I happened across an odd blog article this week. It was an argument meant to refute the existence of God using the fact that moral sins are not punished physically the way that, say, walking into the street during heavy traffic is punished, or putting your hand on a hot stove, or the like. His argument was that if God really existed and if He really cared about moral sin He should make it more obvious, i.e., by causing the sinner immediate physical pain when a moral failing occurred.
The premise of course is completely false. There is immediate pain. Sometimes it’s physical but more often it is psychic and/or spiritual. Trouble is most people are so dead to their spirit that they can’t sense when it’s being injured.
I replied to the article and the author chided me for speaking about emotional, inner pain as if it were something real. This is typically what you run into these days with atheist thought: they are often so steeped in rationalism and mechanical-biological thinking that the inner world of man is something to mock, something less than real, at the very least something to ignore.
In my profession the idea that emotional pain is as bad as or worse than physical pain is axiomatic. I work with patients who cut themselves all over their bodies to distract themselves from emotional pain. Their inner pain is so intense that bleeding is a relief in comparison. But even the average person on the street is much more likely to fall apart in life over emotional issues: traumatic memories, lost loved ones, breakups, guilt, etc., than over physical pain. The argument is decisively in favor of one’s inner world taking precedence over one’s physical world in terms of real world consequences from pain. And sin is the leading cause of inner pain (I’m tempted to say THE cause of inner pain, but even Christ experienced inner pain in no wise related to sin).
What does all this have to do with Lent? Well, for me in week three it has reminded me just how dead to the spirit I let myself become. There is nothing in the world that comes anywhere close to sensitizing someone to the life of the spirit like prayer and fasting. Christ said about a certain class of demons, “this kind come out only by prayer and fasting.” There is no doubt in my mind that the ‘demons’ of the psyche only come out by such. Looking back, prayer and fasting have been the only things that have ever truly, I mean truly, set me free from existential inner grief.
I once spent 9 days in the woods of Payson, Arizona fasting and praying (by “fasting” I mean nothing but H2O). It was straight after a mission trip where I returned home feeling wholly inadequate both as a minister and as a Christian. I wanted to experience God in a way I never had. I went to the woods expecting miraculous encounters with angels, euphoric flights of consciousness, the audible voice of God whispering in my ear.
I got none of that.
What I did get I didn’t realize until months later. Looking back on the experience after some time I realized that I was living in a daily peace that I had never had. I use to have terrible bouts of depression where I would have to leave any and all social contact and be completely alone for hours upon hours to sort through my thoughts. That completely disappeared. I had a major struggle with lust and can say—God as my witness—I did not so much as think of a woman sexually for a year and a half after the experience in the woods, and during that period I spent a 2 month in Amsterdam for crying out loud! The year and a half streak was broken by a woman that would become my wife 3 years later. Nevermind angelic visitations, that there is a miracle if there ever was one.
I could go on but in short prayer and fasting did more to set me free from pain—be it physical or emotional—than anything I have ever experienced. The reason was because it created a sensitivity to my own spirit that was lacking up to that point. I want desperately to return that that level of sensitivity. Having tasted of the gift of God I am ruined for imitations. Lent is the opportunity to recapture that spirit.
I haven’t done it yet this year. In fact, in some ways I feel that I’ve gone backwards in my spiritual pursuit. But it’s mid-Lent and I know from past experience that the mid-point is the most trying of all. I’ve resolved to do what I did in the woods: to not focus on any specific sin to conquer or goal to accomplish, but to simply enjoy God and expect to hear Him in whatever way He chooses to reveal Himself.
Thanks for reading!