective.

The death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il on December 17 captured the world’s attention.  The bizarre lifestyle of the autocrat had long been the butt of jokes.  Still, his nuclear ambitions had kept the world on edge.  A number of years ago, President George W. Bush identified North Korea as part of an “axis of evil.”  Internally, Kim Jong-il held most North Koreans in a holding pattern of poverty and oppression.  There’s no point in even speaking about religious freedom in North Korea, because there is none.  It is one of the most awful places to live on earth.

How odd then that news broadcasts showed crowds of North Koreans mourning the death of Kim Jong-il.  News anchors and correspondents noted that the mourning seemed to be perfectly choreographed for the cameras.  There was little credibility in these public displays of grief.  No one could believe that North Koreans would actually be sad at the death of this evil man.

But it is possible that the grief was genuine.  There is a documented and well-researched psychological phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome.  When someone has been under the control of an abductor for a long period of time, eventually they may start to develop feelings of affection for their captor.  They may begin to feel protective of the one who has done this evil against them.  Perhaps what we saw in North Korea was the result of persuasion by threat of brute force.  But it could also have been a case of Stockholm Syndrome writ large.

At first glance, Stockholm Syndrome seems strange.  Developing a love for your captor?  But as believers, we know this happens more than we care to admit.  Paul wrote of the struggle that he experienced with the remnants of the sinful nature – “the law of sin” that held him captive (Rom. 7:23).  How hard it is to break free from the love of this evil!  Part of growing in grace means that we stop mourning for the death of our captor.