What do I think of the church’s treatment of mental illness? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
So now the internet is erupting with talk about Simone Biles stepping down at the Olympics. I see some people who I respect saying what she did is shallow and egotistical. I also see people who I respect saying that she stepped down for her own mental health and that’s commendable. Which side is right? I have no way of knowing. I also suspect that they don’t know on either side, but I figure I can talk about what I do know about, and that is my own struggles at times on the Autism spectrum.
Keep in mind when I say this, that while I realize that there are struggles at times, I do genuinely enjoy my life and I think my “disability” for lack of a better word, gives me advantages overall. If there was a cure developed, I genuinely would not want it. I also say that realizing that not all people on the spectrum are the same. Some would be greatly benefited by a cure.
However, I do want to speak on the downsides some of being on the spectrum. The biggest way is obviously in my relationships with other people. It is difficult for me to interact with people I don’t know very well and social situations can be a danger for me. I realize this is also my own fault in many ways as I have to work to overcome this, but it is a struggle nonetheless.
Consider a few years ago at a church party. Here I was with people I knew and I was fine sitting on the couch by myself reading something while everyone else was having a meal. I generally do not like meal situations. Even when I go to my own Sunday School class evening groups, I don’t eat anything. Anyway, Allie insisted that I eat something so I went and got some chips.
Shortly after the hostess saw me as I was standing in the kitchen having some chips and came up to me and said “You’re eating something! I’m so happy!” I froze immediately. Allie was next to me and laughed some at it as she thought I was joking, but then she stopped laughing. She could tell I wasn’t joking. This was an extremely difficult experience for me and I cannot explain why. I can just say that for the rest of the evening, I just wanted to leave and go home and I was miserable for a few days. I did work it out with the hostess knowing she didn’t mean any harm, but that’s a difficulty.
Last night, I was writing something in my own personal work about being in high school. What do most high school boys think about but girls? I wasn’t an exception. I had a great interest in several of them, but ask them out? Nope. I had no idea how to do that. If approaching someone I didn’t know well or even knew well to ask a difficult request was hard, how do you approach someone like a girl you’re interested in and ask them out? I had no idea.
Eventually, when I went to Bible College, I was enrolled for some time after graduation in the Master’s program and at an event for students in the program, we all went to the president’s place there. Most brought their spouses and I brought my own parents. Someone asked me, “Nick. How did you get through here without getting married?”
Thanks for asking.
Even in one of my areas of expertise, gaming, I can still have a struggle. I thoroughly enjoy playing Final Fantasy XIV with friends, and if you play also let me know and we can be friends there too, but when I am with players I don’t know, it is still a social aspect. I wonder if I am doing the right thing or not. Am I contributing to the team or am I holding us back? If I think I am being scolded, it is difficult.
People also assume many times that I am intentionally rude on the spectrum. I recall one time doing a cashier job and a lady said something like “Have a good day, even though you are not nice at all.”
What did I do?
The best I can figure is I don’t talk to people like everyone else does. I struggle with eye contact and especially after a long day of working, my social batteries would be dead. It becomes a strain to interact with people like that. For many people, I suspect looking at someone in the eyes is perfectly natural and makes sense. For me, I have to intentionally tell myself to look someone in the eye.
Here’s something that strikes me about this. I am told I am not nice at all, but with no reason. If someone really thought that, wouldn’t the nice thing to be to say why that is and give something that needs to be improved on? I am thought rude for not doing social customs instinctively. Isn’t it more rude to assume that I am just like you? As I have said before, no one would go up to someone in a wheelchair and challenge them to a foot race. I have a disability as well, but mine is invisible, which is a downside. There is no glowing message above my head saying “Autism Spectrum Disorder!” The closest I have is a bracelet for Autism Awareness that I wear, but anyone not on the spectrum could wear that.
I recently had someone who I had had some difficulties with in a group I am in and it was causing me great anxiety as I didn’t know how to bring about a conversation. Fortunately, I prayed and I do believe God answered the prayer in a great opportunity presented itself. We ended up talking for about two hours on the matter as I pointed out matters I thought were inconsistent, rightly or wrongly, and how it was deeply affecting me. My friend apologized profusely not realizing what was going on with me and things are much better.
Here is a problem I can have in group discussions. I want to contribute, but also at times I get so caught up in my own excitement on a topic that I lose sight of how others are seeing it. You mean not everyone else is as excited as I am to talk about something like divine simplicity or the evidence for the resurrection or dealing with the problem of evil or any number of subjects? I have been accused before of trying to take over a small group because I just go on and on so much.
