Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Bruce attended a fundamentalist Christian college. He was dedicated to God, but endured immense spiritual trials. Based on his understanding of the college (and church) teaching, he wouldn’t be going through these trials if “his heart were right with God”.
His college began each semester with weeklong “evangelistic services”. This supplemented morning chapel, two services on Sunday, and prayer meetings. Attendance was required for all events. Morning by morning and night after night Bruce absorbed the shame and guilt of every possible “infraction”: past sins, present sins, and nonexistent sins. In the evenings, the evangelist pounded away for 90 minutes. The sermon concluded with an invitation to give everyone a chance to “go forward” to get his or her “heart right with God”. Just As I Am played on and on. When they ran out of verses the instruments continued to play in order to extend the invitation. And then the audience would hum to give sinners one more chance to be saved from the lake of fire and Christians a way to avoid an early death because of their disobedience.
Bruce finally went forward. He was assigned to Dr. Lewis for counsel. This college professor, with his advanced degrees, must have great wisdom. Bruce began to tell Dr. Lewis his troubles. Dr. Lewis stopped him and said Bruce should kneel down right then and tell Jesus how much he loves him. This apparently would resolve everything. Bruce accommodated Dr. Lewis’s request and left with even a better understanding that Just As I Am was never good enough.
Suffering souls can be close to God. Some mistakenly assume when a soul is suffering, the suffering can be remedied by it’s own action. But these individuals have tried everything possible to find comfort. Teresa of Avila says, “You will tell me that this feeling is an imperfection and ask why the soul doesn’t conform to the will of God since it is so surrendered to him. Until now it could do this, and has spent its life doing so.”
The suffering soul can struggle on many fronts:
- Clarity eludes them. “The reasoning faculty is in such a condition that the soul is not the master of it”.
- They’re tormented by loneliness. Teresa says, the soul “feels a strange solitude because no creature in all the earth provides it company, nor do I believe would any heavenly creature, not being the One whom it loves; rather, everything torments it.”
- Nothing satisfies their soul. “But the soul sees that it is like a person hanging, who cannot support himself on any earthly thing; nor can it ascend to heaven.”
- Their soul has an unquenchable thirst for God: On fire with this thirst, it cannot get to the water; and the thirst is not one that is endurable but already at such a point that nothing will take it away.
- But their soul prefers this thirst to substitutes. “Nor does the soul desire that the thirst be taken away save by that water of which our Lord spoke to the Samaritan woman.
- And their soul continues to suffer for now. “Yet no one gives such water to the soul.”
Dr. Lewis lacked the tools to help Bruce. His theology was predicated on the assumption that souls “right with God” are continually happy and exempt from suffering. And so-called negative emotions like sadness, fear, and anger are inherently sinful. Bruce stood at the doorway of the Seventh Mansions and was told to leave the Castle.
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.