-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.
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.
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.