“You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him.”
“He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is.”
“It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God.”
“A pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself, but a spiritual man is easy on others and hard on himself.”
“An idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.”
“The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.'”
“The church that is not jealously protected by mighty intercession and sacrificial labors will before long become the abode of every evil bird and the hiding place for unsuspected corruption. The creeping wilderness will soon take over that church that trusts in its own strength and forgets to watch and pray.”
“Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.”
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.
“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”
“For where two or three gather together as my followers,I am there among them.”
It is easier to run alone, rather than run in a group. Running with others means keeping pace with those around you. Not so fast that you outpace the slower ones, and not so slow that you slow down the group. There are many who simply prefer running without the ‘constraints’ of others. Consider these:
Timing, learning the right stride so you won’t collide.
Encouragement, for those who are weary or limp.
Finish line, keep everyone’s eyes on the final outcome.
Perhaps this seems difficult. To be consistent in this kind of running is far too restrictive. It seems more difficult than running alone; there are far too many issues. And yet, I have determined that running with others has its own rewards.
We were never meant to be alone— solitary persons. We were created to engage the personalities of others. We must slow or speed up to keep the cohesion of everyone. We may want to speed up the pace a little bit. But if we do, it would mean the separation of the slower runners. But we are meant to run with others.
We will make these decisions on the spur of the ‘racing’ moment. Yet they determine everything. Will I curtail my desire to win, without you? Can I stand at the ‘winners line’ confidently after leaving you far behind?
We belong together. We simply can’t run solo anymore. Mental illness (as well as a physical illness) has a strong tendency to isolate. We find ourselves alone, far more than what is healthy. We make excuses, far more than is appropriate. We determine to advance, or to just ‘give up’ without affecting the other runners.
At times we must ‘gear down’ if we are to run with others. We must stop thinking ‘me’ and start thinking ‘you’. This so militates against our personal preferences. We don’t want to give up our own quest for glory. We ascribe to the virtue of the ‘first gets the best.’ But at other times we must speed up to keep the pace.
There is nothing in the scriptures about ‘going it alone.’ There is nothing that would suggest this. Yes, there are individuals, and yes they stand out. But the glacial mass is toward a corporate understanding of the truth, we will arrive together, with one another.
I would simply suggest that we become aware of our brother and sister who are trying to run next to us. They are working so hard to keep pace. Some even limp trying to keep up. We can’t ‘blow them off.’ We realize that we’re linked with them. We can’t turn away from that. When we do cross the finish line, it will be together.
“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”
“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”And he went away, weeping bitterly.”
Matthew 26:75, NLT
Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.
“A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:
being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8
Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.
Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.
We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.
Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word foundin only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 2 I long, yes, I faint with longing
to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God. 3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God! 4 What joy for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises.
There are some things that leave an indelible mark inside, deep on our souls. For me, one instance I remember staying at Simpson College on Silver Ave. in San Francisco in June 1986. The dorms were empty and I had a whole floor to myself. The campus was gorgeous. I found a little “mom and pop” corner market nearby which had a awesome deli. Here I could buy cold cuts, braunschweiger and fresh sourdough bread. I returned to my room to build my sandwich. I remember the windows were open and a beautiful breeze was there. Food, warm sun, flowers in bloom and the Holy Spirit are just about ready to intersect in my life.
It was simply a moment I captured and savored. Everything seemed to coincide, it was magical in the best sense of the word. It was beautiful, that is all I can say. That time in that dorm room has become a crystalline moment that I will never forget. Right there, it seemed I fell in love, not with a girl, but with a moment in time and place.
That nostalgia is thick on the shoulders of the writer of Psalm 84. He remembers and savors the memories of his visit to the temple. He was given something in that particular moment that would haunt him for the rest of his life. In his thinking, the beauty of the temple could never ever be the same again. The beauty of that experience was inviolable and true and could never be duplicated. But it was his, and he would never forget.
God gives moments, wrapped in wonder and awe. His presence is very likely the tipping point in these. When He is present, a connecting link is made and we receive grace. We will longingly look back on these moments when grace was so close. The psalmist has the same hunger . These moments in the temple which are so blessed have also ruined him. Special times of God’s presence have resulted in a sanctified dissatisfaction with the present.
When we finally make our way to Jesus, life takes on a curious wonder. When the rain finally comes to the barren desert, an explosion of life bursts out. In the exact same way, our lives get very green and lush. This is in contrast to our dry and desperate life without His presence.
I am hungry for His presence. I want to be in the center of wherever He is at. I admit that His grace and love has spoiled me. But the love of Jesus does this. Normal life seems to be in black & white, He turns it into a vibrant color. The psalmist begs to be returned to the temple. He wants to be there, more then anything.
“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.”
“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.”