I really enjoyed Stuart’s post on despair. Now, I shall opine.
First, I want to say thanks to Stuart for teaching me the other day what “dead chuffed” means. In this age of the internet, hillbillies like me do well to have a good working knowledge of uniquely British terms. Now, I need to tell you, maybe this is an American thing, but “in the toilet” means literally “in” the commode. I trust Stuart’s wife did not put a catechism in the commode. Having said that, I shall move on to the meaty stuff. Stuart writes:
The distinction between theological and emotional despair. It is entirely possible to enter a period of emotional despair without entering into theological despair. In other words, I may despair over this world and my own place within it, whilst retaining my salvific hope based on God’s goodness, faithfulness, justice and mercy.
Stuart is referring here, it seems, to what the teaching is for everyone, regardless of their emotional and intellectual capacity. As it stands, neither Stuart nor I have the emotional and intellectual capacity of most adults because we have Bipolar Disorder. Unfortunately, terms like “emotional”, “intellectual” and even “capacity” invoke images in people’s minds that are purely subjective and, as such, are not perfect indicators of reality. This is why it is good to have something from the Church on this to guide us.
I keep hammering away at that, I know, and probably will until the day I die because it’s so important. It means, simply, that you (Stuart) are not culpable even if you despair intellectually in a theological context….because you have a mental illness that seriously compromises your free will.
If a young toddler strips his clothes off and runs naked around the house, we don’t think anything of it. If an adult did this, it would be quite a different story because we understand that he most certainly should know better. It is easy for people to understand that a toddler has no culpability. It is not so easy for them to understand that for adults because the vast majority of adults are culpable.
It’s important to understand also why it is not morally right to expect someone who has a mental disorder to confess to, or apologize for, “despair” (or any other “sin”). Expecting that is to expect scrupulosity which leads one down a path of spiritual destruction instead of spiritual growth. If an adult is told that when he was a toddler, he stripped naked and ran through a department store, that adult would be wrong to consider himself guilty of sin. It would be spiritually unhealthy for him to consider himself culpable for that, and yet, the mentally ill are expected to take personal responsibility for things that are similiarly beyond their control. Even if later the person realizes that he did something that would have been a sin if he had full use of his free will when it occurred, it would be spiritually destructive for him to take ownership of it. It would be scrupulous and, therefore, against God’s will for him.
That is why it is so important for people with mental disorders to surround themselves with people who are not thin-skinned and who understand these things about culpability, free will and scrupulosity. Relationships with people who are constantly seeking apologies are destructive to people like you and me. By the same token, you should try to remember not to make yourself even sicker by promoting within yourself that you are somehow to be credited for the good you do, or blamed for the bad you do. You have a unique role in God’s plan, and it is a very special role indeed. Let Him love you as His special creation, and return His love in your heart, and He will set your heart on fire with His love. It is, after all, our hearts that He desires.