Christ and Sanity: The "New Definition"
[Alvin Toffler, author of the trail blazing"Future Shock", and my next door neighbor growing up]
Wouldn't you think that the God who made the immense universe, which we are learning about every day, ought to be big enough to give a person a little peace of mind, a little sanity in this mad world, a little relief from the torment some of us go though? Or rather, could we call anything or anyone "God" who would be unable to do just that? Is God the end point of theology, or is He real, and "for real", and meaning something to this poor world of ours? Does He deliver?
I know exactly what year it was, and the month and day I can find out by going to the encyclopedia. It was 1969, and the night was when the first man set his foot on the surface of the moon - a small step for man and a giant step for mankind. That year I worked at the Maimonides Mental Health Center on 48th street in Brooklyn, New York. This was the beginning of an experiment. With intentionally limited staff, patients were to care for patients, with an assist from non professional staff. That night, all of us, patients and staff sat in the lounge watching the T.V. and the first man to set foot on the moon.
There were many neurotic people in our mental health center, and some psychotic. Many were tormented, but one in particular I remember well. Maria.
Maria had a problem that the professionals - psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, and non professional mental health workers (such as myself) had theories about. But the non-professional staff who worked on the floor had fewer theories and often had concrete understandings of the individuals that we worked with for many hours of the day. Maria's problems showed themselves in this way - She would attempt to kill herself by approaching an open window floors above the ground floor. Some might wonder if it was put on, but we on the floor knew it wasn't and that if at times she wouldn't have been caught and stopped, she would go right through to her death. Yet, most times, seemingly inexplicable, she would just stop herself. But here is what we learned was going on inside of Maria, and, what is more, the reality of her torments and why they insisted on appearing.
Maria had grown up "in the church". She had a strict moral and ethical upbringing as a pious Roman Catholic, knowing what a conscience is and what it does. What it does is speak to you when you violate it. Maria's particular violation was adultery. She was sleeping with another woman's husband, contrary to all the ethics and morals she had grown up with, and had come herself to believe in. But her conscience did not scream at her in words. It played itself out in this way - Maria saw a vision, which to her was real life. It was of her father pointing his finger at her, yet beckoning her to come to him, and reciting all the bad things she had done and was doing. And Maria obeyed coming closer and closer to her father. Only, her father was seen by Maria outside the open window, and it was through the open window that her father was urging her to come to him. But the times she was not stopped by a real person in the room with her, the times she stopped herself, sometimes at the very sill of the window, this was the reason - behind her father, she would see and hear her mother crying for her. Her mother's crying would become louder and louder eventually drowning out the accusations flung at her by her father. Maria would stop then and so be saved from certain death through falling through the window. And so I learned that the inexorable law could operate in the most fundamental and non religious ways, and that the "wages of sin is death" could be expressed in the most elemental, and non theological of ways as varied as there are people. But expressed they will be.
Many years later (I had only worked 3 years at Maimonides Mental Health Center) I felt the urge to return to my old place of employment, and entered the elevator to the fourth floor of the Center, which was the patients living floor where I had spent most of my days with my patients. A woman entered the elevator with me, and as the elevator doors closed and I had turned to face the front, I caught a glimpse of this women and our eyes met. At once I knew that I knew her and yet I couldn't place her. But I saw in that instant that she knew me. Then I knew, It was Maria, but a different Maria. She was at peace. She was sane. She was no longer tormented. This I just knew at a look. I cannot explain to you how. And then I had a conversation with her the "style" of which I have had just a few times in my life - a conversation in short-hand bursts as if in code, lasting but a few seconds, but it was enough. I blurted out, "what are you doing here?" (I knew she no longer belonged in a mental hospital). She said, "I come here to volunteer. I visit the patients here" (she immediately understood the reason for my surprise). "What happened to you?", I asked, "I came to believe in Christ.", was her answer. And I knew that that was the source of her sanity and her peace. She was forgiven. She had no longer need of visions and voices, and no longer the finger of condemnation. We both left the elevator at the fourth floor and there was no need to say more.
I know that if God is not as real as that, then it is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if he is as real as that, there is no need for any other. It may be that all the doctrines of the Bible, if we but truly understood them, would be as sensible, rich, and gratifying, as if they were real life - as this was!