Another key issue that seems to be a line in the sand is this concept of spiritual self-reliance or "victory" over sin.
This one issue seems to be what separates Democrats from Republicans, social conservatives from liberals and etc. I think it too is a dividing line between evangelicals and Christian non (or post) evangelicals. But first I must give some background.
Most of my posts have their roots deeply planted in conversations I have with one of my evangelical friends. After all, I am a post-evangelical struggling to live in an evangelical world.
A friend of mine was describing a testimony he heard from one of the guys who attend the motorcycle church that meets in our church building. I can’t remember the details of this man’s life but it was rough. I think he grew up with a drug addicted mom and no father in a tough L.A. neighborhood. It seems like he was raped by some of his mother’s boyfriends when he was really young. Then he got involved with drugs and gangs. I think he became a gang leader and maybe even killed some people.
But some how, like Paul’s road to Damascus experience, he became a Christian. Immediately he left his old drug and gang life and became a new man. Now he is either a pastor or an assistant pastor, living a very “godly” life.
My friend, who was telling the story, remarked that this man is proof that you can recover from anything with God’s help. Therefore, he didn’t buy the “excuses” of PTSD.
I of course don’t agree. But it got me thinking about this. Like I said, I don’t have certainty in any of my positions so when I hear something that seems to challenge my presuppositions, I meditate on it for a few days to see if I am wrong (but I’m not a wishy-washy Olive).
When it comes to personality, weaknesses, addictions and mental illness, I’ve said before that the cause tends to be a mixture of nature and nurture. For some people (say severe schizophrenia) it is mostly nature. For PTSD, it is mostly nurture. Both of them can be the results of old sin (genetic flaws through the fall of Adam or abuse at a young age by the hands and sin of another). Of course our own choices (sin) can magnify them (choosing to use drugs etc.) However, I’ve stood my ground that for most people, who suffer from significant mental health problems, to be totally healed in this life-time would take a Biblical-grade miracle. Something along the lines of a life-long, cripple suddenly jumping up and walking or a blind person seeing. Not just a “card-trick” type of miracle that you hear in a typical Sunday morning sermon (landing a plane on the Hudson, grandma having cataract surgery and now she can see 80% better).
So my point, while mental health problems are treatable, rarely (especially if they are serious) can they go completely away.
My position is based on hundreds of patients whom I’ve worked with over the years . . . and my own brush with mental illness. My mental illness (which I’ve disclosed before) is not severe but significant. It is a generalized anxiety disorder. It has waivered up and down over the years. I knew I had it by age 5-6. I’m not sure how much of mine was nature vs nurture and it really doesn’t matter. I do know that I’ve fought this plague with every ounce of strength that I have for my entire life. When I was an evangelical, I jumped through every spiritual hoop that you can imagine. I can guarantee that I exceeded any spiritual trick that anyone could think of. I mean, I’ve fasted for days and I’ve fasted once a week for weeks or months. I’ve memorized hundreds of verses. I have attended enough discipleship programs to render me brain dead . . . and I have not been delivered. I’ve had charismatics laying hands on me including those who have all kinds of gifts of healing. The only time I was “delivered” was when I considered myself a “godly man” and I buried my terror so deeply so that no one else would notice. Then I could claim I was “healed.” The only thing I have not done is taken a lot of medications. I probably would be better off if I had.
It is hard for us (and I really think the majority of people make up the broken “us” that I’m speaking of) to have worked sooooooo hard on something, then to have a spiritual evangelical come up and immediately tell you how it is your fault that you suffer so much and that there is an easy fix, just like they’ve fixed all of their problems. PLEEEEEEEASE! This is either someone who has never, ever suffered from your problem, or they live way up on the 60th floor (away from reality on the ground floor) that they, like I’ve done before, pretend they are perfect.
But the question has to be begged—who are these people (like the motorcycle pastor mentioned) who do seem to recover fully? I mean, besides the ex-gang born again saints, I think of those great people who survived the holocaust. I can’t think of anything more horrible (psychologically) that living through that. But I don’t hear of many (of course they are old now and not as many left) holocaust survivors suffering from mental illnesses as a result. Maybe it was a huge problem and wasn’t mentioned.
I think it is an important issue. If we really can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and over come completely these issues, then the Church must choose. Either it becomes the Grand Theater, where we all pretend . . . or it becomes a safe place. A safe place where we can talk about what ails us and we support each other but we don’t expect each other to ever reach that level of “victory.”
But still I wonder about that pastor. If he was raped over and over as a child, beaten, abused, drugged up, abused others . . . how does he live Godly now without the hang ups that I still carry? Is there still a balm hidden in some Christian self-help book that I haven’t done? Or,( as I am often tempted to think), am I just an inferior person . . . disgusting in God’s eyes for failing? I think that latter way often . . . but I really don’t believe it. I think it comes from the great accuser.