Paranoia is a mental condition characterized by suspicious, distrustful attitudes toward other people, delusions of persecution or of grandeur, and irrational thought processes. Paranoia can range from general self-consciousness to a crippling mental illness. Paranoid people may also suffer from phobias, anxiety, or extreme shyness. Paranoia usually involves an exaggerated distrust of people or situations that are not validated by past experience. Mental conditions such as paranoia were not well-documented in centuries past, and the Bible does not use the term paranoia.
When we remove the psychiatric label, paranoia is simply self-centered fear, and the Bible has much to say about that (Joshua 1:9; Luke 12:7). Fear is the brooding suspicion that God will not be enough for what we are facing, that He has forgotten us, or that He may even be against us. When fear is coupled with self-focus, we become paranoid. We doubt our own value and may begin to screen the responses of others for negativity toward us. Paranoid people see and hear those responses through their own filters and become convinced that others view them the same way that they view themselves: inadequate and unworthy. People dominated by paranoia look outward toward others to validate their worth rather than upward toward God. Even while craving validation, they perceive telltale signs of rejection or hostility in everything. They take every word, action, and event as confirmation that their paranoid fears were correct. This can make healthy relationships virtually impossible for a paranoid person.
The cure for non-pathological paranoia is total surrender to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). When the Holy Spirit fills us as He desires to do, we become self-forgetful rather than self-centered. Whether or not other people like or approve of us ceases to consume our thoughts (Galatians 1:10). Our lives are whittled down to a single goal: the glory and pleasure of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31). Rejection still stings, slights still wound, and our feelings still get hurt. But when we are fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus, we recognize those hurts as opportunities to transfer ownership of them to the Lord. When we bring paranoid fears to Jesus for His perspective, He can use them to showcase selfishness and self-preoccupation that are leading us down a wrong path (Psalm 139:23).
King Saul is an example of someone who let paranoia take over his life. When Saul realized that young David had captured the hearts of the people of Israel, he became angry and began to keep a suspicious eye on him (1 Samuel 18:6–9). David had made no threatening moves toward Saul, yet Saul’s jealousy turned to paranoia and he began seeking ways to kill David. The Bible records that “an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul” (1 Samuel 18:10). This seems to imply that, in his jealousy and hatred toward an innocent man, Saul opened the door for demonic influence in his own heart. His paranoia became so overwhelming that he went on a murderous rampage, convinced that David was out to get him and that everyone else was against him, too, including the Lord’s priests (1 Samuel 22:13–19) and his own son Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:30–33). If God’s anointed king could be destroyed by paranoia, we should all be aware of our own vulnerability.
Paranoia as a psychological disorder should be treated with medication and therapy. But many times paranoid tendencies arise when we harbor unrepentant sin or unforgiveness. Second Corinthians 2:10–11 reminds us that we must forgive those who have wronged us “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” One of Satan’s schemes is to gain access into our lives by our disobedience to God’s commands. Paranoia is one way the devil can destroy the witness and effectiveness of a Christian. When we nurture bitterness, hatred, or other sin, it is like going to bed and leaving the front door open all night. Anything can come in.
While not all physical or mental illnesses are due to sin (John 9:2–3; Luke 13:16), some conditions such as paranoia can have roots in our ongoing disobedience or in some past experience not fully processed. Working with a biblical counselor to discover those roots can help a person who suffers from paranoia overcome it. Repentance, surrender, and acceptance of the spiritual healing God offers can transform paranoia into joyful self-forgetfulness (Jeremiah 17:14; Philippians 3:13).