Recently, while reflecting on sin in my own life and the life of others, I have grown in my appreciation for our need to grieve our unhealthy attachments, as if you were grieving the departure of a good friend.
In the 2001 movie, “A Beautiful Mind,” the actor Russell Crow brings to life the late John Nash who suffers, throughout his life, from a severe form of paranoid delusion. The movie does an excellent job of helping the viewer understand the real emotional bond that John Nash had with these delusions, with these make believe friends that were as real to him as anyone else in his life. The movie then walks us through various stages through which John Nash found mastery over these false friends, these projections of his imagination. It is a great movie, and definitely worth a viewing.
As I thought about this presentation, I recognized some lessons for approaching sin in our own life.
First, that sin is a false friend, but they come to us with a solution for our real emotional needs. A kid gets into a gang, shoots up a store, and feels respected for the first time in their life. An angry person yells and they get the attention that they didn’t get before, and an immodest person wears something racy and they get noticed. A rapist assaults and feels powerful where before they felt impotent.
These are our friends; we have an emotional attachment to them, we get defensive when people try to take them away from us. Inside we say “Why do I have to give them up?” “Real friends never helped me like these things have.” “Other solutions have never worked.”
In the movie, John Nash’s first step toward growth was to recognize that his friends were false. This was a huge step that completely disorientated him. In the spiritual life this is a type of conversion moment, when we call a spade a spade. The point where we recognize that our source of solace was not helpful for us or others.
Yet, as the movie represents, even after come to some sort of intellectual acceptance that these things weren’t real; the emotional bonds were tremendously strong. He resented that people were taking these things away from him, sneaking out at night to indulge in these fantasies. Yes, they weren’t real; but who cares, they were reliable sources of solace. Anyways, what is real; who is to say that this isn’t real?
He had to take a leap of faith to believe that other friendships could meet his emotional needs; and yet the fear that it wouldn’t work was intense. The thing was, he couldn’t love both, he had to choose real friends over false friends. In one sense it had to be done, but in another sense it was an impossible choice.
Yet Nash begins that work of telling his false friends to go away. He tries yelling at them, suppressing them, tells them to get out of his head. However, the more he treats them as the enemy the more they grow in strength. The more he dialogues with them, even in a dialogue that tells them to go away, the more they appear to be victims. The more the temptations take on the appearance of being the victim the more they appear to be real friends and real friends appear to be false friends.
Eventually John Nash concludes that these false friends will never go away. They will always be there. In the coming to this realization he recognizes that he has to treat them as friends, but as friends he honors but can never interact with again. That vilifying his sin only made them
grow stronger. He has to treat them as a home land he will never go back to; like friends he will never see or talk to. He had to be like a Nun who enters the cloister not because she hates the world but because she loves the world.