Critical Essay

The righteousness of the prude and the righteousness of the lover

Martin Luther went looking for God—and found Christ on the cross.

It’s one of those dialogues that can only take place in a university. In a small seminar on psychiatry and religion, faculty members from the medical school and the divinity school are sitting on opposite sides of a table discussing how medicine and religion can heal the human spirit. The divinity school speaker briefly outlines the life-giving elements of the Christian message. When he finishes, one of the young residents replies, “I grew up in a Christian home. I never experienced the healing of the spirit you talk about or what you have repeatedly called ‘grace,’ but only ‘do this, do that,’ or ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’”

For a moment the conversation is suspended in midair. It is painfully clear to me that at the mention of “gospel” this young man hears only “law” and that the only Christian home he has ever known is a house of boundaries. I note a small worm of self-satisfaction in my diagnosis of his condition. Then, to amplify his point, he adds, “I have a patient who thinks she has sinned against God and that God knows what she is thinking. Can you imagine that?”

Oh dear, I can imagine that. I quietly take stock of my own mental health—and keep my mouth shut. I recall Augustine’s metaphor for the soul as a house that needs cleaning. Are there rooms in my house I would rather my Lord didn’t visit? asks Augustine. Absolutely. Then, relenting, he invites the Lord to enter all the rooms and to view the thoughts and secrets of his heart.