By Gary Nelson, Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church
The last time we visited Colonial Williamsburg I made sure to stop at the reconstructed Public Hospital. One of the signs on the wall read,"Williamsburg's Public Hospital opened in 1773 as the first institution in America devoted solely to the treatment of the mentally ill." What you see is a reconstruction of one of the rooms or "cells" as they were called. Looking at the sparse conditions complete with manacles to chain the patient to the wall might conjure up thoughts like, "barbaric." Before jumping to those kinds of judgments you should know that this scenario apparently was part of a revolutionary idea in the treatment of mental illness. Another sign on the wall said that, "Underlying their efforts (meaning the staff) was the relatively new belief that medical intervention in a hospital environment could cure insanity." In other words, what we're seeing is not some form of cruel punishment, but rather, the evolving efforts of concerned folks to bring healing to those afflicted by severe mental illness.
The writer of II Chronicles gives a pretty summary judgment of King Rehoboam when he writes, "He did what was evil, because he did not try to find the Lord's will." That's an interesting definition of evil. In other words, King Rehoboam wasn't evil simply because he made terrible mistakes. He was evil because he didn't care enough to even try to find the Lord's will.
As we struggle to recover from the catastrophic shootings last week we are faced with the reality that at least three changes need to take place. First, we need additional funding for more and better mental health care as well as education about the need for mental health care. Second, we have to do something about the availability of the wrong guns and any guns in the hands of the wrong people. Third, we have to stop our love affair with violence.
In our case it seems pretty clear that the Lord's will is for children and adults not to have to live in fear of being gunned down. If we simply allow the passing of time to lull us back into numbness and denial until the next tragedy, if we fall back on the same arguments about rights, then I'm afraid we deserve the same judgment as King Rehoboam. Our epitaph might read, " They did what was evil, because they (we) did not try to find the Lord's will."
We will make many more mistakes in the future as we struggle to find the solutions to the three concerns I've raised. When we make mistakes we fall on God's grace, ask for forgiveness and the direction of God's Holy Spirit to try again. It remains to be seen whether we'll accept the risk of trying or fall into the abyss of evil by doing nothing.
I pray that God will give me the courage and energy to keep trying to find God's will for our lives and avoid evil by doing nothing. How about you?
Blessings and Peace,
Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church
Cross Lanes, West Virginia