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The Only Army that Shoots its Wounded

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By Dwight L. Carlson

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.

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Don’t Shoot the Wounded

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.

 

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Without the Spirit

“A church in the land without the Spirit is rather a curse than a blessing. If you have not the Spirit of God, Christian worker, remember that you stand in somebody else’s way; you are a fruitless tree standing where a fruitful tree might grow.”

–Charles Spurgeon

 

“How little chance the Holy Ghost has nowadays. The churches and missionary societies have so bound Him in red tape that they practically ask Him to sit in a corner while they do the work themselves.”

–CT Studd

 

 

 

 

 

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Dancing With Bruises

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Bruises seem to be part of life’s package to us. Some will be serious, most minor. But each are noted, and some will just have to be endured.

Dancers are some of the most wonderful people I know. Their gracefulness can be seen both on and off the stage. A dancer’s training is far from easy. By choosing to become dancers they have made a decision to absorb pain. Their toes and feet are blistered and bruised; they take constant abuse. Some must live with chronic tendinitis. Their feet bleed sometimes, and pain is their constant companion. Two things to consider.

  • They choose to dance. Dancers have an iron-will and a elegant grace. I suppose that is why they can dance.
  • The scars and bruises often become “badges of honor.” And they wouldn’t have it any other way. They would rather dance in pain, than not to dance at all.

Someone once compared depression as a “mental bruise.” I understand this. As depressed people, we must choose to walk out our lives from this pain. I know what it is like to bury myself in my bed for several weeks. My own mental bruise was simply more than I could take. There was a sensation of sinking into blackness, a sense of total and complete despair. I felt completely lost, and completely alone.

I prayed. I groaned, and I prayed. My sense of being totally lost was beyond comprehension. Dear reader, this was something quite real, and you must become aware of these things. Some of your friends are suffering. And it is a hellish and desperate depression.dancer-feet

To my Christian friends. Yes, I believe Jesus died for all my sins. He has forgiven me of much evil, I know that will live for eternity (with you). But mental illness is real, and like other illnesses it seldom is caused by evil or Satan. We would never say that diabetics are that way because of the enemy. Now the dark one will surely exploit it, but I think you give him far too much credit if you suggest he was able to initiate it. Satan just doesn’t have the spiritual “voltage.”

So, inspired by my dancing friends, and the Holy Spirit– I will make the choice to dance again. I’m pretty bruised, but I will try to ignore the pain. I would exult in my God, walk in His love, “leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2.)

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

Isaiah 42:3

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Being Obscure Just Like Jesus

I am processing something right now. I suppose its implications have the potential of turning everything ‘upside down’ for me at least. Some scientists have postulated that our planet is due for a complete magnetic switchover. This is when north becomes south, and vice versa. My issues at this moment are not quite that cosmic, but nevertheless my own world is being ‘rocked.’

There are seven billion people now alive on this planet. They wouldn’t know me from any other person. Sometimes I wonder if many of my issues come from not seeing this, and putting far too much emphasis on my own self-esteem. It seems it is an intoxication of success. We become self-deluded. We think it’s about our effort, our giftedness, what we do with the opportunities God gives us. We desire to attain and ascend. Finding an eminence among our peers (or trying anyway). Pride drives us, even among believers.

3 “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Jesus was not driven like we seem to be. We truly think we need to be assertive, (at least the Christian version of it.)  Jesus’ message and teaching were all about emptying Himself of being God, and becoming a servant of servants. And this is the salient factor we so blithely fail to consider. Jesus wore a foot-washers towel, not a tiara. 

6 “Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Can we avoid doing this? Does our discipleship include emptying ourself of self daily? Can I find a peace and fulfillment by becoming an unknown (except to God?)

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart, It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”   

Andrew Murray

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(All verses are from Philippians 2, NLT.)

 

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Living Tethered to the Cross

We live in this place.
We live in this place.

St. Francis of  Assisi once wrote, “The devil never rejoices more than when he robs a servant of God of the peace of God.” Sometimes I think I’ve made the devil dance far too many times.

I confess that peace has never been real high on my list. Love, joy, kindness and even goodness are clear priorities. Peace–well… not so much. Until it’s not there. And then I get frantic by its absence, and look for it with manic bewilderment.

I’m panting for some sign that God still loves me. Anxiety eats at me. I beat myself up by my last failure. The guilt of my latest sin grows until it looms larger than the blood that saved me. Sometimes religious people have the most neurosis.

I’m afraid that we are taking “the present tense’ out of the Gospel. The past tense is far preferable to us as we manage the Christian life. We like to make check marks on our list. Repentance– check. Baptism– check. Bible study– check. I think it gives me a definite feeling of ‘maturity.’

But truth has a way of punching through. I haven’t arrived, and it seems I’m still the hideous sinner I always was. I cannot pretend otherwise, even with a truck load of cosmetics at my disposal. I know, I’ve tried. And I’m still ‘ugly.’ I do know forgiveness, and I do walk in its wonderful light (by grace.)

