Tell them how much the Lord has done for you

There’s a sharp contrast between who I was before Christ and who I am now. Sometimes I want to describe the difference in great detail, to show how powerfully and how graciously God has saved me. Maybe one day I’ll write it all down. In the meantime, allow me to ramble about how I used to live in darkness. #TBT (haha)

There’s one chapter in the Bible that mirrors the kind of darkness that used to permeate my existence: Judges 19. The evil in my life was horrifying, and in some way I recognized the horror even then, but I just couldn’t find my way out of it. No amount of effort was enough to climb out of that hellish pit.

I used to scoff at people who echoed sentiments like, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep” (Robert Frost). I believed that anyone who described the dark, deep woods as lovely had never faced the monsters that lived in those woods. I believed that anyone who romanticized pain had never suffered persistent, pervasive torment. I felt tortured enough that I wanted to die (I thought that death was followed by oblivion, and surely the void was preferable to the suffering I was going through). I was evil enough that I wanted to kill (and not even for any conceivably defensible reason; I just wanted to inflict pain).

Do you want to know which parts of the Bible reflect the state of my heart now? I often relate to David’s praise and Paul’s joy. I also feel like the man in Mark 5:1-20. Jesus delivered that man from his demons; Jesus also delivered me from mine (though I’m not saying I was “possessed” or anything to the effect of denying responsibility; I was in fact fully culpable for all my actions). Mark’s account ends this way: As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed (vv. 18-20).

I can easily spend a whole day just reading the Bible, studying the Bible (those are different things) and praying. Sometimes, those are all I want to do. But we’re not meant to live like hermits. The greatest commandments (footnote 1) and Christ’s commission (footnote 2) are not compatible with the practice of hermeticism. Followers of Christ should point other people to Him, for He came to save the lost. Pointing people to Christ largely involves living visibly as His follower, even bearing burdens with His grace.

In other words, even if I don’t really want to be working 10 or 11 hours a day, I ought to be a good ambassador for Christ to my co-workers by being diligent and gracious despite my exhausting workdays. Hahaha I was not expecting this blog post to end this way. (I could’ve talked about how I’m still adjusting to the light that now surrounds me and shines into my heart, but I suppose I’ll have to leave that for another time. I need to sleep now because, y’know, 10- or 11-hour workday tomorrow.)

(1) “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)

(2) “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

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I know what mental illness is. This is not mental illness.

I wrote this in response to something written by a friend of a friend. He’s a nurse. He was comparing mental illness with faith. Despite his doubts, he wrote that he still believes in God.

***

I agree that people shouldn’t be unwilling to express doubts in long-held beliefs. Blind, unchallenged loyalty to a set of ideals or beliefs is indeed foolish, but not all loyalty is blind or unchallenged.

It’s interesting to me that you’re equating faith with mental illness. I used to hear voices, legitimately debilitating auditory hallucinations. I spent time in a psych ward, and I took anti-psychotic and other meds for seven years. One day I went to church, and the voices just vanished. I know how this sounds, but I kid you not. It’s possible that you’ll write this off as a manifestation of some other form of mental illness on my part, but I know that it isn’t. I’m sure you know that high-functioning mentally ill people are remarkably self-aware. This is necessary for survival, for day-to-day living. And even before I became ill, I had always subscribed to Socrates’ idea that the unexamined life is not worth living. I’m pretty sure I can distinguish between my sanity and my insanity, but if you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe my doctors — I’m off all meds now.

Of course I wondered if this was all just placebo effect. And I had plenty of other questions, some of which I’m sure you’ve also considered (you mentioned Darwin etc.). You hit the nail on the head when you wrote this: “Today, if a homeless person spoke of such things and claimed to be a prophet, would his words be believed by millions the same way John the apostle’s were? How would any person from the Bible be treated today, would they be revered and worshipped or placed under a long term involuntary admission into La Casa Psychiatric Health Center?” That is precisely the choice that we all have to make. Either you decide that Jesus (not John; John was human) had no credibility and was insane for claiming that he was the Son of God, or you believe what he said about being “the way, the truth and the life.” The thing is: Jesus rose from the dead. No other religious icon or spiritual teacher has demonstrated such a feat. For more on this subject, I recommend the following books: The Case for Christ, written by a formerly atheist investigative journalist named Lee Strobel; and God’s Not Dead, by Rice Broocks. (The latter discusses Darwin.) Jesus’ resurrection is the singular event upon which Christianity hinges. It’s also one of the most well-attested events in history. Here are two more names: Simon Greenleaf and Lionel Luckhoo. Greenleaf, a co-founder of Harvard Law School and the author of A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, was challenged to examine the evidence for the resurrection. He emerged from that exercise no longer atheist. Luckhoo is identified by Guinness World Records as the most successful lawyer. He also investigated the resurrection and emerged a Christian. I encourage you to keep asking “what is the truth” as you are doing. It seems to me that you’re unsure. There are some things of which it’s arrogant to be certain, but I think it’s possible to be a bit more sure than you currently are about the difference between faith and mental illness.

