Talking to Oneself

Jeffrey Lundgren murdered a family of five in cold blood because he said God told him to do it.  That was the chief mitigating factor he raised at his trial, and he stuck with it through years of appeals, right up until his execution by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.  He was not judged to be insane or otherwise delusional, at least not in a clinical sense.  "It's not a figment of my imagination that I can in fact talk to God, that I can hear his voice," he assured the jury during the penalty phase of his trial.  "I am a prophet of God.  I am even more than a prophet."

Lundgren had been a lay minister in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of the Mormons, until he was forced out over his unorthodox teachings.  He had organized a breakaway sect that never numbered more than one or two dozen, including the family he eventually murdered for their lack of faith.  Lundgren's followers regarded him as a living prophet in the tradition of Mormon founder Joseph Smith. 

As it happens, Lundgren had served for a time as a tour guide at the Kirkland Temple in northern Ohio, built by Joseph Smith in 1833 when he had a revelation from God that a temple should be located there.  Whether or not Lundgren deliberately patterned himself after Joseph Smith, critics have noted certain disturbing parallels between these two self-styled prophets with a penchant for violence.  But why pick on the Mormons?  The Bible is full of such types, many of them now regarded as patriarchs and saints.  How are we supposed to distinguish between the genuine article and those who are merely criminal, if not criminally insane?

"You will know them by their fruits," Jesus said, warning of false prophets.  Certainly, Jeffrey Lundgren left much to be desired as a human being, much less a prophet.  He tortured animals as a boy, beat his wife and stole money from his church.  He stockpiled weapons in anticipation of a killing spree he hoped would trigger an apocalypse.  And yet, what are we to make of Abraham, who was prepared to make a burnt offering of his son because God told him to do it?  Or King David, who arranged for Uriah the Hittite to be killed in battle so he could make off with his wife?  What about the prophet Elijah, who had rival prophets put to death because they worshipped the wrong god?  Or even St. Paul, who got his start persecuting Christians and held the cloaks of those who stoned a man to death?  Say what you will about them, these holy men certainly do not conform to conventional notions of godly deportment.

Try to put yourself in their shoes.  You have been seized by the conviction that God has spoken to you, and your life is suddenly turned upside down.  This is not just some vague intimation or even a profound awareness of God's presence at a particular moment in your life.  You may have had no prior acquaintance with him whatsoever, nor does it seem to matter all that much what kind of person you were.  God, for his own reasons, has chosen to address you directly.  If you can be sure of anything, you are sure of this -- a condition that you realize bears more than a casual resemblance to unvarnished fanaticism.  Is there a difference?  No matter, you are now denied the luxury of uncertainty or equivocation.  In a world of grays, you are black and white.  Whatever you do, you must go for broke.

Assuming you are not plain crazy, there is still the possibility that you are merely talking to yourself, whether you realize it or not.  Mystics will tell you that is exactly what you are doing, although not necessarily in the way people think.  There comes a point in your spiritual journey when you discover that God is all there is.  And if God is all there is, then who are you?  "My Me is God," exulted St. Catherine of Genoa, "nor do I recognize any other except my God Himself."  Or the Sufi mystic Bayazid:  "I went from God to God, until they cried from me to me, 'O Thou I!'"  Seen in this light, the issue is no longer whether God is talking to me or I am talking to myself. It is God who is talking to himself.

Matthew 7:16

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