Sunday, May 3, 2015

Christians and Mental Illness

 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. - 1 Timothy 2:1-6
I read an article the other day about Glenn Beck predicting that a SCOTUS ruling in support of same-sex marriage will lead to a drop of 50 percent in church attendance in the next five years "because the stigma of going to church will be too much."
Beck, who last month suggested that the outcry following Indiana’s controversial religious freedom law would lead to Christians being put into concentration camp, said:
"Mark my words, if gay marriage goes through the Supreme Court and gay marriage becomes fine and they can put teeth in it so now they can go after churches, like the president's lawyer says, 50 percent of our churches will fall away.  
"Meaning, within five years, 50 percent of the congregants will fall away from their church because they won't be able to take the persecution...within five years, 50 percent of the people that you sit next to in church will not be there. And not because [they agree with marriage equality but] because they'll say, 'I can't do that, I'll lose my job, people are picketing my house, I just can't do that.'”
The first thing I thought was that this was one of the most ludicrous things I'd ever read. Then I thought that Beck has completely lost his mind.  He is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, was diagnosed with ADHD, and has described himself as a "borderline schizophrenic."  After those thoughts and realizing that he really does have problems, I decided it wasn't a very Christian way for me to think.  That led me to think about what God has to say about the mentally ill.
As I began to read about what Christian authors had to say about mental illness, it became largely discouraging. Many of the articles essentially argued that mental illness was a social construct created by secular doctors and psychiatrists, and therefore, is not biblical. So, when a person is depressed, he is really just experiencing sadness, and to try to treat it medically is to short circuit the power of God. When a person is anxious, she is really just experiencing worry, and to treat it medically is a secular answer to a spiritual problem. You get the idea.  I can understand that the authors were trying to say that  Jesus is sufficient for every facet of our lives. However, I believe that treating mental illness as only (or even primarily) a spiritual problem is both profoundly unbiblical and incredibly hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness.
I would argue that if we truly believe that physical diseases can be treated with medicine, then we must accept mental illness as a biblical category. If we believe that our mind is part of our body, including my brain, then it shouldn’t surprise me when my brain doesn’t work correctly.  Even Jesus recognized that the brain could have problems because he speaks of thinking of a sin as being as bad as committing it, though I believe it is not just the thought but the sincere desire that He was speaking of. I’m not surprised when I get a cold; why should I be surprised if I experience mental illness? To say that depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, and every other disorder, are purely spiritual disorders is to ignore the fact that we are both body and soul.
Mental illness is not something invented by secular psychiatrists. Rather, it is part and parcel with living in fallen, sinful world, a world that is filled with hatred and rejection.
Treating mental illness as purely a spiritual disorder is very hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness because it points them to the wrong solution. Let me explain. For many years I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety. I experience an unwillingness to function at times because of my depression and the clutching sensation in my chest, shortness of breath, adrenaline surges, and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I have anxiety attacks. On rare occasions, the anxiety is tied to something I’m worried about, but 90% of the time the physical symptoms I experience aren’t at all connected to worry. I’ll be working away on my computer, not thinking about anything, when the feelings of depression or anxiety suddenly descends upon me.
In those moments, I don’t need to be told not to worry. I don’t need to be told to exercise more faith in the promises of God. I don’t need to be told to snap out of it. What I need is encouragement to persevere. I need to be reminded that, even in the midst of suffering, Jesus is near. I need to be reminded that my light and momentary afflictions are producing an eternal weight of glory. I need to be encouraged to press into Jesus.  And… I need to be connected to someone who can help me deal with the physical aspects of depression and anxiety.
Here’s the unfortunate reality: even if my thinking is biblical, faith-filled, and God-honoring, my physical symptoms of anxiety and depression won’t go away. Why? Because most of the time the problem is primarily physical. Something isn’t working correctly in my brain, which in turn causes me to experience the physical symptoms of anxiety.
We must place mental illness in the same category as every other form of illness. When a person experiences chronic migraines or cluster headaches as I do, they most certainly will be tempted to doubt the goodness of God. We can serve them by encouraging them that God is good, and that he cares for them. But we also can serve them by taking them to the best migraine specialists in the country.  We must understand that all things are God's creation, which includes antidepressants, anti anxiety medication, and pain killers.
If we’re going to effectively care for fellow Christians who struggle with mental illness, we need to recognize that mental illness is a real thing. We aren’t only souls. Rather, we are a complex composition of soul and body. Let’s make sure we address both the soul and the body.
Furthermore, let me also address what Beck actually said, and that is that the acceptance of same sex marriage and homosexuality will cause Christians to fear persecution just shows that Beck knows nothing about Christianity but only wants to spread hatred and fear.  If anything, acceptance by Christians, or at least by the majority of Americans who see no problem with LGBT equality, will strengthen our churches.  The rejecting of people because they are not your ideal of a Christian is the work of Satan and Satan alone.  Jesus turned no one away.  He brought love and acceptance and, if people stand up to the immoral, un-Christian, minority of those who spread hatred in the name of Christianity, then we may finally get back to the Christian church that Jesus established.if churches began acting like a true Christian community based on the teachings of acceptance that Jesus brought us, the. Instead of a drop in church membership, we will see a dramatic rise in church membership and attendance.  The main thing that causes a drop in church attendance is when hate is preached from the pulpit.  Instead we need the welcoming and accepting attitude of Jesus Christ. 

Sorry I posted this late.  I thought it had posted.


Michael Dodd said...

Mr. Beck should be treated with sincere concern because of the many issues he has to confront in his life. May he be well, happy and freed from suffering through the care he receives from others.

On the other hand, suggesting that gays will persecute Christians if the court rules for equality tells us much more about Mr. Beck than it does about gays or Christians. Perhaps he would persecute anyone who had hurt him if he were given the chance, and so assumes others would act the same way. Fortunately, he is wrong on this count, as on so many others.

Again, may he find the healing he needs and come to enjoy fullness of life and joy.

As may we all.

Interesting reflections in your post, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I am very familiar with the link between spiritual experiences and alleged mental illness. What is one man's mental illness may be someone else's profound spiritual awakening.

I don't believe that people should automatically dismiss other people's spiritual experiences out of hand. There is more going on out there that we are willing to admit.

Amanda said...

Very well put Michael. I couldn't agree more. Great post as always Joe! You always help me to remember that the reaction to respond with is love even when others are spewing hate.

Jay M. said...

Beck is an idiot. He may have true and verifiable medical issues, either physical or mental or both, but he has no business on the air spewing this filth. 1st Amendment my ass. The company that employs him to do this is just as irresponsible. He's out of control, and unfortunately, people listen to him and just prolong our suffering.

Peace <3