It’s really just wanting to be accepted and make a contribution.
When people go on and on about their personal feelings with God, I’m out of the loop. Personal feelings and emotions don’t make much sense to me. In the past, I had even doubted my own salvation because of this, but thankfully, I am for the most part past that now. Still, I cannot relate when people talk about this. This doesn’t mean I never have joy in God, but my joy comes more from an academic approach and learning something about God.
Yet like everyone else, I have many of the same basic needs. I have a need to be loved and to be encouraged and accepted. It’s one reason I treasure my friends that I have. You can always say your family loves you because they’re family, but friends are different. I am amazed that I have people who seem to genuinely enjoy my company and I’m always just wanting to do something to contribute.
To go back to the lady who said I wasn’t nice at all, anyone who knows me really would know that that’s not true. If I see someone in a need, I want to do everything that I can in my power to help them. I don’t have to know them. I have a strong sense of justice. When I have been at a job and seen one of my co-workers get yelled at by someone, I want to go over and see if they’re okay and offer an ear if they need it. How can I do that? Because that doesn’t really require me revealing my own self or making my own self vulnerable. I just have to listen to someone else and I can usually do that.
It’s also one reason I hate the question of “How are you?” People say it, but they make no attempt to have a relationship with me or call me or contact me by some other means during the week to see how I am doing. It tells me it’s just being polite and not really caring about the answer, which really isn’t polite when I think about it.
I don’t know why Simone Biles stepped out of the event she was performing in. I don’t know if it was selfish or selfless. i do know that the church has a lot of work to do on mental illnesses. I know that until you have been in the other person’s shoes, you really can’t understand. It’s why I’m not saying anything either way on what Simone did. I don’t understand and I’m not in her shoes, I can tell you my experience and what being in my shoes is like and if some of what I think here is wrong, I cannot be wrong on one aspect. It is what I really think.
When you meet that person out there who doesn’t seem to do what you think they should, it is true they could be a jerk, but it could be because of very valid reasons. It could be a struggle. Perhaps they are rude, or perhaps the rude one is the one looking at someone in a wheelchair and expecting them to walk like everyone else. The difference is my wheelchair is a social one.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
What is required for you to serve? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Just recently, I was dialoguing with someone who apparently went to a church that guilted them about the Great Commission. Now if you read this blog faithfully, you know I have a joke about the whole idea of always doing something for Jesus. It comes from listening to a video with a Christian complaining about playing Pokemon Go with saying “You could be doing evangelism.”
Follow this through and it won’t work. I could go and do my job to provide for my family, but I could be doing evangelism instead. I could be sleeping at night, but I could be doing evangelism. I could have a family game night with my family and enrich my relationship with my kids, or I could be doing evangelism. I could be making love to my spouse, or I could be doing evangelism. On and on we can go.
However, the more I talked to this person, I told them that maybe if you’re asking questions so much about the Great Commission, you should consider being a missionary. The response I got was that they had never felt called. Sadly, I was anticipating such a response.
It’s amazing we have so many churches here that are Protestant and claim that Scripture is their final authority and yet go with this idea that you need to feel called in order to be a missionary or a pastor or anything like that. We will often point to Paul.
There is nothing that says what happened to Paul is supposed to happen to everyone in ministry. Nothing states that all are required to have a Damascus Road experience. It’s a kind of arrogance of our age that we all expect our lives are supposed to be just like the great heroes of the Bible.
Besides that, after hearing several ministers who are convinced they are called to preach, I wonder if they are really being called if it’s part of a divine punishment on the behalf of God towards us. Too many of these preachers just don’t have a clue how to preach or how to lead a church or both. It’s always fascinating also that when they think they are being called to another church, that church usually just happens to offer a bigger salary.
Instead, here are some criteria I would look for.
Do you have a desire. If you don’t have a strong passion in you for, say, the people of Turkey, you probably shouldn’t be a missionary over there. If you hate the thought of doing apologetics, you should probably not consider entering the apologetics ministry. On the other hand, if you have a strong desire to tell people you meet about Jesus and tell them how to become Christians, you should probably look into some material on doing evangelism, which brings us to the next point.
If you have the ability to do what you want to do well, you should consider doing it. I am not saying a Savant by any means. Everyone in every field will make some big mistakes. Everyone in any field will screw up at the start a few times and yes, even later on in their ministry they will make mistakes. This is more asking if you have a competency that can be built on. If you’re a good thinker, you could consider apologetics. If you’re an outgoing person, you could consider evangelism. If you know how to listen well, you could consider counseling.