I read Luther 30 years ago. (And Bonhoeffer would say something similar.)  “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” – Martin Luther (this is the first of his 95 Theses.) There is a present tense here we can’t ignore. I don’t just repent over smoking, or fornication, or of hypocrisy, once and done. But my entire way of living is to be one of repenting.

Repentance is a ‘moment-by-moment’ grace.

As I read the Beatitudes I cannot evade the sense that they are present tense. Read them, they’re obviously not a spiritual checklist. Each verse seems to speak of the time being, the present moment. No list here, guys. It will never be ‘one-and-done.’

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matthew 5:3-10, NLT

All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”

–John Piper

Luther’s last words, on his deathbed wrote on a scrap of paper these words, “We are beggars! This is true.” Thirty years before, he was only echoing his first thesis. It seems dear ones, we are to live at the foot of the cross. Everyday. Because we desperately need to.

And perhaps the biggest reason is this: Jesus only comes for ‘sinners.’

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Walking With the Lord Jesus, [Humility]

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The subject and emphasis on is becoming obscure— “just like Jesus.” I suppose my main contention is this– our understanding of discipleship has too much “me, and not enough Him.” This can be a gentle error of a young believer.

When Jesus who was the fullness of God in bodily form came, He came as a lowly slave. We see Him stripping down, filling a basin, and scrubbing dirty feet. He actively made Himself a broken and humble servant. It was deliberate and conscious.

Read Philippians 2. It will blow you away!

I think we learn this from Him. The disciple never exceeds his master. He made it very clear that we were to follow Him in this. It’s processed by us when we are very firmly aware that the One who knows us. To be loved by Him is enough (or is it?)

Exceptional effort is made by the Holy Spirit to help us understand. There is a repeated thought given to us in various permutations. In one of my favorite verses King David, standing in front of God, and his people, declared,

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! 15 We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.”

1 Chronicles 29:14-15, NLT

“We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.” This is the cheery assessment found in Ecclesiastes 1. This view irks us big time. Especially if we have invested so much in our wealth, gifts, experiences and accomplishments.

“Our days on earth are like grass;  like wildflowers, we bloom and die.  The wind blows, and we are gone— as though we had never been here.”

Psalm 103:15-16, NLT

In the New Testament, the emphasis is only stronger. Remember when James and John tried to get the corner on the authority and honor of being on “the right and left?” (My, but they were ambitious lads!)

“When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:41-45, NLT

There are two certain issues here:

  • The first is authentic discipleship.
  • The second is a decided and eager servanthood.

Both ideas are often missing in our churches, and in our teaching. Somehow we are not communicating the real transferable concepts. Their simplicity evades us.

I intend to return to this fairly soon. Again, I appreciate any constructive criticism, your own thinking on this, and your prayers.

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The Curious Case of Being Job

XIR84999 Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922) oil on canvas Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France Lauros / Giraudon French, out of copyright
Image by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922) Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France French, out of copyright

One of the most intriguing characters in the Bible is Job. Tempted and accused, ignored and maligned– he maintained a faith in God’s goodness when hell wanted to destroy him.

His goodness should not be questioned oe diminished.

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

Job 1:1

Job becomes an oblivious participant in a cosmic exchange. God and Satan lock horns over Job’s faithfulness. God is sure of his love, while the Adversary thinks Job will fold when repeatedly tempted. But keep in mind, Job hasn’t a clue of who or why. He has to deal with life that is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Job will soon become intimate with pain and suffering.

“Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who God, and shuns evil.”

Job 1:8

Satan is like a pit bull. And God has pointed out the character of Job, and what an enticing “meal” he would make. It’s a bit like slathering bacon grease on him and turning him over to the nearest pack of wolves. Satan now pursues his prey.

Again, Job is completely unaware of this contest. No one has bothered to consult him directly about this. Job knows nothing about this ”wager.” And it’s hard to be kept in the dark. I contend that had Job  known what was going on, this all would’ve been far easier. However, everything would be “unscripted” and  Job would suffer in complete ignorance. And that is doubly hard.

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Job 1:20-22

But there was no sin! Job will not travel down that road. Yet he loses everything– all of it. And things are going to get even worse for him. He will be visited by three “friends.” However, they won’t help him. They will only make things worse.

The life of Job, and the “total war” on his soul must be our consideration and our precedent to order our lives.

The pain of Job should become the blackboard where we practice our figures. In the New Testament book of James, (5:11) we are told to think about Job. And in our deliberations, to consider the compassion and mercy of God. Ironic, in some wild cosmic way, our trials of faith are significant.

We should realize that if you or I are going to come out clean in this, we will need to emulate the faith of Job. I think that this what James meant in 5:10-11. We understand that Jesus absorbed all our sin and pain, completely. When we see that, we can come through just about any nastiness. It won’t make the trials any easier, but it will frame the full goodness of God.

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