This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Forever Young: Living and Dying for Christ (VOM). In the following short account, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, "He is out of his mind." And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." Mark 3:20-22
Natalia was a young poet who wrote a book published secretly in the Soviet Union. It appeared in France under the title, At Noon in Moscow, but titled Red Square at Noon in the English language. In her poems, Natalia wrote of the longing for liberty by the people of the Soviet Union. The book begins with the Scriptures, "I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace" (Acts 20:23-24).
Not long after the book was published, Natalia was arrested and put into an insane asylum, because communists believe anyone who loves freedom or Jesus Christ to be insane. There were many such asylums in the Soviet Union at that time, where people went in sane and came out insane. They were not places to make the mentally sick well. They were places to make mentally well sick.
The asylums were huge buildings that housed thousands of prisoners. There were no walls between the cells, only rows of iron bars. Often one to two hundred prisoners were put into one cell. The floors were made of planks with spaces between them. Day and night you heard every sound: prisoners walking, crying, coughing, sneezing, snoring, raging, cell doors slamming, toilets flushing, thousands of sounds from thousands of prisoners. Often communist police disguised themselves as doctors so they could torture their prisoners by using drugs and medical devices.
There was never silence and never peace--just the sound of madness. Only a strong faith in Jesus could keep the madness out of one's soul. But Natalia went into the asylum sane and came out sane.
A moment of introspection: "Natalia went into the asylum sane and came out sane." A remarkable testimony of faith, in a country punishing Christian belief. But is this solely a foreign phenomenon, or is our world affected by false aspersions of "insanity" being cast toward believers of our time and place? One who searches the internet and delves into God's Word finds such ascriptions are indeed part of the Christian experience. The apostle Paul had his thinking judged by Festus: And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind." But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words." (Acts 26:24-25) He addressed the issue, in writing to the church members in Rome, saying "...those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:5-8) To the apostle Paul, it was and is imperative for believers to set our minds on things of the Spirit, versus being carnally or worldly minded. Even the apostle John urged his readers, "Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17) Both Paul and John talk about not conforming to this world, and they exhort believers to be transformed by the renewal of the mind, exercising the mind in transforming our thoughts and lives to those of citizens of heaven. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ... (Romans 12:2; Philippians 3:20)
Not just the apostle Paul, but Natalia, in Russia, and we in this country of the United States are confronted by disbelievers who love to disparage our sanity as believers. Francis Schaeffer had an individual write to him, saying:
I just finished reading your article "Religious Trauma Syndrome" and it brought back memories of my jettisoning Christianity (some 30 years ago). I came to the conclusion then that Christianity was a mental illness. How could anyone in their right mind believe in something so utterly stupid as a god requiring a son to be crucified to pay the penalty of sin? This central concept of Christianity is so unnatural, so illogical, and so unreasonable.
That there is a god who has a son who is so perfect as to be by some stroke of luck the only one capable of paying off the penalty of sin is a concept so ludicrous that actually defies belief were it not for the belief of millions! Sin comes into the world and by some sequence of events there just happens to be a being (the son) who can only be the one that can do away with the penalty of sin (as mandated by this other being – his father and god). What diseased mind can believe this framework? Believe in it through something called "faith?" (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2014/11/is-christianity-a-mental-illness/)
But is this incredulity limited to a solitary individual, or is the belief that Christians are mentally ill more widespread? An internet search yielded this information:
A growing number of people are now publicly declaring that Christianity is a mental illness.
Similar to the unfounded accusations against President Trump, a vocal and vicious attack is growing and intensifying … you'll see and hear it more and more.
This trend is being echoed by:
- mainstream media
- social media
- progressive political groups
- liberal judges
These groups marginalize Christianity in different ways … they act as if it's a sickness that needs to be treated medically.
For example, Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who declined--because of his Christian beliefs--to bake a customized wedding cake to celebrate the marriage of a same-sex couple, was ordered by a judge to attend 'sensitivity training.'
The purpose of the training was to re-educate Mr. Phillips and change his views regarding homosexual marriage and regarding what it means to be tolerant and non-discriminatory in the bakery industry.
Had Mr. Phillips been a Jewish baker refusing to bake a cake for a Nazi white supremacist wanting to celebrate Adolf Eichmann’s birthday, the judge certainly would have dismissed any discrimination complaint against him…
But because Christian beliefs are thought by many to be a sign of mental illness, they must not be allowed – they must be eradicated.
In a similar case of anti-Christian bigotry, Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) attacked Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Coney Barrett--one of President Trump's judicial nominees--because she's a Christian.
They mocked her beliefs and insinuated she was unfit to serve as a judge because she dared to have Christian beliefs and convictions.
God's Word IN our lives--living our lives BY God's Word--setting our minds ON the things of the Spirit... Each of these might bring the disdain of the world upon us. Yet Jesus said, "I have given them Your Word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world." (John 17:14) Being in the world, not of it, is like a boat in the water. A boat is designed to float in the water--to be in the water, surrounded by it on all sides. But there should not be any water in the boat. Paul instructed his new church in Colossae to this same message: let no water into the boat (Colossians 2:8)! Our goal as followers of Christ is to actively engage our culture with the Gospel without allowing the culture's ungodly morals, values, attitudes, and behaviors to infiltrate our lives.
Natalia was trying to live a godly life as she understood it, and yet the world hated her for it. God's Word brings us in conflict with the world, as it did with Jesus Himself. We are citizens of heaven, loaned (as it were) to this world for a time. We owe our past, our present, and our future to God the Father, and to our Creator, Jesus Christ. Citizens OF heaven, doing the Father's bidding here IN the world, we are derided by the world for doing our God-given duty. (Luke 17:10) We are deemed unfit to participate in decision-making roles within the society, but have to be re-educated. Jesus was considered "out of his mind". The apostle Paul wrote of his experience of the same abasement. Natalia was forced into an insane asylum because of her Christianity. Yet she, and we, can go through this life sane, and end the same steadfast way if we remember Whose we are and who we are in Him. It sounds easy, but Richard Wurmbrand reminds each of us that it is the relationship we develop with our Lord Jesus Christ, that gives us "staying power", not our own willpower or strength. Richard was quoted as saying, "It makes no difference, during torture, to recite Psalm 23 over and over, if you have not established a relationship with the Shepherd throughout your life." It is exceedingly important, in our lives, to establish a firm relationship with the Lord--so that He will be with you through the valley of the shadow of death and, with Him foremost in your life, you will fear no evil. Scripture will not save us from the attacks of the world; only the Lord will provide His rod and His staff to comfort us and sustain our spirit--through the good and the bad. Prepare for the trials to come, the battles that lay ahead. Read what those Christians who were survivors have done to resist the wiles and subterfuges of the enemy’s attacks; consider how you also might respond in their situations of suffering. (e.g., Pastor Wurmbrand’s Preparing for the Underground Church; Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs; etc.) Take heed: "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." (Colossians 3:2) Letting no "water into the boat"--with renewed minds, logical and reasonable and rational, set on spiritual things, and on heaven above, let us boldly say "Maranatha, Lord Jesus, may we indeed appear with You in glory--soon and very soon!"