Wednesday, September 07, 2005

An Odd Experience

I had the oddest experience yesterday. While working in my office yesterday, I caught a man wandering the halls. This, in itself, is nothing unusual, as we have quite a few students and people from outside the seminary community who come up here, not knowing where to find the office they're looking for, and we generally try to help them get connected to who they're looking for.

So when this man walked by office, I made eye contact, and as he passed, I was fairly certain that he would poke his head back in within the next few seconds. I was not disappointed. He asked me, in a thick accent that I could not readily identify, what sort of place this was. I told him it was a school of theology. He then starts talking about some revelations he was receiving from God, how the number of the Christ is "888," and how he had discovered that his own personal number is "888." As he continued talking, it became more and more clear that I was not misunderstanding him: this man believed himself to be the second coming of Jesus Christ!

At one point, he showed me a letter he had received addressed to pastoral leaders and "neighbors" of a nearby Southern California community. It detailed political issues of concern to the community, and specifically mentioned injustices that needed to be dealt with. As the second coming of Jesus Christ, this man understood it to be his responsibility to do something about these concerns. He had not, it would seem from the rambling conversation, known about these needs before getting the letter, but since he had gotten a letter, he felt compelled to respond. Not as a Christian. Not as a church leader. But as the Christ!

He also talked about the book of Revelation, and how the Christ is supposed to return from the clouds, and how since he had to come by airplane from his country to the US, this was a fulfillment of that prophecy.

By this, time, my "loony" radar was going off full steam, but I was still trying to be polite. I still wasn't at all clear what the point of all this was about, nor why he was talking to me in particular, a lowly staff person, when there are a lot of better connected people at the seminary to deal with his concerns of erasing injustice from the community. So I eventually asked him. His answer, I'm afraid, was less than illuminating. I wish I could say that it was simply that Jesus didn't deal just with the "important" people, but with those who were "lowly," but the fact is that it rambled too much to get even that clear message. (A conversation with a coworker who had also spoken with him leads me to believe that his original question, which I interpreted as "what sort of place is this," was in fact intended to ask me what office [mine] he was in. As I said, he was hard to understand, but this would at least offer an explanation for why he might have thought I had greater importance than I do!)

I was eventually saved by a coworker who came by to give me piece of paper telling me how many vacation hours I had accumulated. I quickly took the piece of paper, wrote "security" on it, and gave it back to her. She got the message and went back to her office, and called me up to say, "tell him you have to take this call." I did so, and maintained the impression of a work-related conversation for several moments until he finally left. She did not, ultimately, call security, as we had determined that the man was not an actual threat. He was simply delusional. We were also aware that, with some mentally ill people, they can sometimes become violent when threatened (but not until or unless then), and that security could, in fact, have made matters worse.

These kinds of situations always leave me a bit reflective on my own faith. If Jesus did return today, would I recognize him? Perhaps not. I'm comforted by my knowledge that "888" is not a Biblical paradigm for Jesus (It first appeared in some later strands of Christian tradition. Perhaps I should do a longer explanation of the concept of gematria later....), and that Revelation was being misused. I've also been taught that, unlike Jesus's first coming, which was indeed "hidden" to many people, his second coming will be in glory, and that no one will miss it.

I also leave these encounters feeling that I have somehow failed in my ability to "be Christ" to all those whom I might encounter. No matter how delusional this man was, he is still a person for whom Christ died, and to whom we are to show love and compassion. Although I was able to avoid being directly rude to him, I certainly gave him the "brush off" at the earliest opportunity. Of course, I do not have the resources to deal with mental illness, and don't believe that God will hold me responsible for things that are outside of my ability to deal with. Still, it bears thinking about.

By the way, he tells me that the number of the computer is "666." Do with that what you will....


UPDATE: According to the Wikipedia article on gematria, I probably should have used the word "isopsephy." "Gematria" is numerology using Hebrew letters and words, while "isopsephy" uses Greek. Suffice it to say, the term "isopsephy" is new to me, too.

1 comment:

  1. "Gematria" and "Isopsephy" - wow... the things one learns when surfing the Web. :) It sounds to me as if you handled the situation better than I would have, although I have entertained similar quandaries in retrospect... Have I missed an opportunity to "be Christ" to a lost soul? What could, or should, I have done differently? Good questions...

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