Reflecting on the nature of God due to someone’s Facebook question led me to think about how scandalous it must be to think of God intervening in human history rather than a) not existing or b) watching from the sidelines.
The point of the Bible storytellers is that God intervenes in human history, including creating history itself and putting humans right in the middle of it. Each group of writers wanted to point out how special their tribe was because God had chosen them — Jews or Christians — and acted on behalf of them in some way.
And yet, something bothers us about the whole concept: If God acts in history, how does God decide, why then and does that mean God plays favorites? It hardly seems fair!
And that is the mental health question. When a psychiatrist or mental health professional asks, “why do you think God speaks to you?”, the implied question is “what makes you think you’re so special?”. Given that delusional people do exist, it’s a reasonable question, so we fall back to a neutral position — God doesn’t exist and therefore doesn’t act in history. In addition, there’s the whole question of why does God intervene here and not there? Because we really have no answer for that one, we fall back to the same neutral position. It comes down to the basic question of fairness and favorites for us and so we punt. In the words of Jack Nicholson we “can’t handle the truth”. The answer is so far beyond us that we change the question.
I suspect that is because it’s not about us — not about a specific individual, but about some idea like “justice” in God’s head rather than about ego or power in ours. The specific individual is almost beside the point — unless we’re the specific individual or someone we know is. As humans, we seek to make sense of the world and so make meaning out of it, and when we can’t, we throw the baby out with the bathwater. The existence of God, of ultimate meaning, and/or the Spiritual world has nothing to do with whether we can understand it. It exists or it doesn’t. We understand it or we don’t. God isn’t necessarily rational and we aren’t necessarily spiritual.
People who conflate existence with understanding or believe that rationality rules the world, people who believe in existence without understanding are considered “crazy” in some way or another — “weird” or “stupid” or “simple”. This includes ministry candidates, who invariably feel “crazy” when they experience God or the Spirit or The Light or whatever one wants to call The Divine. After awhile, they get used to its presence. Even if they never understand It fully, they come to trust it. Wouldn’t it be easier just to acknowledge the possibility of God and the Spiritual Plain as people have done for generations around the world? By contrast, wouldn’t be easier if we acknowledge that no one but God can understand God’s plan and so not to believe everything we hear from any one individual?
The interesting thing to me is that the supposedly “truly crazy” people — those hospitalized folks whom I have had the pleasure to serve as a chaplain at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living — are the people with the best sense of what’s going on. In the parish, I must prove myself by dressing in the right clothes, saying the right things and/or being perfect. In the Institute, I was just welcomed. They just knew who I was and why I was there. Other colleagues have had the same experience in other places, but the point is this: people who don’t need to understand things to experience things can “get” God. People who have seen everything can see God. Maybe it’s just too much for their minds to handle, maybe they need God more, maybe we’re not meant to comprehend God so trying to is too much.
In any case, we give the mentally ill too little credit for their sensitivity to the spiritual. They often have it right. Is it really hard to believe in demons when one looks at our world as it is or sees schizophrenics being affected by voices? It seems easier to believe in forgiveness and salvation if you have needed to be forgiven. Salvation is precious when you live on the edge of losing it daily. The addicts that I work with understand this better than most.
The prophets of old were probably mentally ill, according to scholars, or at least very tightly wound. Would I want to be around them at full-on prophetic time? No, not even close. They’d be too intense. Perhaps that is what we dislike about the mentally ill — they are too intense, too strident, too loud, too something. Someone in the midst of a full manic state is too everything but they can’t be understood because their thoughts pop from one topic to another to another to another and the speed of their words is too quick to follow. They feel like they’re God. The rest of us feel like they’re crazy. Full depression is horrible and hallucinations of demons can happen then, but words can barely come out at that point.
In either case, the patient is hardly a threat, so why do they bother us so much? Why are we afraid of them? I suspect that there is a link between intensity and connection to The Holy. The old-time phrase he or she is “touched” is short for “touched by God” and it means that they have been overwhelmed by some experience (of God). The mentally ill are used to intensity — either because they are coping with intense histories and stress or because their brains often can’t filter out the intensity of experience. God is, because of the divine nature, overwhelming — overwhelmingly beautiful or peaceful, perhaps, but way beyond our minds. People who live in the mental space of “overwhelmed all the time” are maybe more comfortable with a God that seems like the rest of their lives — too much to understand, but very real.
People who can handle their lives, who can put it in a box and not be affected by it, upon meeting God — if that happens — feel crazy, at least for a bit, because it doesn’t fit into their quiet, rational lives. Those same people, if they never experience God, live “normal” lives — a bit too normal for my liking — but then again, I believe in a God who acts in history.