“Behold I was shaped in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
These two verses spell out my understanding of a biblical view of Man. That I was born a sinner, eternally separated from God and bound for Hell. My only hope was to accept Jesus as my personal saviour and to take “the free gift of God which is eternal life” (Rom 6:23). I never managed to understand myself as a fallen sinner. Nor anyone else. I saw people struggling with their inner demons, using whatever means they had to hand to cope. Sometimes drugs, alcohol, sex, fast cars, psychosis. Sometimes the struggle was worse than the illness and my patients would choose to go back to their old ways of coping. Or life became too much and their inner resources ran out and they became ill again. It was always a sad time when a patient who had managed for months or years to stay well was readmitted. Recovery is not an easy process and each breakdown left them a little more vulnerable next time. But I never conceived of them as sinners in need of a mythical salvation. Nor do I now working as a counsellor. I see people making unhelpful choices or behaving in ways that risk hurting those around them as well as themselves. My work is to try to think with my patients about their lives and those forces that shape them. They are hurt, foolish, misguided, struggling, angry, resentful, envious, loving, caring, giving. But not hell bound sinners in need of salvation.
I was talking with some friends the other evening and we got onto the question of Faith. (They remain committed evangelical Christians.) They reiterated the standard argument about Man being a fallen creature who is estranged from God and is unable to help himself. I was reminded of the story of the Fall. Of God’s answer in the death of himself in Jesus as our saviour and of the promise of Life Eternal. For some reason this annoyed me more than usual and I responded with a rather Anglo-Saxon comment. Afterwards I tried to think what it was about it that so annoyed me this time. It was no more that the ideas I had espoused for more than 30 years. I decided that what so annoys me about this story is that it demeans man. Over the years I have come to believe in Man. I value our struggles and difficulties; our joys and our triumphs. My professional career has been spent supporting Man. Helping my patients to find answers to their problems. (One of the moments I treasure was being invited to the wedding of two of my patients. They were making a huge claim to Life. Sadly I wasn’t able to attend but I wished them well.) To reduce all this to simply the behaviour of some hell bound sinner infuriates me.
I wanted to say that life without God is lonely. That I miss the relationship with Him. That I struggle to find purpose and meaning in my life. But I can’t. Life without God is so much easier in many ways. I can be true to myself. I no longer have to try to square theological circles. I don’t have to pretend that I believe when I don’t. It is a bit like a divorce when the leaving is simply an acknowledgement that the marriage ended years ago. After a while both parties are free to start again. Mourning the loss of what was good but able to start again. I don’t know if God misses me. I don’t know if God had any idea that I existed. But we are now both free to start new relationships. I wish God every success.