June 6, 2020

A Response to Jon

I’ve closed the comments on this one since the original post containing the comment was removed. You can still read my response here.

pharisee_crucify_him.jpgI am not sure I agree with you on the last point. I am not so sure that iMonk knows where he is theologically. I say this respectfully but honestly. He seems like a very troubled person constantly going through crisis after crisis. His problems mentally could be caused by that fact that he is so confused theologically. Reminds me much of King Saul or a mid life crisis.-Jon, Commenter at Frank Turk’s blog.

7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. -The Book of Job, Chapter 42

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! -The Gospel According the St. Matthew, Chapter 23

Reading comments like Jon’s isn’t unusual for me, but something about Jon’s comment caught my attention. I’d like to make several responses.

First of all, in the context of the “debate” over whether we can be “too God-centered,” Jon illustrates exactly what I am suggesting in many of the answers I gave to the question in the “Answers” post. Jon’s belief that theological incorrectness is the probable root of mental illness is as clear an example as I can think of for using your theological answers as the way to determine what are the legitimate questions.

Secondly, Jon believes posts like “I Miss You” and other confessional iMonk essays are indicators of mental illness. In cults, the person who is transparent about life, its pain, doubts and questions, will be labeled as “sick.” Jon needs to consider that his diagnosis of someone who is writing the same kinds of honest accounts of spiritual experience as David or Job reflects the methodology of Job’s friends and cult leaders.

Third, if Jon is a pastor or church leader, then we are looking at his method for pastoral care. Imagine someone coming to him with depression, grief over a homosexual child or a crumbling marriage. The answer would be “Your problem may be caused by your incorrect theology. Change your theology to agree with me.”

Fourth, I assume that Jon’s theology is reformed theology, and not “Health/Wealth” theology or “Prosperity Theology,” yet he seems convinced, as did Job’s counselors, that the brokenness of this world as it is experienced by broken people is somehow an illusion that can be erased with correct thinking. I’d encourage Jon to abandon his gnosticism and consider the wisdom of the reformed faith and its emphasis on total depravity as a continuing reality. Read Romans 7 for some insight into this experience.

Fifth, when I catch myself saying something utterly devoid of the gospel and exactly quoting what the Pharisees would say (imagine their diagnosis of the emotional struggles and troubles of any person), it’s usually time to stop talking and start over with the basics of the Gospel.

Finally, Jon has placed himself in the position of understanding me through my blog posts. In the light of what I’ve written, but without a single conversation or a single minute spent listening to me in person or talking to anyone who interacts with me, he has concluded that I am mentally ill, possibly tormented by an evil spirit from the Lord and destined for possible homicidal/suicidal ideation. (See the story of King Saul in I Samuel.)

I’d like to suggest that Jon, despite his claims of understanding, really doesn’t know me at all and is demonstrating the sad fact that a person can be ignorant, arrogant and presumptuous, yet think himself wise. I would suggest that God’s words to the theologically smug friends of Job, and God’s commendations of Job’s honest struggle in faith, might be instructive and helpful to Jon.

I don’t know Jon, but I am sure that if his theological journey has brought him to the place reflected in this comment, he is like me. He needs the power of the Holy Spirit to take his theological knowledge and turn it into the fruit of the Spirit.

Comments

  1. [Edited by moderator]

    Hahaha, and this is actually why I come here, the humor of it all. On a serious note I do think a mid life spiritual crisis is common, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’ve had about five or six of them already and I’m only 26.

  2. What exactly is this “Crisis” in contrast to? The usual calm, crisis-less state of the typically happy Christian?

    What Jesus/God are you people involved with? Ever read the Bible? 🙂 Yahweh/Jesus specializes in keeping you in chaos.

    NOTE: I’m going to edit any post that attempts to diagnose someone by way of blog posts. Good grief.

  3. This crisis is in contrast to the typical positive, inch deep mile wide, vague, self-esteem promoting religion that was brewed in the 40s-50s and fed to kids your age.
    I don’t mean it as an insult, I mean it as a compliment. We can all agree something is wrong and playing like its alright is not a solution. I meant no insult by it.

  4. Well I grew up in a Fundamentalist church where my self-esteem wasn’t much of a concern.

    The crises that I’ve written about are just the human journey. If I register them more honestly, I am confident I’m far from the only one who has the feelings. Writing them is my calling.

