In Exodus 15 there’s an incident that carries weight for today. Israel has come to the springs of Marah. The water is bitter. The people turn to Moses. They challenge him and the complaint voraciously. “Why have you brought us here?” They press Moses to the point of mutiny. They are furious.
Some commentators believe this bitter water was a laxative, and anyone who drank this “bitter” water made many trips to the outhouse!
Moses is shown a branch of a common tree. The Lord speaks a word of ďirection he’s to throw the branchaďirectly into the spring. It’ll cure the water, and make it sweet.
It seems to me that Jesus’ awful cross cures the bitterness we absorb as we make our way through life.
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.
My name is Judas Iscariot, and I betrayed my Lord. It really had nothing to do with avarice or greed. The money was fine, don’t get me wrong, but that isn’t why I turned him in to the authorities. I simply did what they couldn’t. I wanted to force Jesus’ hand, so he had to drive the Romans out of our country. I was mistaken, I see that now.
Jesus loved each of us, including me. But I didn’t see it at the time.
When he knelt to wash my feet, I was deeply disturbed. When he stripped down to his underwear, I admit I had some serious doubts. Behaving like a common slave wasn’t really in my thinking. It would take extra work to shape him, and to deaden such strange behavior. But it would be worth it in the end, if only Jesus would cooperate.
In my mind I knew that Jesus only needed the right moment to become the next ruler of Israel. That was his destiny, and I was going to help him bring it to pass. I knew that God had called me–this was my purpose. I would be the kingmaker, and Jesus would certainly reward me.
Some have said that Satan was inside me.
But I hardly noticed. Instead, I was filled with excitement. Finally, the other disciples would come to my side, and together we could make it happen. Enough kneeling, no more groveling–we were going to rule Israel and end the wicked Roman occupation. I truly believed this. He was our Messiah, our deliverer.
The tricky part was to convince Jesus, to manipulate him if necessary, to get him to take control.
He had to see the opportunity that was waiting for him. He was already immensely popular among the people. We could quite easily turn all of this enthusiasm into a full-blown insurrection. But we obviously needed him to lead us, and I could help him find his way. I knew we could do it. This was God’s will for me.
My plan was fairly simple–after I met with the Pharisees, I’d lead them to the garden where Jesus was staying. They insisted on an armed escort, just in case there was trouble among the disciples. I suppose that was prudent, but my part in all of this was simply to give Jesus a kiss on the cheek, to signify that he was the one to the soldiers.
I assumed he would resist and fight. I was very wrong.
Nothing went as planned. Jesus didn’t take charge, and he certainly didn’t overthrow the government. As a matter of fact, you could say that the opposite happened; he was silent and refused to answer most of their questions. I did hear him say, “My kingdom is not of this world.” I should have listened.
I realized way too late, that I helped shed innocent blood. I went back to the priests who hired me, and I insisted they take back the silver. They refused. I threw the bag at their feet and left the temple. Ugly thoughts now filled my mind, and I knew without a doubt that I was completely lost.
“They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
(John 8:7, NLT)
“None knows the weight of another’s burden.”
Definitely we must discern motives and false doctrine. We’re to be constantly aware of people and issues that swirl around us–of this there is no doubt, we mustn’t be ignorant. This is a healthy “discernment.” But we must learn that having discernment isn’t a way that passes out a ‘guilty’ penalty? We are ‘seeing’ things these things–not to pass judgement, but that we might pray clearly and earnestly, and grow into His love for the weak.
But ‘judging’ dear one, is His exclusive jurisdiction. It’s far beyond our ‘pay grade.’ He is the final judge in everything. He judges justly and lovingly. He alone knows and understands everything very clearly.
It becomes imperative that we understand this; that any real discernment given is only to intensify and escalate the calling of every ‘saint,’ intercessor, or pastor. We discern, not to pass judgement, but to pray more clearly and effectively. What you see or sense is for the prayer closet, not before a judge’s bench.
And yet how foolish we are. Do we really have the ability to ascribe a penalty on someone else? Could it be when we decide to throw rocks at certain people we’re in the terrible danger of forfeiting our own salvation? “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:15.)
(If you have a ‘rock’ in your hand, you are in definite danger. Please consider this–it’s never easy, is it?)
“Don’t judge others, or you will be judged. 2 You will be judged in the same way that you judge others, and the amount you give to others will be given to you.
“Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye? (Matthew 7:1-3)
We are broken people. We struggle with many different things. Some of us are mentally or physically ill. We are not whole yet. Some of us must take meds to help us be ‘normal.’ We deal with issues that would devastate someone else. And we don’t have it anywhere near together. And yet out of our ‘hot mess’ we think we can penalize someone else? Really?
We really don’t have a problem with worldly people. We understand that they are lost in their sins, terribly wrapped up in their own personal darkness, and that should definitely disturb us. We must point to the Blood of Christ that forgive us. We share the good news of true repentance and faith. His Spirit teaches us to be witnesses of His love to everyone we meet.
But in the light of this, isn’t strange that almost all of our judgement is somehow directed at other believers! Why?! For some strange reason, it ‘seems,’ we think that we must pronounce guilt and (by doing so) we declare our own “holy” attitude to our place in the Body . In a weird sense, we think we have the supreme calling to condemn someone else’ walk, and by doing so exalt our own!
“The life of faith is a struggle enough in a broken world without us complicating it for other believers.”
It just may come as a shock to some, but it’s extremely difficult to throw stones at someone when we are busy “washing” their feet.
Granted, “we are to be wise as serpents,” But that same verse instructs us “to be as harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16.) A loving meekness and gentleness, needs to be combined with intense spiritual power. We must embody “the fruits of the Spirit.” These things are the characteristics of the Spirit-saturated believer. I
“The nature and end of judgment or sentence must be corrective, never vindictive; it is always for healing, and never for destruction.”
Perhaps when we judge others, we reveal that we don’t understand what ‘real’ discipleship with Jesus is? Somehow it seems, we really aren’t quite grasping the immensity of His grace on guilty people? Do we really understand His profound love for the fallen? “God so loved the World…” Have we have any idea how patient He is with us? Do we doubt His ability to correct others? (Again, these are awfully hard questions.)
“Judge not lest you be judged.” (Jesus’ words really do scare me sometimes. )
Certainly, I intend to confront darkness. “You are the light, a city set on a hill!” I am His salt and light and I do shine into this black night. But that is His doing, not mine. I do not generate light on my own. The Bible declares me as ‘self-righteous’ when I try. I am a broken person, who is just starting to understand the scope of my own brokenness and weaknesses. I’m starting to realize I’m not in the position to Judge someone else. I’m not quite healed myself yet and I must not think I can point to someone else as being worse than me.
Quite simply, I can’t throw ‘rocks’ at other believers anymore. I can no longer pass out any condemnation from my own limited understanding. My chief concern right now, is to be a humble, earnest Christian who is always ready to forgive those who, in their awful sin and confusion, are hurting others. I’m beginning to see that my calling is to be that; a simple servant to my brothers and sisters, nothing more, and nothing less.