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,

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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.

5 thoughts on “Diagnosing and Prescribing”

  1. We’d rather solve the problem we know than the problem we don’t know. The issue is not only about listening to the individual, but the culture more broadly.

  2. This is a beautiful post. Bravo.

    In psychology, while a diagnosis is necessary, it can trump seeing the client in his or her full humanity. For this reason, I always try to meet clients before ever looking at their charts. While this might seem ludicrous, it helps me listen and see who is in front of me in that moment with less bias. The chart will always be there. The spontaneous human encounter is what is most vital.

  3. Well said my friend, well said. Because we are insecure about our positions, we can’t help but paint all non-Christians into a locked box and then positioning Christianity as the only key to fit the box. We simply can’t allow broken legs. It’s cancer or it’s nothing.

  4. I started grad school in advertising a few months ago and it’s the first time in the last ten years almost that the majority of my community is made up of non-Christians (ranging from agnostic to vehemently anti-Christian). Because most people know I used to be in seminary, on a few occasions, I’ve been asked in class and privately to respond to questions about God, the Bible, Christians, and religion in general, and I have found in myself exactly the mindset you describe.

    If I’m not careful I answer their questions with answers that have absolutely nothing to do with what they’re asking, just because I think, “Oh, well if they’re asking this, then it must mean they’re really wondering about this other thing.” After the first few confused stares, I realized what I was doing, but I’ve been relating this experience to my friends lately trying to help them avoid the same mistake. This post is a perfect summary of what I’ve been thinking through recently and why I had such a hard time answering questions about the gospel. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.