Tag Archives: God

Question marks

The Big Questions – live debate, an experience

I hope you can excuse a little self indulgence while I digest what just happened… Some of you will have seen me on The Big Questions (TBQ) on BBC1 today debating the subject “Is religion good for your mental health”. If you missed it, you can catch it on iPlayer here. It was my 2nd experience of live TV, it’s kinda fun being treated like an important person for a couple of hours. I was asked if I enjoyed it… I think I can certainly say it was an experience but, enjoy? I’m not sure!

In case you don’t know me, in a nutshell, I woulnd’t be alive right now if it were not for my faith. I don’t always tak about my faith, for more details see here. But there’s no escaping it now – live on BBC1 I stated that I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Quote from John chapter 13, verse 34. As I have loved you, love one another

To be honest, right now I feel overwhelmed with sadness that people claim to be working in the name of God, express hatred towards other human beings. I have been brought up to love everyone, I don’t think this was part of my “religious upbringing” or it’s just a descent thing to do. I do not judge people, it is not my place – I treat others as I would like to be treated.

First things first, I’m not out to convert anyone – I share my religious views, if you don’t share them, please do not dismiss me, please do not label me as “judgmental” or assume I hold views that you haven’t asked me about. I share my experiences in case they will help other people.

If someone doesn’t want to experience a personal relationship for God, I’m not going to force it on them. If, however, you’re looking for one and all you hear is “you’re a bad person”, “you’re sinful”, “you’re going to hell”, “you need change before you’re accepted” – this is fundamentally wrong. These words are human in origin, this is not what God says. If you’ve had a bad experience of religion, long story short, it’s likely to have been the human element (i.e. other human’s telling you what you should think or how you should behave) that messed it up, not God.

God loves me despite how much or how little I have it together

My experience of God is simple – he loves me for who I am, just the way I am, if I make a mistake he has forgiven me before I do it. He invites me into a personal, loving, relationship with him. As a Anglican Christian, I am fortunate that with my faith comes a loving community – this is not everyone’s experience of Christianity and I feel pretty angry about that.

Predictably, there were people on TBQ who had bad experiences with religion and, rightfully so, wanted to get their voice heard. There were also people who weren’t bothered by religion who didn’t think it was something they needed in order to be healthy. As I have previously found, people who feel they have been wronged have a very loud voice. I find myself wondering what people want when they shout about a bad experience, often an answer to this question is not forthcoming. The need to be heard is powerful but often people don’t think they have been heard unless you agree with them.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say

I do not dismiss other people’s experiences, I find it hurtful and disrespectful when my experience is disregarded or laughed at. Although I felt respected by all staff working on the production, I was surprised at the “guests” and members of public before and after the debate. A debate is a forum where opposing arguments can be put forward – perhaps I was expecting people to actually listen respectfully to each other but this wasn’t what people wanted to do. People spoke over each other and took the topic off tangent to make unconnected points.

In summary, am I glad I agreed to go on TBQ? On balance, yes but there’s no way this subject could be fully explored in such a short time or with people who just want to get their point across without fully listening to other people.

Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, they listen to reply. Stephen Covey

How do I believe in a God who allows suffering?

We are all too painfully aware of suffering and if we are touched by it we are bound to ask questions, we generally want to know why it’s happening?
If God exists, maybe there are a few possibilities, either:

  • he is not all powerful or
  • he is not all loving or
  • he just doesn’t care/can’t be bothered/is lazy.

I do not believe in a God who causes suffering, nor do I believe in a God who actively wants us to be in pain or sits back watching us in pain.
My experience
I have been to some of the darkest places on earth through suffering the torture of depression. At times, my mind was so broken that I could not see a way through the emotional pain so the only way it was going to stop was if I ended my life. Some people have experienced physical or spiritual pain that has taken them to a similar place.
I believe in a God who knows my pain, a God who experiences my pain with me. I am his child, when I’m in pain, his heart breaks.
I also believe God has experienced the ultimate pain of seeing his one and only Son be put to death for crimes he did not commit. And it’s by his wounds I believe I am free (but that’s another blog).
Illness and healing
When it comes to illness, the fact is, our bodies go wrong. What’s fantastic about our bodies is that they often get stronger as they heal. Healed muscle fibres are stronger, this would not happen if little tears didn’t happen.
When my mind was sick, I could have wished (prayed) for instant healing but I never did. When I could think rationally I knew the recovery journey would be worth it and make me stronger.
Our bodies are incredibly complex machines that require very fine balances to function, things will go out of balance for all sorts of reasons, some things we can control (and we chose not to at times), others we can’t.
Perfect isn’t so simple
Some could say that God should have made our bodies perfect and that they should not go wrong. Christians believe everyone of us is made in the image of a God and that we are all perfect in his eyes. Creating a “perfect” world is not as simple as is sounds. For example:

  • Would the body contain water? Vital for life as we know it but only a small amount is capable of drowning.
  • Would the body contain bacteria? Vital for digestion but can also cause deadly diseases.
  • Do we want a body that can experience pain? If we do not feel pain we would not withdraw our hand from the hot iron, nor would we know if we’d swollowed a fish bone.
  • We’ve been given wonderfully beautiful minds that have invested medicines and make great technological advances but we also use our intelligence to make weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

