Crisis of Faith Part III: Utter Uselessness
by Paul Delaney
My crisis of faith has many ingredients. It has screws that hold it together. I write of utter uselessness. I write of the utter uselessness of believers when dealing with real, actual problems. The type of problems that cause pain you can feel deep within the core of your being. The kind of problems that make you cry and make you want to simply die.
I’ve got to get personal here. I must recount a chapter of my own history. I will mention no names.
All my life I’ve struggled with the affliction that Winston Churchill called ‘the black dog.’ Depression. No doubt it can weigh me down at times and can make life hellish. I lost a college career over it and I’ve lost money over it and God knows you cannot afford to lose money in America. The response of my fellow evangelical believers to my struggle had much to do with my disillusionment. To think anyone could suffer from such despair was difficult if not utterly impossible to appreciate. It confused them. It scared them. I believe it reminded them of their own humanity. Stephanie Drury, who maintains a blog called Stuff Christian Culture Likes says that Christian culture has a very difficult time with things like death, desire or despair. It’s part of the messiness that is humanity and it would seem a lot of Christians would be content to forget that we are human and that with that comes lots of messiness. Things become about experiencing the joy of the Lord or trying very hard to convince yourself that you’re experiencing the joy of the Lord.
At one point in my life I found myself a terribly depressed, lonely and angry college student. I found myself in the midst of one of the most awful episodes of depression I’d ever had. I had withdrawn from all my classes and the only thing that kept me busy was a part-time job at an Applebees. I was involved in church. A friend of mine had told his small group leader about my situation and I got a call from this small group leader. We talked and he seemed to have the answer to my problem. The Lord told him that I was depressed due to my overindulgence in pornography and masturbation. I look back on that and it was one of the stupidest things I had ever heard in my entire life. It was a simple answer. That’s all it was. That’s all he had. It was a simple, stupid answer. Pornography. Masturbation. Throw in something about deciding to be happy. It was the Christian answer. This is pure opinion. Maybe this is just garbage from my corrupted heretic soul. I don’t think you give people in the midst of such pain Christian answers. No. You wade through the mud with that person. You walk through the dark wood with them. You hold their god damn hand. You listen. You really listen. You don’t just listen for pauses and silences where you can shove in sound Christian doctrine. Why does doing all that seem to come so damn easy to the unsaved? They are fallen. John Calvin says that the spiritual condition of natural man is one of total depravity. Why is the last person you want with you when things get hairy and sweaty and possibly bloody a Christian? Maybe that is God in them. Maybe God is even in those who do not believe. Maybe the unsaved are not really unsaved. Maybe they don’t need saving at all. Maybe it’s the saving that makes the believer useless. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my heretical, earthy nature.
I have a friend. She’s a sweet girl and I’ve had a somewhat flirtatious relationship with her in the past. She got pregnant and became a single mom and I didn’t judge her harshly like many who go to church regularly did. Eventually this friend got deeply involved in Mars Hill Church and went so far as to become a member and get baptized there. I found myself in the midst of another mental health crisis and I ended up having to go through partial psychiatric hospitalization. One of my fellow patients was a beautiful girl who had had a rough two years and had been through many serious suicide attempts. This girl in the program appreciated my compassionate, non-judgmental way of listening and I made a point of taking the time to say goodbye to her when I was released from the program. Two weeks later the girl I met in the program committed suicide. That tore me up inside. I could see the hope in that girl’s eyes even in the midst of her sadness and for whatever reason that part of her did not win out. That was the real tragedy of it for me. I told my friend about this one night and she gave me a simple Christian answer. She killed herself because she didn’t love Jesus. It was that simple. People who love Jesus don’t kill themselves. I disputed this and she asked me if this girl loved Jesus. I don’t know. I do know however that it is unlikely since she was a Jew. I did not disclose she was a Jew since I was not about to leave this beautiful girl’s memory vulnerable to the vandalism of someone’s declaration that she was surely burning and suffering in Hell. Correlation does not equal causation but I doubt my friend would’ve said this back when she was a nominally Lutheran girl who laughed at my jokes.
Maybe I am completely wrong but in my experience, don’t ever call a Christian when the going gets to be more than a bit rough.