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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  • You have raised some very serious issues here and there is much food for thought. Great article!

  • Reblogged this on Concierge Librarian.

  • Jamie Carter

    Far too many people with mental health concerns and other disabilities are imprisoned as there is nowhere else to go and no one else to pay for their expensive medications. I think we have to realize first that there’s not a one approach that will work for everybody. I would love it if the church could create an alternative that allowed for most to get their medications from the church so that they can lead healthy, productive lives. Some, I think, are just beyond the church’s help – there’s a certain degree of ‘too violent’ that makes people unsafe to have near two particularly vulnerable groups: children and the elderly. We already know that asylums did more harm than good. There are Christian houses and shelters that take in some of the disabled, but not all of them are free from the harm that asylums did. We already know what doesn’t work, but I guess what’s left is to try new things until we find something that does work.

    • I agree that imprisonment is no answer. But after reading this well-written article in the NY Times, it is also clear that this man can’t function in ordinary society–and is an extreme danger to others. Even if the church could provide medications, the liability would be too great here. It’s a terribly complex situation and what we are doing absolutely is not the answer.

      • Jamie Carter

        I remember listening to this story when it first aired. What I’d like to see is a bit of both worlds – apartment-like complexes that allow for each person to live as independently as possible, but with easy access to their medications, counselors, and healthcare professionals to help them maintain their independence – especially for the ones that are non-violent. As to the violent ones, if we cannot allow them walk freely in society, then the sad truth some form of imprisonment is the only other option. Either way, we will need to pour a ton of money into research to understand the causes and potential treatments. it may be possible to detect and correct some mental health concerns early on so long as we choose people over money. Historically, that’s not our strength.

  • Lee Yeager

    Rob Bell raised some of these very questions in his book “Love Wins” and while I don’t have any answer for situations such as this I agree with you Christy and with Mr. Bell. What we are doing to help many of our most vulnerable and needy is not working and God’s love does not exclude.

    • Yes, how we treat the “least of these” counts for eternity. We don’t have a particularly good track record there.

      • suburbohemian

        1. Talk with mental health care experts who are on the front lines with the mentally ill who are also in trouble with the law, esp juvenile cases. These people have seen an erosion of services over the years.

        2. Talk w/ public defenders and those who do pro bono work for this group. Discuss the cost to the public. Ask about medication compliance. Discuss the power of judges and their ability to understand and make pronouncements over this group. discus the legal issues.

        Get judges in the conversation, too.

        3. Families of the mentally ill have a story to tell and it will weave in and out of the legal and healthcare systems’ shortcomings in training, funding, any kind of effective resources. Compare to help available to poor families wit help for the wealthy who can write a check. And how about the struggling middle class who seen and erosion in thier insurance coverage, if they can get any.

        4. Money. People are all ” love and Jesus” until it involves money. Someone with savvy can build a case as to what this really costs.

        5. Make it personal to those who don’t think its their problem, esp if the person is a poor minority or homeless. It’s everyone’s problem, not only because it isn’t humane to go on as we have, but because the danger to the public just multiplies with improper or nonexistent care.

        6. Query people about their attitudes towards mental healthcare. What are their attitudes toward mental illness? What is their experience?

        • suburbohemian

          Sorry! I meant this to be a reply to your comment about MY comment above. Working without reading glasses!

        • Fabulous list. Do you mind if I reprint this in a different post so more might see it?

          • suburbohemian

            Please reprint the list as needed. I ‘m also wondering how much of this NAMI has done. They might be a great resource.

  • suburbohemian

    This is a huge issue. Part of the dialogue needs to include the idea of “otherness’, the idea that this is the problems of “others” for whom we have no responsibility because “they ” are not “us”. The Dallas County Sheriff has stated that the county jail is the biggest repository of the mentally ill in that county. What a massive expense to the already burdened taxpayers and what a disservice to the inmates in need and the families who care about them.

    Treatment for mental illness gets short shrift by insurance companies, as if the brain were not an organ like a heart or a kidney. There is still a large portion of the population that still thinks that clinical depression is just a bad attitude and that an anxiety disorder is just some silliness. You ‘d be hard pressed to find a family not touched by mental illness, but the lack of enlightenment is appalling and it ‘s refracted in our attitude towards mental healthcare.

    This man is clearly damaged, perhaps beyond repair and I don’t know what kind of spiritual redemption there is for him, but what does it say about us they we make no provisions for his care or the care of others who might be salvageable with proper attention and meds? This is a dialogue that needs to happen. Our own spiritual redemption lies in the answers.

    • Thank you. I also agree we need to open this dialogue. Do you have any ideas how we might begin?

  • Franklin Robinson

    I have never thought along those lines about the mentally ill. Thanks for the article. Enjoy your blog.

    • So appreciate you as a reader and commenter! Thank you.

  • Christy, this is a great blog

    Jesus has already died for the forgiveness of our sins. It has been done. There was nothing written over the cross or the tomb indicating anything other than this death was an act of Unconditional Love. A free gifts for sinners. DONE.

    I see no reason to give Fundamentalists or Calvinist their presupposition that Salvation requires some individual action, similar to signing an life insurance policy, to guarantee that you get to slip into Heaven, and those who didn’t do business with specific church “insurance companies ” get on the fast train to Hell.

    If we do not give those churchy insurance companies their presuppositions, then the man you discuss is already saved. FREE. DONE DEAL. [I know the texts and the arguments. Exempt me from the proof texting, if possible. The saving event trumps them all.]

    And, we should remember that there are many people in psychiatric trouble and psychiatric wards, who will never meet the “formula”.

    They are already covered also.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t seem that Jesus thought that the demons were a means to enable God to daily guide a person’s life. Cast them out. Some of us have spent our lives helping Jesus cast them out.

    • I love the picture of covering–and we need to eliminate the “formula.” Surely God is bigger than that.