Curing Christian Dysfunctions

“Love is not completely foreign to me, but it is something I struggle with.”

-Benjamin Collier, fantasy author

And so goes the human journey. Few, though, have both the perception and the honesty to state it as clearly and profoundly as my friend Ben.

I don’t think I love God so much as I see him as something fulfilling the role of God, without which something would be missing. But I highly doubt that recognizing the necessity of a person or thing is the same as love. So I question that I’m really doing this Christian thing the way that I’m supposed to.

-Benjamin Collier

Through the lens of Asperger’s, Ben more effectively diagnoses the ills of the Christian walk than many a popular pulpit. Perhaps this diagnosis is not exactly a result of the non-neurotypical state. Perhaps it’s a clearminded observation of the non-Edenic state. And perhaps it presents both problem and cure.

Here’s the problem: We all think this way about God at least some of the time. We call it, “I just feel so far from God,” or “I’m not sure about God’s love for me,” or “I reject that hateful God the previous generation taught me about, my God is about love.”

But the thing is, feelings of distance, uncertainty or defiance–are our feelings, not God’s character, and not the same as our state of understanding.

Aspergians tend to process emotions differently than neurotypicals; in this case, that may be exactly the right medicine. Because it’s too easy, too often, for people to phrase this phenomenon as an emotional reaction, as if God were treating them wrong, rather than recognizing that they’re treating God as a thing that fulfills the role of God for me.

That’s not a wrong starting place. It’s just that it’s a means of founding our understanding (seeing God through His role), not the final end, as Ben points out in his essay. The neurotypical emotional response to that level of understanding is a symptom, not a diagnosis.

From another writer friend:

…with God all things are possible. Things include those entities, propositions, or events that are rational; that is, they conform to what is analytically and formally possible pursuant to the rules of inference and basic laws of logic. For instance, the basic law of thought and rationality, the law of non-contradiction, states that a thing cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship. Any thing that breaks this law is not a thing; it is no-thing. Irrationality does not produce things.

-Marc Schooley, supernatural suspense author

Recognizing the thingness of God, then, is in some sense foundational to knowing Him. We cannot love what we do not know, because we’re inherently relational beings. God is both relational and rational.

This idea of rationality brings up the atheist objection. We religionists, it’s said, have invented and adhered ourselves to something to fulfill the role of God because it’s what our parents taught us, or because we’re insecure and need to create us/them (i.e. saved/unsaved, chosen/unchosen, holy/unholy) dichotomies to bolster our egos, or because we have an emotional need called feeling like something is missing. The missing thing, supposedly, is not a God-shaped void at all. It’s just a lie we’ve bought.

Perhaps Ben has rightly pointed out the cure for this objection. That cure may well be grounded in this commonsense recognition: We may be right about the need for God and we may be right about what He does for us. But the Christian life is more than an attachment to our own conception of God based on what we think He does for us.

God is both relational and rational, but we are broken in our relationships and our rationality. All humans tend to view others through an object-oriented lens. Mrs. So-And-So is my teacher. Mr. Whosit is a policeman. We do this because it’s emotionally taxing to care about everybody equally. It’s a way of conserving our personal resources.

But, rationally, God the creator and sustainer is our personal resource, if He is truly omnipotent, infinite and ever with us. It’s somewhat beyond the human capacity to adjust for that concept. For that, we need His Holy Spirit.

There is a next step. “If any man come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”

Is this merely religion-talk for ignoring our own feelings, thinking capacity and best judgement in favour of nonsensical faith rhetoric? Does it necessarily require a me/God binary in which my very person is slated for eradication?

One more writer friend refutes the dualism usually read into this and other scriptures:

I truly believe that everything we are called to be, we are equipped to be in Christ.

So why are we not living that way?

Well, as a guess, I’d say it has something to do with our perspective being off. We look to define ourselves by others around us. Even if we do have a strong sense of purpose, we go out into the world, and every day, a little bit of that is beaten out of us…We believe in purpose, but we doubt our ability. We believe in change, but we doubt our role.

-Ashley Clark, literary writer and novelist

Ashley points out the inversion to the problem Ben noted. Sometimes we define others by their relationship to us. But also, sometimes we define ourselves by our relationship to others around us.

Neither is completely flawed or completely accurate. The full solution isn’t simply “deny yourself,” and it’s not simply “take up your cross.”

It’s also “follow Me.”

We are divided against ourselves–both A and not-A at the same time, moment by moment. We are prone to view self and others as anchor points for reality, yet we are ghosts struggling to materialize out of a nebulous fog of half-relationships and half-rationality. Yet in Christ, we have a thingness that we can’t obtain on our own.

I am an inconsistent, uncomprehending fool, and yet in the mind and works of God, there is a rationale for my existence.

We are, one could say, no-thing emerging into thingness.

Perhaps we should expect and accept that our sense of God will be the same.

It’s not time yet to throw up hands and shrug and say, “what is truth?” And it’s not time yet to say “I have the truth.” We are caught inside our own dysfunction, being made whole by Christ.

In the meantime, we can strive for balance. Relationship comes from the heart; rationality from training the mind.

Follow Me.

Thus we can say, I am nothing before Thee. Thus we can perceive the need for Scripture’s guidance, the impelling force of humility as a means of godliness, and godliness as a means of great gain–and even though it take a lifetime, in the end, a final cure.

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8 comments

  1. This: “We are caught inside our own dysfunction, being made whole by Christ.”

    I have been pondering a side of this for a while, how God shows each of us just a part and we will only see the whole of who He is and what bits we stuck on when all is fulfilled and we are with Him and even then I suspect it will be much like “A Horse and His Boy” where we will only know and possibly understand our own story.

