When mental illness landed on me like a grand piano from the 14th story, all I could do was constantly reassure myself: “This is going to get better. It’s going to get better.” But it didn’t. When I converted to Christianity months later, it wasn’t because I thought it would solve all my mental problems. Even then, just a scant 19 years old, still trying to figure out how to do my own laundry, I had lived enough life to know God didn’t act like that.
I mean, I believed He could. He just didn’t, mostly.
But, hoping for the best, I went to all manner of faith healers, sat through hours and hours of Christian counseling, and . . . nothing.
Ten years. I’m here to tell you, it was no dance around the maypole.
Then I took a little pill and it solved everything. (Interesting story about the pill. I had met with three psychiatrists in Seattle, and they all gave me a cursory exam and suggested more psychotherapy. I needed more psychotherapy like I needed a hole in my head. Looking back, I can see they were just guessing. They didn’t have the foggiest idea what my “problem” was. This was the late ’80s. Good grief, only three decades earlier, they had been performing lobotomies. A fourth psychiatrist in Bellingham suggested I talk to a colleague of his at the University of British Columbia, just a short jaunt over the border. The UBC doctor talked to me for five minutes, said my problem was OCD and wrote me a prescription. The medicine was still illegal in the United States, so I smuggled it across the border once a quarter.)
A version of my story’s been repeated by millions of people over history — perhaps billions: God fails us — or at least He doesn’t “come through” like we had hoped He would — so we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But we somehow don’t see the incongruity of all it all with the way the Bible portrays God. God is much more . . . effective . . . in the Bible.
It seems to me that the Bible and real life don’t match.
But so many protest to the contrary. In particular, Christians who tend to be more conservative stomp their feet and insist that God still acts as He did in the Bible. In effect, they’re saying that if they challenged the priests of Baal to a showdown in the church parking lot, it would turn out pretty much the same way it did on Mount Carmel many millennia ago. Once the minivans were moved to make a clearing, the priests of Baal would pile up their wood to be set aflame from heaven. They would wail and cut themselves, but nothing would happen. Then your pastor would pile up his wood, pour water all over it, and providentially, fire from heaven would consume the wood, leaving just a smudge of charcoal where it once sat.
Conservative religious people insist the supernatural exists, but they never demonstrate the supernatural in their lives. The lives of conservative Christians are just so . . . natural. In fact, all Christians.
Doesn’t scripture need to match our reality to be of value to us in the real world? Wouldn’t the Bible be more helpful if it was realistic? Why don’t we see examples in scripture of God healing people through doctors? Or people heroically learning to bear up under the burden of their illnesses? (The one exception being Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.”) Why can’t we be honest about God? He doesn’t act like the Bible says He acted. He doesn’t intervene.
Why do we even need a Bible? Can’t we use our brains to rise to any challenge life presents us? God doesn’t give us easy answers in a holy book. Life’s not that simple. It calls for all our spunk and gumption. If life requires more than we can muster on our own, then we can turn to those who care for us. Miracles won’t be forthcoming. Instead, life is a slog and damned hard figure out. He expects us to use our ingenuity and find truth wherever we can find it. To the extent God “speaks” through the Bible, He can speak through any book.
So let’s start reading.