Friday Morning Musings: What Constitutes Salvation for This Man?

Friday Morning Musings: What Constitutes Salvation for This Man? April 10, 2015

Photo: (c) Richard Perry, The New York Times
Photo: (c) Richard Perry, The New York Times

This man, Michael Megginson, is seriously mentally ill. He’s been in an out of mental hospitals since he was six years old. Although, according to his mother, he has moments of calm and then is enjoyable to be around, it takes almost nothing to set him off. From the description of his family history, it is likely he suffered brain damage while during the gestation period of his then 16-year-old mother.

He’s often violent, abusive and completely uncontrollable. He has stabbed a prison guard in the head with a shard of glass, assaulted medical personnel while in hospitals, and repeatedly failed any attempts at rehab. He’s only 25 years old, but to date, millions of dollars of public money have been spent on his care. There is general agreement that he doesn’t belong in prison, but needs life-long hospitalization–something nearly impossible to get now as most institutional hospitals have been closed in a misguided attempt to address human rights issues in those places.

In Jesus’ time, he would have been considered demon-possessed and desperate friends or caregivers would have gone to anyone who might have the ability to cast out those demons and bring healing. Would that such a solution would work here.

But my question is this: is the church, is God’s mercy, wide enough to include such a one as a human in the image of God, worthy of salvation? And what would salvation look like to such a one? Chances are, when he is relatively calm, he either would or already has expressed willingness to find God and redemption. But because of the extent of his mental illness, he’s probably never going to show any good fruits or evidence of a life free from sin and bondage.

With all of my past experience and recent wanderings in the world of evangelical salvation being a “personal relationship with God,” my long-held doubts about that bring the basis for salvation are surfacing strongly. This man’s severe mental and emotional limitations make such a rational decision to have the “personal relationship” in any coherent sense impossible.

Yet I ask again, is he not valuable as part of God’s creation? Is not compassionate care (with due respect for the safely of others) an integral part of a nation that wants to call itself “Christian” as the religious right insists on claiming? Is he not one for whom Jesus offered the fullness of forgiveness, for above all, he does not know what he is doing?

I often push the edges of arguments because I feel strongly that if what we proclaim as absolute truth will not hold there, then it does not hold anywhere. This man is on the edge. Some might describe him as not quite human because even animals behave better than he. But that is a too-easy dismissal. And it also dismisses the clear biblical truth that God has proclaimed all of creation “good.”

Last night, I met a lovely woman, a former United Methodist and now a member of a Calvinistic-based evangelical church, She appeared to express assurance that she had found a more adequate truth there than in the UMC and professed comfort that God is guiding every detail of her life. I thought but did not say, “OK, that works well for you and I appreciate that. Now, what about those who do not find themselves in such fortunate circumstances as you? Is God guiding every detail of their lives too? Or is it just the lives of the relatively privileged who can confidently make such a claim?”

So, what would it look like for this man to be “saved?” Is God guiding all the details of this undeniably tragic life? Is he condemned to eternal conscious torment (a basic tenet of the Evangelical church) because he’s not showing any evidence of possible salvation?

I’d love some answers here.

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