    And in all honesty it all comes down to faith. We trust and obey and believe, knowing that we may not understand it all, we may not understand Him but only in part, yet we know (through faith) that He IS and He will and so continue on even though we do not fully understand how deep and how wide.

    1. “I have been pondering a side of this for a while, how God shows each of us just a part and we will only see the whole of who He is and what bits we stuck on when all is fulfilled and we are with Him and even then I suspect it will be much like “A Horse and His Boy” where we will only know and possibly understand our own story.”

      Me too. I wonder if it has something to do with each of us being made into particular facets of His image–we’re each designed to reflect some unique aspect of Him, though He’s infinite, so no wonder every human being is their own thing, and every spiritual walk is its own thing too.

      Yet, as sinners, we turn that into a big conflict more often than not, instead of taking a step back and examining what other facets of God’s person we can perceive through others’ spiritual differences and commonalities.

      There was a conversation recently on one of our groups about how people experience the leading of the Holy Spirit–whether there is such a thing as direct personal (non-canonical) revelation to guide us through daily life. It was interesting how many people responded in the affirmative, with very clear and unique examples. I could give my own, but that’s one of those conversations I prefer to avoid because it can so easily become a subtle comparison of experiential holiness.

      But it interested me deeply, and I’m glad that group (which is so remarkably good about not arguing, for the most part) was the one to tackle it, because much more comes forth in that environment. One of the louder atheist objections I’ve heard is, “If God is there, why doesn’t He speak to each of us [i.e. me the atheist] personally and prove it?”

      Possible answer A: Because the atheist’s ears are adamantly closed.

      Possible answer B: Because the atheist is not in relationship with God, and in the world as it is, only a fool entrusts their friendship to a hostile stranger. God could hardly be a fool if He is God. Furthermore, why would a loving God force “friendship” upon anyone who doesn’t want it?

      Possible answer C: Because God is personal, not a mindless force of the universe, therefore the presuppositions of the question are wrongly constructed (in a variety of ways). A force might behave so. But commonsense says a God who is a person would demonstrate the same or greater flexibility and variety of behaviour as/than we ourselves do as people.

      Anyway, rabbit trail. :)

      1. I know what you mean about that post and I was leery/cautious but it was amazing to see how God HAD spoken directly to so many and in so many clear ways.

        It is easy to lash out and get angry/aggressive when someone sees a different side of God from the one we see. It is the whole rats and elephant story all over again. And so we have to pray and take the good and trust Him.

  2. Indeed, and in that light, the final cure is not such a thing to live in dread of. Nicely handled, freethinker…

  3. “But the thing is, feelings of distance, uncertainty or defiance–are our feelings, not God’s character, and not the same as our state of understanding.”

    Thank you for pointing this out, Cat.

    In recent years I’ve become increasingly aware that most of the people I talk to go by the theory “What I Feel = What I Believe”, and vice-versa. Thus, whenever someone talks about their feelings, other people tend to correct them, debating the described feeling as though it had been presented as a belief statement, when really it was just the person describing what they were going through emotionally at the time.

    I’m aware that what I believe and what I feel are two different things. Feelings fluctuate, truth doesn’t. Most of the time the two are in agreement, but not always.

    In dark times I can feel like God is distant while still knowing that he’s always there for me. There are Bible verses that tell me this, and evidence based on my life experiences. But knowing that doesn’t remove the negative feelings I have during those dark times, it just reminds that this isn’t the end of the story.

    1. “Thus, whenever someone talks about their feelings, other people tend to correct them, debating the described feeling as though it had been presented as a belief statement, when really it was just the person describing what they were going through emotionally at the time.”

      This really clicks with me, because very little in life irritates me more than when my personal feelings become a debate subject. (I think that’s why I blog the way I do.) I tend to hold them separate from truth, because, as you say, they fluctuate. They’re an experience, to be accepted for what they are, without any reference to what’s “rational” being required.

      “There are Bible verses that tell me this, and evidence based on my life experiences. But knowing that doesn’t remove the negative feelings I have during those dark times, it just reminds that this isn’t the end of the story.”

      Yep. Though Ecclesiastes contains record of how little pleasure-seeking achieves anyway, I distinctly disagree with our hedonist society’s attempts to remove, suppress or recondition all negative feelings. I think it’s dishonest and a disservice to people that the zeitgeist seems wired to muffle those experiences. Not everything is or should be an uplifting, entertaining and satisfying moment.

      I guess it’s that I see bad times as a doorway to God–not that things must be bad for us to need to turn to Him, but that they more quickly take us to the end of our native resources, which is where He begins to work in the deepest ways. Sometimes we see it at the time, sometimes we don’t catch on till later. But there He is.

  4. Truth Jesus said “I am the Way, the Life, and the Truth”. Truth is not an abstract static fact, but a living person. Truth is relational. Cross referencing Jesus’ statement we can see that truth is a way, and that truth is life. Truth is a way in that it is interactive and prescriptive. Thus we see Jesus say to one person “go home”(Mt 9:5-6) and to another “leave home” (Mt 8:21-22). Truth speaks relationally and prescriptively into our lives in order to tell us what our next step on the way is. Truth is that which brings life. We can say something that is factually accurate, but if it is said without love, if it produces death in a person, then this is not truth. Truth liberates, redeems, heals, loves, and brings life out of darkness. Truth can be painful, but in the context of a relational understanding we can see in Jesus that there is no contradiction between truth and love. Jesus is the Truth (Jn 14:6), and he is love (1 Jn 4:8). Life here is not understood in a biological sense, but in the relational sense of sharing in the abundant life of God. Similarly, the Way is is personal and relational. We do not follow a fixed path, or an impersonal philosophy, but follow Jesus as he leads us relationally.

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