    Guys like Jon think that reformed Christians have it all together. Jon: Read Mike Yaconelli.

  5. Man, if you’re coocoo then I belong in a straight suit.

    My friend (a missionary to Mexico and South America) were talking about how one starts with a very dogmatic faith (at least males) upon conversion and then usually mellow out (not fizzle out) and allow more room for mystery.

    It’s not that we become more liberal or something. It’s just that our theology and view of life merge as we follow Christ in discipleship. In truth, our faith becomes more real. The sacred/secular thing dies. We see the world as Moses did after his encounter with the burning bush. Our confidence is shaken. Everything is not black and white anymore. Shades of grey begin to appear everywhere.

    Dealing with these shades of grey can really mess with us. We’re only human. Throw in some troubles,kids, and church people and you got a major crisis.

    That doesn’t mean that we take up unorthodox views or lose love for the Christ who died and lives for us. It’s just the change from glory to glory isn’t easy (or pretty).

    Give ’em hell, imonk! Oops, I mean love your enemies, imonk!

  6. Yikes! I think the impersonal nature of blogging and the internet breeds self-proclaimed diagnosers who prance around pegging people as this or that or suffering from this or that. That coupled with the often-times arrogance of the reformer type who claim they are “in the know” is a disaster waiting to happen, hence the watchblog clan!

    I for one appreciate your self-revealing writings and your willingness to shift over time as the Spirit and your spiritual Community sharpen you to move toward different understandings.

    Thanks again for promoting freedom of thought in this space by your own actions!
    -jeremy

  7. Faith does not equal smug certainty, neither is a person of faith immune to doubt. So, Michael, we can be crazy together! I would suggest that there is a more fundamental question that needs to preced a consideration of the question you pose. What does it mean to be God-centered?

    I think we’ve had a couple of pretty good answers to this, more fundamental, question. If I am the guy you hire to renovate your kitchen, being God-centered means renovating your kitchen on time, on budget, and being pleasant while I do it, all for the greater glory of God!

  8. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Then read Proverbs and see that wisdom isn’t running your mouth about your Calvinism 24/7.

  9. Why is it that many of these self-assured theologians have no pastoral understanding? Being “followed by the black dog” is no sign of impending doom, or of serious theological error. Luther’s depression is well documented.

    But one or 2 crises (or 3 or 4) is no sign of madness – it is probably a sign of humanity.

    I think part of the problem is the tendency of many, especially in the reformed world, to surrender to “pure intelectualism” and become absolute TR’s. Well – it is a hole in the sand approach. Having experienced some major crises in my life, i’ve even written about the subject see – http://scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com/2007/04/pain-is-not-evil.html .

    That is why I very careful about judging somebody, ESPECIALLY on the internet. You don’t know half, and you certainly don’t see the person’s body language etc – so read things charitably. And compassionately. But compassion is no virtue in the pure intellectual world.

  10. In my experience, God centered often means “self” centered. When we start promoting ourselves (what we do, who we are) as God centered, in effect what we are doing is relinquishing ourselves of any responsibility for our own behavior or for the outcome of our decisions, actions, or thoughts. The guy who bills himself as a Christian roofer doesn’t have to take ownership for a dissatisfied customer. Instead of accepting responsibility for poor workmanship, he can just write that customer off as being evil or better yet, blame the entire episode on Satan. What a deal.

  11. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” gets treated by Scott Peck in “Further Along the Road Less Traveled.” He notes that, on one level, we can read it as fearing to step out of line, because if we do, we will face consequences. As Peck notes, this is indeed true. If we disobey God, we have to face the consequences. On another level, the statement can mean the awe/mystery that we experience when we realize all that following the Lord involves. In this interpretation, we see life as a wonderful gift from God full of opportunites to grow and experience God’s blessings. I read Michael’s posts as reflecting primarily the latter interpretation, while still holding to the truth of the former. That’s one reason why I like to read what he writes, plus he’s a Kentuckian, which I am by birth. 🙂

  12. Michael,

    It is very simple, you took the red pill;)

  13. Bob Sacamento says

    Michael,

    Dude, this guy is just not worth your time. (OK — In absolute terms, he is, I am sure, a brother in Christ and in that sense worth more time than we could all give him. But in terms of the value of his opinions to anyone searching for truth, or the effect he is going to have on anyone …) You can forget him and go back to writing more “I Miss You” columns. That’s what helps me.

