Out of the Black Hole
I was sitting in the university clinic, about to find out that I had mononucleosis. The doctor who saw me was very kind, and I opened up to her. As we continued to talk, she told me about a God who loved all of His creation and me personally. She took out a small green book and handed it to me. It was a New Testament.
Like most Jewish people, I had never read it. But I had nothing against it, so I took it. In the next few weeks I read parts of it as I recuperated—after which I didn’t look at the book again for quite some time. In fact, the next time I remember looking at it I was in a very dangerous place—not physically, but spiritually.
During my senior year at college, one of my roommates was involved in an encounter group. These groups are generally geared for seven to twenty people who get together with the aim of shedding polite social masks and expressing their real feelings. The assumption is that participants will experience personal growth by throwing off social restrictions and interacting honestly and openly.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WRONG KIND
I never thought I would join such a group, but after recovering from mono, I found that I was lonely, and the encounter group seemed like a good way to help me interpersonally. So I went to an all-night introductory session, where we weren’t allowed to sleep, in order to “break down our defenses.” That should have alerted me to the fact that something was wrong, but the leader was very charismatic and I found what he had to say interesting.
He easily gained people’s trust and some participants that night even consented to hypnosis. As I began to attend weekly group sessions, I was sucked into a psychological black hole. The group’s leader said that our problems stemmed from our parents, and we were encouraged to vehemently express any negative feelings we had toward them. We were also taught that members of our group were the only “safe” people to have as friends, since we were all now much more “in tune” with our feelings than the rest of society. I created distance from my parents and friends while depending on the group to meet all my emotional needs. But, since they were still just flawed human beings like everyone else, I was disappointed.
One day, as I was sitting on the back step of the house where we met, I pulled out that little green New Testament the doctor had given me and began reading it. When the leader walked by and saw what I was reading, he tried to steer me away from it.
THE OCCULT DIMENSION
I thought that was strange, as he had weaved a general sense of spirituality into his teaching. But something about that New Testament clearly bothered him. Later I realized that little green book posed a threat to his power. Beyond the cultish nature of the group, there was an occult dimension.
Occult practitioners seek knowledge and power, the desire to “be like God” (see lead article and Genesis 3:5). Although the leader did not engage in overt occult activities (Ouija boards, séances, etc.) in our presence, he encouraged us to cast off any moral or cultural restraints. Ultimately, the occult is designed to lead people, who the Bible teaches are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), to reject the authority of God and become their own authority (god).
Eventually, I learned that the leader, who was married, had had sexual encounters with several of the female group members. When his behavior began to surface, the group dissolved and I was on my own. I began to read the Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, and in August 1978 came to believe in Jesus.
However, a few weeks after that, I began to have horrendous recurring nightmares in which a man with a mask stood over me, choking me. I could not breathe and had to shake myself with great effort out of sleep. Another Jewish believer in Jesus had recommended a church to me, and I was attending there. One Sunday morning after the service, I told the pastor about my nightmares. He immediately called for the elders of the church and had them anoint me with oil and pray for me. I later learned that this was in accordance with New Testament teaching (James 5:14–15). After they prayed, I suddenly knew the identity of the person behind the mask. It was my former group leader! From that day forward, I never had that dream again. I believe I was delivered from a demonic influence/spirit (see lead article).
Both my parents are Jewish, but not religious, so I did not grow up reading the Hebrew Scriptures. But as a new believer in Jesus, I found myself reading both the Old and New Testaments. One day, as I read the Ten Commandments, one hit me with full force: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). How contrary to the teaching of the encounter group, I thought. From that moment on I determined to follow that commandment, and my relationship with my parents has remained solid through my adult life.
As I continued to read the New Testament, I was amazed to find descriptions of “false teachers” that exactly described the leader of that cult/occult encounter group. Here is one: “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls” (2 Peter 2:14). And another: “… speaking loud boasts of folly, they… promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption” (2 Peter 2:18–19).
I didn’t think about it at the time, but looking back, I realize that probably 75 percent of the people in that encounter group were Jewish. Just as I believe there is a God, I believe that Satan is real and seeks to destroy the Jewish people.
Why the Jewish people in particular? The Bible says that God has chosen us: “O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!” (1 Chronicles 16:13) and promised that our people will always exist: “Thus says the Lord: ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel’” (Jeremiah 31:37). Think about that. If Satan could succeed in wiping us out, he would prove God to be a liar.
I believe that cult/occult group was just one example of how Satan tried to do that. The Scriptures say that Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), and that his followers do so as well. The group leader, under the guise of helping us all to become “like God,” encouraged us to abandon any moral principles that God established in the Scriptures. That would ultimately lead us to destruction.
I am so grateful that God delivered me from that spiritual black hole, and I pray that if you find yourself in a similar one, you will cry out to the one who called himself, “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
 Not all cults are occult. And not all occult activity takes place in a cult. Also, not all encounter groups are cults.