Unfortunately, it’s true that many self-professed Christians do not actually live according to Jesus’ teachings. And I agree with the point in one of the comments about people using God as an excuse to renounce personal responsibility. But these aren’t how real Christians should be living. That is to our shame, but, well, we’re human. Ultimately, I hope you’d look not at us but at God.

***

He replied to me. Just “thank you” and a few kind words.

 

He will wipe every tear from your eyes

“How do you know you’re suicidal?” a doctor asked me in 2009.

“Because,” I replied, “if someone were to come in here right now and point a gun to my head, I’d feel relieved. I’d welcome that.”

“It sounds like you want someone to end your suffering for you. It sounds like you want someone to save you.”

For the next four years, I was in therapy, where I was basically taught that no one would save me. I learned to save myself (which, more or less, meant coping with this). In 2013 I wrote, “I need to know that people can get through this alone.” It was difficult. Every day felt like going to battle for mere survival. Despair permeated my existence. Several times I did try to kill myself. 

By 2016 I had already done everything in my power to make my life better, or even just bearable, but nothing was working well enough. And I had become so utterly exhausted. I told a couple of good friends that I wasn’t sure how much longer I could go on living the way I did. One of those friends, K, suggested that I go to church. I told her that I’d already tried that. She urged me to try again, to look for a good church near me. I live in Vancouver, and she lives in Manila. A friend of hers in Singapore put her in touch with someone in Toronto, who then put her in touch with a pastor in my area. Pastor B and his wife invited me to their Dec. 18 worship service.

I was hesitant to attend, because I had doubts about Christianity and religion in general. I had plenty of questions. Even though I desperately wanted to be saved out of my situation somehow, I thought it was selfish and therefore wrong to turn to Jesus while I still had those questions. K and I went to the same Catholic school in Manila (though I was a nominal Catholic who later settled into agnosticism), so we were both exposed to the same church songs from the 1990s. There’s one that goes, “Cast your burdens upon me, those who are heavily laden. … Come to me, and I will give you rest.” I told K, “Don’t you know how tempting it is to take Him up on that offer? But it would be selfish. It would be wrong.” She explained to me that just as doctors heal those who need healing, Jesus saves those who need saving.

I went to the service. On that beautiful snow-covered day of Dec. 18, 2016, the voices in my head were absent. Completely. The silence, the new-found peace, felt like mercy. 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

In the two months following my first encounter with Christ, I went on a couple of out-of-town trips, so I missed a few Sunday worship services and Wednesday discipleship group meetings. I still had many questions. Of course, I asked myself whether I was experiencing a placebo effect, etc. Unfortunately, the voices soon began to creep back into my head. They intermittently inhabited it again (though they were more manageable than they could have been). In early February, I was wrestling with a particularly bothersome and emotionally charged question involving Christian doctrine. I didn’t know what to think. My mind was beginning to feel the way it had always felt — chaotic, beleaguered. On the evening of Feb. 7, I figured that my “church experiment” had failed, just like all my other life-improvement attempts had failed. I shrugged and thought, “Oh well, what’s new.” I was well aware of what was coming, what sort of life I’d return to. True enough, the next day was terrible and annoyingly familiar. It felt like one of my bad days from 2014 (a horrendous year for me). That night, on Feb. 8, I cried out to God for mercy. I swore I’d do anything to receive His peace again. I said I didn’t want to go back to the life I had been living for the past eight or nine years; that kind of life was not worth living. I asked Jesus to tell me what to do. I asked Him to be not only my Saviour but also the Lord of my life.

My head was quiet on Feb. 9, and for that I was grateful. K recommended a book that might answer my troubling question. It was written by an American pastor’s wife. I immediately bought the e-book and started reading. It didn’t actually answer my question, but God used it to teach me this: Obedience comes before understanding. I embraced the lesson. I let my question go. I reaffirmed what I professed the previous night — that Jesus is my Lord now. I committed to obeying Him, even before or without understanding.

That was six months ago. Since then, I haven’t heard any voices in my head at all. And as a bonus, God answered my bothersome question in April. I honestly thought it would take years to get that issue straightened out for me. Then in May, He answered my other paradigm-shifting question, which I also thought would take years and years to settle. It’s true, what He said: “Seek and you will find.” With my heart and my mind unencumbered, I was happy to be baptized on June 10.

I don’t mean that my theology is perfectly sorted, not at all. I’m only at the beginning. I’m not even done reading the Old Testament yet. But at this point, I no longer have any make-or-break objections. I’m just looking forward to getting to know God more. I hope that you’d get to know Him, too. Approximately two millennia ago, someone who knew Him wrote these words:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

Come home to Him. He wants you to rest.