  14. I didn’t realize I’d written anything about Calvin. In fact, I thought I was agreeing with you!

  15. Off topic but I was listening to your last 4 or 5 podcasts while working today and wanted to thank you for them. I feel like I get a good window into your world by listening to them.

  16. I went through a serious depression/faith crisis a couple years ago that was instigated by my own questioning of my salvation and other things. In many ways I was thinking waaay too much, and definitely in an unhealthy manner.

    I think I can appreciate the more human/reality aspects of Christian living a bit better (like the stuff I read here by iMonk), including the aspect of living without all the answers (mystery). Which brings me to my point:

    G.K. Chesterton said in Orthodoxy that “Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason…. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination…. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain…. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

    The insanity may rightly be found with those critics of yours who think they have all the theological answers.

  17. Ouch! Aren’t you glad you have these people out there who are concerned and looking out for others. Gives me warm fuzzies.

  18. “…seems convinced…that the brokenness of this world as it is experienced by broken people is somehow an illusion that can be erased with correct thinking”
    I remember, at a very broken time in my life crying out, “My thinking has been fixed and corrected over and over, and yet right thinking does not seem to be doing a thing to help my aching heart.” When I finally began to realize that because of sin, “all creation groans”, I became less obsessed with fixing the problems (whatever they were and wherever they were coming from–inside of me, people and circumstances outside of me) and more obsessed with clinging to God in the middle of the painful realities.

    We want to fix the depression, the grief or the crumbling marriage. Sometimes desperately. But to do so often requires labeling and diagnosing and identifying the “root” problem that needs to be eradicated. And I’m not sure that’s a task we are actually, in general, equipped to do.

    Instead, I think a lot about what it means for God (and us) to meet people right there in the grief, the mental illness and broken marriages. Not with formulaic answers or an agenda to fix the problem so the person can get on with “glorifying God”. But “with union” (I don’t know if that is actually the root meaning of the word “communion”, but it’s how I like to think about it.) So that God is glorified in our midst–there in all the ugliness and pain of living in a sin-messed-up world, God in my life means that I can glorify Him in the middle of awful grief, uncertainty, mental illness just like I can in the middle of great physical suffering.

  19. Scott: I wasn’t talking about you. I was offering an answer. Sorry about the “your.”

  20. Thanks, Michael. Sorry for being overly sensitive. I think these fundamental discussions are good. Heck, as we all know, theology is nothing more than faith seeking understanding. It is important that faith is our starting point, or axis, the point to which we return after journeying.

  21. Thank you for expressing what many of us think,feel and have to act upon.

    It’s nice to know that others are struggling with the same issues. Perhaps coming up with different answers than I do, but we are different people, with different paths, different histories.

    I guess Jon has never had to help patch up a hurting mother, who was hurt by a minister expressing (accurately) the beliefs of our denomination.

    I am comforted by the words of Jesus, “Love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The words of John, “He who does not love his neighbor cannot love God.”
    And the part of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy, “Lord, have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

  22. Lanier Stevens says

    Saw this the other day….the woman kind of reminds me of Jon’s thinking..

    The Cookie Thief
    A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
    With several long hours before taking her flight.
    She hunted for a book in the airport shop,
    Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
    She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
    That the man sitting beside her, was as bold as could be,
    He grabbed a cookie from the bag in between,
    Which she tried to ignore to avoid a big scene.
    So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
    As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
    She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
    Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”
    With each cookie she took, he took one too,
    When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
    With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
    He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
    He offered her half, as he ate the other,
    She snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother.
    This guy has some nerve and he’s also so rude,
    Why he didn’t even show me any gratitude!
    She had never known when she had been so galled,
    And sighed with relief when her flight was finally called.
    She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
    Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.
    She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,
    Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
    As she reached in her bag, she gasped with surprise,
    There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.
    If mine are here, she moaned in despair,
    The others were his, and he was trying to share.
    Too late to apologize, she realized with much grief,
    That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.
    How many times have we absolutely known
    that something was right,….only to be wrong?
    -author unknown