Christian Life, Accountability

Pastor John Huffman tells this story: As a young seminarian at Princeton Theological Seminary in supervised clinical work at Trenton State Hospital, a psychiatric institution in New Jersey, each Monday I was given a list of patients whom I was to visit. An orderly would unlock the door to the ward, let me in and lock the door behind me. An hour or so behind locked doors tended to skew one’s own sense of reality. Some patients sat there in catatonic postures, clearly mentally ill. Others seemed as sane and reasonable as the most healthy of persons.

One day while I was walking through the ward, a doctor called me to his side and began to brief me on the kinds of patients in that ward and the particular mental illness diagnoses of several. He walked me to their beds, introduced me to them by name. We talked together about their case histories. After an hour or so of this, I thanked him for his help. He walked me to the door. I signaled for the orderly to let me out, only to discover that he was not a doctor. He was a patient — a man suffering from extreme emotional illness but fully capable of convinc­ing me of many things that were simply not true. Did that ever trouble me! I walked away wondering if I, too, should have remained confined behind that door for being so gullible.

My preceptor warned me that this was par for the course. This was one reason we did this weekly internship. Pathology does not always look like pathology. In fact, unhealthy — whether it be emotional, spiritual, moral or some combination of all — is in some cases more seductive than wholeness. Or to put it in the most blunt of terms, we simply don’t turn the institution over to the inmates.

That’s why God tells us if we are going to be healthy, we must undergo the exami­nation of the Holy Spirit. We need to live in Christian community, held accountable by each other. Where we see symptoms of spiritual malignancy that could destroy, we must open ourselves to examination.