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  • Mary Nolte, featuring Phage Nolte

A Monk, a Ruler, and a Madman

“ 'To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.'

-Tim Keller

I’ve had a word stuck in my head for a while now— compassion. I’ve had a phrase stuck there also— “fully known and fully loved”. I feel an overwhelming conviction that love and compassion are the two reasons why i’m on this earth. to have compassion for all people no matter our differences, to give love freely to those around me, and when I get to know their sin and their darkness, to dive even deeper into that love. there are friends and family members in my own life that have done this for me, and it has literally breathed life into me during times when i felt like i was drowning. I fail at this all the time ofc. still these two convictions continue to replay in my head, and when i think of all the times I haven’t had compassion or love for someone else, I feel sick. this was Jesus’ whole ministry— loving, caring for, and healing people. he never stopped before healing a crippled person and asked, “but where are you going to go with those legs once i’ve healed you?” or to a blind person, “what are you going to look at with those eyes once i’ve restored your sight?” when he turned the water into wine he didn’t say, “as long as no one gets too drunk.”

Jesus just did. Jesus knew everyone he healed inside and out, and he still loved them unconditionally. he knows just how dark i am, and still he loves me unconditionally. i want to be like that.”

-Phage Nolte

What is it to fully know and truly love?

It was while pondering this that I sat down to watch the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” Ron Howard’s depiction of the story of mathematician, John Nash, and his battle with schizophrenia. In the movie, no one is aware of John's delusions until he and his wife, Alicia, are married and have just had their first child. Even after his odd behavior and the diagnosis, his wife cannot believe it. A little digging, however, reveals that the government supervisor, Parcher, her husband supposedly works for does not exist. The roommate he had at Princeton is a figment of his imagination, the niece of the imagined roommate another part of the alternate life John has created in his mind.

His delusions have overtaken his reality. The two can no longer exist peaceably together, and John is in danger of losing his family and his freedom because of this. Alicia now knows her husband more fully than she ever has before. He has created this false reality in order to cope with the mundaneness of his job. He had hoped to be actively and constantly defending his country from imminent threats. Instead, he sits in a shabby office day after day, waiting for the department of defense to call him up. His delusions of active military code- breaking, he believes, give his unsatisfying life meaning.

This is the tragedy of the human condition.

We are constantly looking for love and meaning and fulfillment in things that cannot deliver. We delude ourselves into thinking that the affair, the extra cash, the recognition will bring us joy, but they never deliver.

Dr. Rosen, the therapist who treats John, tells Alicia, “The only way I can help him is to show him the difference in what’s real and what is in his mind.” And this is the hard place of love, because the treatment for schizophrenia is grueling and painful. Even after John and Alicia decide that the medication and the shock treatments are not the way to go, they begin a regimen that consists of a lifestyle of confronting John’s delusions. John, for his part, must deny the existence of a longtime roommate and friend and his beloved niece. In a heart-wrenching scene, he is shown stroking her imaginary hair, telling her he cannot speak to her again as tears silently stream down her face. He must forcefully and loudly resist the ever-present Parcher, whose place in John’s mind has given his job greater meaning and his life greater purpose.

It is both terrible and beautiful, the work of love on the heart.

The rich young ruler, deluded by riches and convinced of his intrinsic righteousness is a great biblical example of this very thing (Matt. 19:16-22). Christ stands before him, the measure of true righteousness, and confronts the man’s delusions. “All these (the commandments) I have kept. What do I still lack?” the young ruler asks.

“Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor…and come, follow me,” is Jesus’s reply. The young ruler was deluded into thinking he had kept all of the commandments from his youth up. Yet he lacked the most important: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The bible says he “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Wealth not only gave this man things and comfort. It gave him status and a false assurance of eternal life in heaven, for it was seen as a sign of favor from God.

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mark 10:21), and so he confronted the delusions he lived by, telling him, your wealth cannot save you; your righteousness is as filthy rags.

It is this kind of love that drives some to exclaim with Martin Luther, “Love God? Sometimes I hate him.”

He requires too much! Luther, in making this statement, understood only a piece of God- His justice. God could not wink at sin, and Luther knew himself to be a sinner. It didn’t matter how much he beat his breast. He could grovel and do penance day after day, hour by hour. It would never be enough to please a holy God. And so, in anger, he looked up from his place on the cold stone floor of a monastery and shook his fist at the God who demanded more than Luther could give. And then the other piece of the puzzle was revealed to the languishing monk…

God, who demands justice, is also the Justifier.

Luther is confronted with this life altering truth, and the monk who once hated God, now loves him. The justice of God is met with the grace of God. Christ fulfilled what we could not. The God who demanded the sacrifice of blood from the sinner “made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). The demand was met by the One who demanded it. God provided the Lamb, unblemished, free from human delusions or shortcomings, to be the sacrifice for sin. Jesus’s death in our place satisfied the justice of God.

And this, the love we have been given, is the kind of love we are called to give.

Alicia Nash gave her life to help her husband confront his delusions. Once the wife of an esteemed mathematician, she was now the wife of a madman. Day after day, she would remind him of what was real and what was only in his mind. Night after night, she encouraged him to try another day. It was she who first called the psychiatrist and forced John to confront his alternate reality. Now it would be she who would give her life to help him exist in the truth. And in this blessed place of being fully known and fully loved, John Nash went on to win the Nobel Prize.

Jesus knew just how dark they were, and in unconditional love, he gave his life for all three- tortured monk, self-righteous ruler, and beguiled madman. Which one are you?

“But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

“i want to be like that.”


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