If everything was good and perfect all the time we would have no concept of good or perfect. How would we know things were good if we had nothing to compare it to?
Turning despair on its head
Some people are able to look at their disability or illness in such a way that it is a gift. To some this may sound very bizarre. It is a fact that mental illness exists, if I had not suffered, I would not feel passionate about raising awareness about injustices, stigma and discrimination. I have met a whole new world of people, some of the kindest and gentlest people I know. If I had not gone through therapy I would not have developed such clear understanding of how my mind works and my relationships wouldn’t have gained the benefits.
God as a parent figure
Some people find it helpful to think of God as a parent figure. Let’s consider the parent who protects their child from everything. These children are not allowed to play in the stream, they do not tear their trousers, they never graze their elbows, these children will not develop a healthy immune system. Children wrapped in cotton wool are not allowed to play conkers or tag, they do not watch upsetting TV programmes, are protected from anything that might hurt them physically or mentally and do not develop skills to assess risk and take responsibility for their actions.
My parents gave me opportunities to make choices, sometimes I have made wrong choices and these have harmed me, I have learnt far more powerful lessons from these times than if I’d just been told what I should and shouldn’t do. My Father God has done the same, I am glad I am free to take risks, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow. He has gifted me with free will.
Free will
God has overcome evil but he has given human beings free will to follow Satan if they choose to. God asks us to choose him but he cannot force us to, otherwise it would not be true free will.
So, if we accept that stuff happens, whether it’s illness or poor decisions, surely God can just put things right when they go wrong? The way I see it is that we would not learn to look after ourselves if someone else could automatically click their fingers every time we stuffed up.
Something God does offer, to help us through the tough times, is a unique relationships with him.
Who am I to say?
When we object to suffering we are suggesting that we have the right to decide what is right and wrong. But who are we to decide that our right is right and our wrong is wrong? One person’s right could be another person’s wrong. We’re all aware of the saying that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Even between my husband and I (who agree on most things) have opposing views regarding WMD (called a nuclear deterrent when we want to deminish their destructive nature). My black and white belief is that they are evil and every single one should be (safely) destroyed, my husband has more grey views, believing they are a political necessity (but would not have them in an ideal world). Who am I to say my view is any more right than my husband’s?
Perhaps we should take responsibility
When it comes to natural disasters, have you ever wondered why we build settlements on faultlines or in the shadow of a volcano? Why, as a world, do we allow the poorest of our world to live in the most dangerous places, meaning not only their homes but their lives are at risk? Why do we jump into action when the disaster happens, running crisis plans, blaming and getting angry at God for allowing it to happen? Why do we not act before the disaster happens? Why do we not use our intelligence and moral compass to declare dangerous sections of the world uninhabitable and make sure every single person in the world has a safe place to live?
I’m not saying it’s easy, nor do I have all the answers, these are just a few of my humble thoughts about how I make sense of it.
In conclusion I believe God chooses to use his power wisely, he does not callously decide some people will be in pain while others will be spared. When in the midst of suffering we may think things are simple but if we’re able to step back and consider the bigger picture, the subject of suffering is not as black and white as it feels. My experience is that God loves us so much, he offers himself as a companion in the pain, he doesn’t just watch us, he experiences it with us and carries us if we ask him to.
A broken world will throw trials at us, we have God given freedom to choose to go through our trials with him or without him.

Me, my mental health and God

I’m not one for putting my faith out there too often but in Mental Health Awareness Week with a theme of relationships, for me my relationships with God is one that I cannot miss out.
I think it’s fair to say my mental health has been rather rocky. So has my relationship with God. I was brought up a practising Christian and this has remained constant but as the chemistry within my brain has a pronounced impact on my physical health, so too has it impacted my spiritual health.
For many years, unconsciously, I placed my relationship with food and the troubles I had with my mental health at the centre of my life. Obviously things have been a lot more complicated than that but this meant I was very self centred. It is hard to admit this. Although I had God in my life, I wouldn’t turn to him for help, it was hard to imagine how he could possibly help. I often felt (despite having much support around me) that I had to fight the mental torture on my own.
Having had a powerful spiritual experience as seen in “When my mind broke my body” it occurred to me that since my mental, physical and spiritual health are interlinked and can influence each other negatively, surely, they could influence each other positively too?!
Through research, I came across Helena Wilkinson leading a day on Insight to Eating Disorders at Waverley Abbey – this lead to me attending her week long retreat on Overcoming Eating Disorders at Nicholaston House. With trepidation, thinking I wasn’t actually “ill enough” to be attending I went and it literally changed my life. It was explained that by putting God at the centre of our lives freedom from the all consuming eating disorder could be found.
nicholaston chapel
I found myself in the beautiful circular chapel, on my own, and was overcome by a compulsion to lie flat on the floor – no idea why, but I just had to do it. Looking directly at the ceiling, the simple structure, like the spokes of a wheel demonstrated  to me how simple it was to place God at the centre. This was not going to eradicate my illness but it would be displaced into one of the areas away from the centre.
God’s made himself known in other parts of my life too. Steve wasn’t looking for a divorcee my age who wasn’t sure about children and yet my profile on Christian Connection kept being offered as a possibility. We believe God really knew what he was doing when he brought us together and yet we didn’t ask him to! I also see God in the people around me. Sometimes it’s been a small gesture but it can touch me in a really special way.
When I’ve felt distant from God, I’ve found the parable of the lost sheep helpful. Even if I’m feeling abandoned and disorientated, I know the Good Shepherd will be out searching for me. The idea of God may be intangible so, for me, visual cues are important. I see God in nature etc and during my last hospital stay I put up pictures up to remind me.
lost sheep
You don’t have to be ill to know God. I don’t just turn to God in times of need, I know he carries me when I’m weak but he also celebrates with me when I’m singing and dancing.