The last is opportunity. Do you ever have the chance to do what you are wanting to do. In our day and age with the internet, this is becoming easier and easier. It’s been said that Paul would be absolutely crazy with excitement today if he could have the opportunities we have to share the gospel with the internet. We have more opportunity and means to share Christianity than ever before.
Please don’t rely on a feeling of being called. This is nowhere stated in Scripture and our modern emphasis today on feelings being the way God communicates so often with us I find to be quite dangerous. Most anything around you can influence your feelings. If I feel really tired, for example, and drink an energy drink to keep going, I will likely have anxiety the rest of the day as well. Again, anything can influence your feelings.
What we are looking at is something more stable to determine the best way for you to serve. Try going with that instead.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Are some battles the ones that are essential? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Recently in a group I’m in, someone shared a picture with someone saying on social media, “Answer me one question and I will convert to atheism. Show me the evidence for the Big Bang Theory.” I find it incredibly sad that someone could make a post like that and even if it wasn’t real, we know there are people who think that way.
For one thing, let’s start with a basic quibble. Every position has something that can be called evidence. The most crazy conspiracy theory out there that no one else will believe in except the one person who does still has evidence. You could say he’s interpreting it wrongly or that it’s not really true, but it is still evidence. If you asked if there was any evidence for Muhammad’s night flight, I could say that we do have Muslim sources saying that. That is evidence. Do I trust that evidence and think the sources are reliable? No.
This person likely meant proof, but even that is problematic for there is very little in life that we have proof for and certainly not in the area of science. We can have extremely good evidence in science for something, but that evidence is always probabilistic. It’s the same with history also. Historians don’t speak of proof. There are many events that are so sure that it’s ridiculous to doubt them, such as the crucifixion of Jesus, but that does not mean we speak of “proof.”
So after that, let’s get to the more serious point. This is not a hill to die on. Many readers I have here are YECs, but I would say the same thing to someone who was OEC and was saying “Show me the evidence of evolution and I will become an atheist.” What has to be asked is what is absolutely necessary for Christianity to be true. That doesn’t mean the other doctrines are unimportant or that they are false. It means what is absolutely necessary.
Let’s consider something with evolution. Let’s suppose you had thought that Piltdown Man was good evidence for the theory. Some people did believe that. I was trying to see how many dissertations were written on it, but I could not find that number aside from creationist websites citing 500 and I did not want to use the opponent to back the statistic.
Now we know it was a hoax. Does that mean that anyone who thought it was real should automatically conclude evolution is false? No. It could be false, but all that is really false in this case is one finding. Now you could say you question the scientific establishment after that, which is a separate issue, but the core leading cases for evolution and the science behind it would still be there. What that is would be up to the scientists to explain, but I have never had one tell me the case is built on one discovery.
So what about Christianity? You definitely need the existence of God for that. You also need Jesus being fully God and man or else we are not truly reconciled by the grace of God, which also entails the Trinity eventually, and you need the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is also not saying that you necessarily have to affirm everything to be a Christian. For example, I don’t expect a small child to understand the Trinity nor do I think the early church was quoting the Nicene Creed, though the seeds of the doctrine were there.
What about inerrancy? That is something important, but there could hypothetically be an error in the Scriptures and Christianity could still be true. It could still be that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead. After all, the early church didn’t even have a New Testament and it’s not like a slip-up in a later writer could overturn a past historical event. Note that this does not mean inerrancy is false. That is not relevant at this point. It is just saying it is not an essential. It’s not even saying the doctrine is unimportant. It can still be important and I understand many churches and Christian schools putting it in a statement of faith.
The same applies to YEC. The same applies to OEC or to Evolutionary creationism. If you look at any of these and say “If this is not true, I am abandoning Christianity”, then you are basing your faith on something other than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You could say if they are false, “I still have the resurrection of Jesus, but now I really have to rethink doctrine XYZ” and that’s okay!
For me, there have been many positions on which I have changed my stance. One such example is eschatology. I used to be a strong dispensationalist. I grew up listening to Southern Gospel music and so many songs are about the rapture. I was challenged by a Baptist minister especially to rethink that with plenty of reasons and like C.S. Lewis being dragged into the kingdom, I went kicking and screaming. Over several years time, I moved into orthodox Preterism. I have a strong passion to talk about eschatology and that doctrine, but I will not base my Christianity on it. I would say if it was shown to be false, “Whoa. I really gotta rethink the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation.” Maybe I would never even find an understanding of them. That’s okay. For all of us, there are things in the Bible that we don’t understand and aspects of our theology we are still working out.
