It has long bothered me that churches and/or Christians are not leading the way in addressing and helping those with obvious mental illness in the modern world. So I want to speak about why I have this position in this blog.
To get everyone’s attention let me say this controversial thing:
- Every human that has ever existed, with the exception of Jesus, has been or is mentally ill.
This could be quite challenging for those of us who believe we are healthy functioning adults to swallow – but it is still true. Follow me here:
Genesis chapters 1 and 2 describe God’s creation, and God calls it very good (Gen 1:31). And it was; it was paradise and the two humans He created were perfect and unblemished physically, psychologically and spiritually. They had one rule to follow to keep things that way; don’t eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
We all know the story as laid out in the early part of Genesis 3; the woman was tempted and ate the fruit, followed by the man. And the world started to fall apart. This is one way scripture puts it:
Rom 5:12 – Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
Just as God predicted and warned the first couple about, they started dying. We may all be comfortable with the knowledge that mankind spiritually died and that physical decay became the norm, but there was another major death inside humans. This was the death of the right mind.
Just as the physical body was introduced to new things like cancer and heart disease, the soul, often called the mind in scripture, was introduced to the knowledge of good and evil. This resulted in immediate dysfunctional thinking in the first man and woman, and this is what ought to be thought of as mental illness. Not convinced? What about this evidence:
To be sure we all know that Adam and Eve became mentally ill, look at what they did immediately after eating the fruit. They tried to hide from God (impossible), they denied their wrongdoing (lying), and they didn’t take personal responsibility (blamed). (Note here that Adam blamed God for giving him the woman who caused him to sin, in his mentally ill mind.) Lying, blaming and thinking one can hide from God are all evidences of mental illness. Still not convinced? What about their kids?
Right after the story of the fall we see more obvious and significant behavioral evidence of this truth in Genesis 4:
Gen 4:8 – Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
Cain, the first human ever born, committed murder – an act conceived out of his mentally ill mind. Cain went on to demonstrate other evidences of mental illness by lying to God, and denying his culpability.
So then, mental illness has been present with us since the fall, and it is the result of sin entering the world, just as spiritual death and body decay are. Here are some important things to state:
- Mental illness itself is not sin or sinful. Just as our sick/ill bodies are not sinful.
- Mental illness is present in every human. We all have it to a greater or lesser extent, just as we are physically sick to a greater or lesser level.
- Mental illness can result in us committing sins, and can be made worse by our own sin or the sins that others commit.
- Mental illness, just like physical illness, can be treated and sometimes healed or cured.
Mental illness may be increasing in our modern world, and we (society) are not doing a good job in dealing with it. Here are some indications that this might be true:
- High divorce rates; no-fault divorce.
- Expanding drug use; both legal and illegal.
- Explosion of porn use.
- The growing use of violence to solve problems.
- An increasing acceptance of lying as a means to an end.
- Depression rates at all-time highs.
- Blaming others for our problems.
At the beginning of this essay, I said I was bothered about the church’s handling of mental illness. At the core of this there are some observations I’ve made:
- People with physical illnesses are generally treated with more compassion than those with mental illness.
- The families of those with physical illnesses are supported significantly better than those with troublesome mental illness.
- Families with significantly mentally ill members are shunned and/or avoided by church members as a general rule.
- Churchgoing family caregivers for significantly mentally ill people often carry a sense of personal unworthiness and shame that they attribute to how they are treated in church.
- Some church leaders have had to leave their jobs/ministry positions, without any form of restoration help, when their mental illness has been exposed. (Depression and/or sexual indiscretion are the two most common reasons.)
I am aware that these are generalizations; that doesn’t make them less of an indictment of the modern church. Jesus said this:
Jn 13:34-35 – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
He did not say this:
Love one another – except for those with obvious mental illness – just as I loved you.
God also said this, through Paul His Apostle:
Gal 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
He didn’t say this:
Bear one another’s burdens, except for those with mental illness and their families.
The world is looking at how we treat our obviously mentally ill fellow believers and their caregivers. They see us neglecting them, ignoring them and avoiding them. What do you think they might be saying or thinking?
Should we not proactively love mentally ill people and do what we can to help their families? After all, aren’t we all mentally ill?
I am going to quote from a book here – Grace for the Afflicted, by Matthew Stanford a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor:
The mentally ill person needs medical treatment, psychological counseling and spiritual guidance. That is why comfort, encouragement, and support from those in the church are so important. Where else can they get the spiritual component so necessary in treatment? Studies have shown that religious support offers the psychologically distressed individual resources that are unavailable through general social support. In fact, it has been shown that religious support can play a key role in recovery from psychiatric illness. (p233)
Dr. Stanford gets it – the church is needed, Christ is needed for obviously mentally ill people to get relief and healing from their struggles. And we are the church!
What do you think?