Diagnosing and Prescribing

I’ve thought a lot about diagnosing and prescribing this week. Two trips to the family doc to have a kid’s swollen face examined, and one to get a referral to take care of some lower back pain for me, and I’ve had more than my fair share, thankyouverymuch.

Mostly, the doctors do a good job of listening before asserting a cure. In other realms,

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I find this to rarely be the case.

Almost inevitably, when I call someone about a computer problem, an issue with a payment on a website or the like, they start jumping to solutions without listening to what the problem is that I’m experiencing or what I’ve done to try to solve it.

One day, I’m going to start all such calls by asking the help person, “Do you know a lot about xxxxx? Yes? Oh great! Then you’re going to have to listen very carefully to what I’m telling you in order to make sure you can pull out the one thing I need to hear.”

Over the past week, I have been struck on several occasions by the, I won’t say uniquely, but typically Christian sin of prescribing a cure for diseases that do not exist. On the Twitter feed, FB page, and, yes, even in print, I have heard people make grand proclamations about what “man strives for” in contrast to what Christianity offers.

“The attempt to ‘climb to heaven’ on the rungs of reason, morality, and experience” is indicative, apparently, of the quest for “a god we can manage rather than the God who is actually there.”

What struck me about each of the problems to which the Christian was offering a solution was that none of my non-Christian friends, spiritual, religious, or otherwise, really has the disease for which the Christian prescription is offered.

The cause of our misdiagnosis, it seems to me, is twofold.

First, we don’t get out enough. We learn who we are, and that in antithesis to other people, within our own communities. We develop our theologies in conversation with a church history that is not the present. We tell ourselves not only what is “real” about God and us, but what is “real” about them. And so we are taught to prescribe a set of salutary solutions to an assumed set of problems that do not coincide to the reality we experience beyond our bubble.

Second, in the wake of the first point, we become strong reinterpreters of other people’s reality. They tell us that they are not working their way to God. (Buddhism might say, “I neither work nor attempt to arrive at your god.”) But we know that they “really” are both working and striving after God–even if they don’t know it yet.

This makes us bad listeners, bad friends, and bad ambassadors for the gospel. In fact, it shows that we don’t have a very good grip on the gospel ourselves.

When we have a good, a wide and all encompassing grasp on the gospel, we recognize that it is diverse and holistic in the solutions it brings to a troubled earth. And that means that we do not have to cram every alternative into one box, fit it under one diagnosis, in order to say that God in Christ offers a better way.

I do believe that God in Christ has offered something better. I do believe that Christ is greater.

But greater than what?

Yes, I know that chemotherapy is powerful and awesome. But I’ve got a broken leg.

I can’t assume that I know how to answer that question before I’ve listened.

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