Please note that at this point, I am not saying YEC, OEC, or EC are false. Right now, it doesn’t matter. I’m also not saying your stance on origins and creation doesn’t matter. I’m not saying you can’t have strong positions on those issues, be passionate about them, and argue for them. I am simply saying don’t base Christianity on them. Christianity needs to be based on the life of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.
Odds are if you are journeying on your Christian life and studying, you will change your mind on a number of issues, and that’s okay. There will still be many things you don’t know in the end also, no matter how much you study. If any of us could comprehend God, we would be God and He would not be. There are going to always be passages of the Bible that you don’t understand and you will not be a perfect interpreter of every one of them. That’s also okay.
Don’t be like this person who based their faith on something other than Jesus. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s wrong. I don’t really care on that issue. What I want to know is where does he stand on the resurrection of Jesus. It would be better to get Jesus right and everything else wrong, than to get everything else right and Jesus wrong.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
How does Jesus forgive? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I don’t really read devotional material a lot. Most if is rather shallow to me and doesn’t really move me in any way. The exception in the past has been G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis devotionals. Right now, every day I read the Daily Stoic and I’m going through the Old Testament Apocrypha. A few days ago, I was going through the Stoic, whose author has not admitted any religious faith of any kind, and the author talked about Jesus on the cross and how whatever your religious persuasion is, the words of Jesus offering forgiveness to His tormentors is stunning and gives a chill.
Which leaves me again wondering, “Why doesn’t it?” I suspect it is because, as I have said before, we have grown up so much with Jesus in the culture that we aren’t really surprised by Him. We don’t consider His life anymore.
Now I know there are some skeptics reading this who will say, “You need to make a historical case that that is what was said.” There is a place for that, but I honestly want to just focus on the story today. What we all can agree on is that the story exists. This is something Tom Gilson hits on in his book Too Good To Be False. Whatever we think about the story, we can all agree that it exists. (And if it doesn’t, what are we talking about?)
What we are looking at is the unique character of forgiveness done on the cross. What does this tell us about Jesus? Like Gilson, I contend this is the kind of figure that we just can’t create wholesale. Today, it might be more doable, but that’s because we actually have a Jesus to use as a basis.
Today, we can easily talk about the way that someone is treating us and denouncing it and say that we are being crucified by them. We realize we are using hyperbole, but that is what we do. While I normally have problems with the word “literally” in the case of Jesus, He “literally” was being crucified.
This isn’t anything mild. This is being nailed to a cross with the intent being to not only kill, but also shame. Jesus could very well have been completely naked up there being exposed to everyone who walked by. This was done in public for everyone around to see. Jesus was an object lesson. Not only that, his accusers were convinced they were doing a righteous act, but it was also being done largely out of envy, from the people that were supposed to reflect the God of Israel.
There was indeed evil behind what they were doing, but to some extent, ignorance. On that basis, Jesus seeks forgiveness for them. It’s really incredible this is said from the cross. If you or I were wronged in a horrid way, it would be more likely for us to think about the incident hours or maybe days or weeks or longer later and say, “I really do need to have an attitude of forgiveness to them.” Jesus says it while it is going on.
How many of us are willing to say we’re at that level?
Frankly also, what we go through today is the overwhelming majority of the time mild compared to crucifixion. This is one reason why when I meet people who are Christians struggling with forgiveness, I tell them to do this exercise. Picture that you are with the person you are struggling to forgive and you are in the presence of Jesus telling Jesus all that He did to you.
Except Jesus is on the cross at the time.
If it sounds silly by comparison, that’s the point.
That will also, hopefully, make forgiveness easier.
This doesn’t mean they’re clean and free forever. It really means that you are leaving them in the hands of God and letting Him judge them. Now if they repent and come to God, that doesn’t even mean there are no consequences. God can remove eternal consequences, but there can still be temporary ones. David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheba, but his son still died.
It also doesn’t mean the wrong done to you doesn’t matter. It definitely does. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong. It very well could have been. It means you are not holding this person accountable. That also doesn’t mean everything goes back. You can forgive someone for something, but it doesn’t mean they are trusted again.
Here’s the hard part for us Christians. This is not optional. This is commanded. Jesus tells us that if you do not forgive, your Father will not forgive your sins. Now having said that, I don’t think it’s good to go up to your offender and say “I forgive you.” I think you are robbing them of the gift of repentance and frankly, they may not think they did anything wrong so it could make matters worse. However, you are to have the attitude of forgiveness. In your own heart, you are to relinquish the right to seek justice for your own personal reasons. That doesn’t mean no justice. You can forgive someone for what they did to you, but still think the police need to know for various reasons, such as the person being a danger to themselves or the community.
