Years ago, my youth pastor suggested that we show a movie titled “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” and I thought ‘what kind of weird movie is this?’. Witches and talking animals have nothing in common with the Bible! Upon watching however, I found it to be an excellent presentation of Biblical truth. When it comes to mental health, far too many pastors and Christians have the same attitude as I toward C.S. Lewis and the movie. Like myself, once they actually investigate, they come to a whole new understanding and appreciation.
In the beginning, God created man in his image; body, soul and spirit. We are the very pinnacle of God’s creative work. We are spiritual beings with blood coursing through our veins; capable of faith and cell reproduction; offering praise, prayer while living complicated, delicate, emotional lives. While we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we need to acknowledge the full extent and effect of the fall on our mental health. We were created upright in righteousness and holiness, of sound body and mind, but Adam’s disobedience tore asunder what God had otherwise joined together. Most will acknowledge that the fall impacted man physically. Few reject the teaching that the fall impacted man spiritually. For by one man sin entered into the world and all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God is fairly clear. It would seem logical that the fall would impact man emotionally as well and the reality is that we are not just prone to sin but to psychological breakdown.
In evangelism today, faith and mental health is something of an elephant in the room. We all know someone – we may even be that someone – who suffers from the disorienting effect of the fall on our whole person. It is time then to address this topic in the open.
Having the right biblical categories is crucial for sorting through the myriad of challenges posed by mental health for the church. There are spiritual problems, there are physical problems, and there are emotional or mental problems. When one is depressed, it is an emotional and spiritual problem that can lead to physical problems. When only addressed as a spiritual problem, the individual is told to “read your Bible and pray so that you drive the depression away”. Often the reality is that this counsel intensifies the depression. The Bible is not ineffective; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The brain is not able to apply the truth it reads. Address the brain so that the Truth is comprehended and then the depression dissolves. All biblical categories are addressed instead of only one.
There must be training for spiritual care and soul care so that modern culture no longer enables our pathologies. The Bible is a sharp, two edged sward; able to cut the thoughts and intentions of the inner most man. As that is the case those using it for spiritual care need to be trained lest they cause more harm than good. Pastors and lay counselors are first responders. Often they come upon a spiritually or soul injured person. Like the first responder who triages the accident victim and then takes to them to the emergency room physician so must those who are not trained for intense spiritual and soul care refer intense treatment to those who are equipped. Great harm is done by those who lack the training. There is a reason why Paul said a pastor needs to be mature and that we should be slow to approve one for leadership. This applies to providing spiritual and soul care for those broke in their emotions and thinking.
We need to candidly discuss faith as it relates to issues such as eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. The Bible is quite blunt. It is also quite clear about sin. As followers of Christ and as the Bible is our guide we should not shy away from real topics being experienced by real people in our real world. People with mental illness need the Lord. They are all the same. They all need us to be open, candid, honest.
The stories of those who are most visibly emotionally impacted by the fall need to move us to tears. In response, we need to offer comfort from Scripture. Their stories need to inspire to engage in the life of the community of faith in new ways as we seek to love one another in Christ. Far too often those with a mental illness are the lepers of the evangelical church. While not out loud, inwardly we scream “Unclean, Unclean”. We don’t know what to do with them so we ignore them with hopes that they will go away. Somebody should help them. Anybody could help them. But when the day ends nobody is who addresses them. To quote Paul again “God Forbid” or as modern translations read “May it never be.”
Jesus came to heal the sick, not those who are well. In this, his power is on display in and through our weakness, as he sustains us and works to bring about the redemption of our whole persons, body and soul. He keep us in his tender care, and the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us on that great day of salvation.
Let us be like Christ.
By Dr. Phillip Huggins
Spiritual Director of The Grace Wellness Center
Counselor and Biblical Life Coach