However, I still want to emphasize how shocking Jesus is. We can read the story and think it’s a nice story, but if it’s true, how incredible is that? Jesus lived His example of forgiveness and love and mercy even to the cross. There are no cries for justice. There is only mercy and forgiveness.
Live like that.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Why does it not make sense to me to see people make the argument from evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Suppose you know the basic Christian claims, but you don’t know the reasons behind them. You don’t know the case for why Jesus rose from the dead and you don’t know the case for the existence of God. Suppose also that you don’t really know the arguments for atheism. You don’t see a strong case for something like evolution so you’re skeptical. Essentially, you’re a more neutral person in this debate. I realize this is highly unlikely, but this is a thought analogy.
Now you are presented with the problem of evil. Again, you don’t know a strong case against God or for God one way or the other. All you know is that if you go with this problem, then you have a case for not thinking God exists. It’s not a certain one, but it’s a probabilistic one. However, you also know something else about the problem of evil.
You know the problem of evil entails real suffering. You know a woman being raped involves real suffering. You know children starving in Africa involves real suffering. You know that there have been such evils in the past as 9/11 and the holocaust.
You also know that on atheism, at least what you are presented, those are still being seen as evil. You also know that on theism, especially Christian theism, there is a good God who is involved in some way you are told and will one day redeem the suffering people go through and bring about justice. You don’t know how this will happen or when, but you know on Christianity, it is claimed to be happening someday.
Then you start to think. “If I go with this argument, then I remove God from the picture and if I do, there is no basis for redemption of suffering or future justice.” That means that the rapist can still get away with it. That means the children dying just pass out of existence. That means that some people who were involved in the holocaust will never face ultimate justice.
You remove God from the picture, and yet the evil still exists. The person who has been raped has still been raped. The child who is dying in Africa is still dying. 9/11 and the holocaust still happened regardless.
What have you gained from this? You still have the problem and not a solution. It would seem that on a practical ground at least, you would want theism of some kind to be true. Note that I am not speaking on the argumentative level here. I am not saying at this point the arguments for Christian theism or atheism are better. I’m speaking about which one would you at least want to be true?
From my standpoint, at least on theism, you can have some level of hope regardless. If the rapist is never found, you can at least believe that there is a God who will judge him one day. If you go through suffering, you can at least believe that that suffering will be redeemed not just for good, but also for your good. You can believe that the innocents who die can be brought into the loving manifest presence of God and enjoy Him forever.
To be fair, I could also understand an atheist who would see this and say “It would be wonderful if that was true, and I honestly wish it was, but I don’t believe that it is.” That’s a fair position. I don’t understand anyone who would say, “I really don’t want that to be true. I don’t want justice to be brought to the evildoer and I don’t want suffering to be redeemed for good.” That doesn’t really make sense. You could go on and say it’s a fairy tale if you want to, but still say, “It would be nice though if that fairy tale was true.”
For me then, when I then look at the arguments for and against Christian theism, the arguments for have a lot more power to them. Evil is a very good argument to appeal to one’s emotions, but from a rational and a practical standpoint, I find it greatly lacking. This is not to say one cannot argue against God on other grounds, but evil is not the best one. It also is not to say that one should say Christian theism is true because they want it to be true. Not at all. None of this is an argument for Christian theism. It is just a way of looking at the problem as it is presented.
This is definitely nothing against making arguments for theism and definitely not saying we don’t need to answer the problem of evil. We do. This is just my saying from a practical standpoint, the argument doesn’t make sense. It might seem to gain an intellectual victory perhaps, but it doesn’t really change the suffering and removes the hope in the face of that suffering.
Also, none of this resolves us whatever our viewpoint of our responsibility. While those of us who are Christians do believe in prayer, if we just pray while there is something more we can do, then we have not done enough. If you have a loved one in a car accident and they are in the doctor’s care, then prayer is about all you can do, but you could possibly also visit the rest of the family and be support. You might not be able to go overseas and feed starving children in Africa, but you can support a missionary or special program to help provide food and water for them.
By the way, one such organization to go to is Jonathan’s Impact. They are friends of Deeper Waters. Jonathan was a young boy who I never got to meet, but looked up to me from a distance and I invested a lot of time in this fine young man. His death is certainly a tragedy, but his parents are fulfilling a deep desire that Jonathan had. If you want to help out the people in Africa, please consider this organization.
So in the end, I find from just a practical standpoint the argument from evil removes hope. From a philosophical standpoint on other grounds, I find it just fails. However, if I didn’t have the philosophy, I would at least want something like Christian theism to be true.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)