The Only Army that Shoots its Wounded

anxiety (2)

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.

shooting
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.

Avoiding the Cul-de-sac

“Then God said, “You’ve been going around in circles in these hills long enough; go north.”

Deuteronomy 2:3 

I believe that there are cul-de-sacs in a broken believer’s walk. There are times when we seem to walk in circles and our path seems to take us around and around. It can be a real cause of frustration–we know deep down that there must be something more.

For city planners, a cul-de-sac solves many problems. Homes built there can be off the beaten track, kids can play without too much concern about traffic. The idea can be very appealing.

But a spiritual cul-de-sac can be dangerous.

The children of Israel are free from the profound bondage of their Egyptian masters. They now know freedom, but… (you know).

The children of Israel wandered. They turned an 11-day journey into 40 years! Although one can learn things going nowhere, it really isn’t what the Father wants.

The scenery never changes (“what? didn’t I see that cactus before?) The journey becomes one of repetition. Around and around, dealing (and seeing) the same old stuff, over and over. We really don’t see anything new. We really don’t hear His voice.

This really isn’t what God intended for you.

Perhaps going in circles is a real issue for those with physical and mental issues. We feel trapped by our illnesses, hemmed in by these difficult things. We wander and continue to take another trip around the mountain. Instead of having a ‘straight’ walk, ours is crooked.

Our journey needs to be ‘linear,’ not circular.

I know all about these dead-ends. I’ve been there. I guess if I was to explain my own walk it would be one word–stagnant. I wandered in circles dealing with the same ugly stuff over and over. It seemed like I never went forward. My life was caught in some kind of spiritual loop.

Quite often we get trapped through sinful habits.

Sometimes we can’t break out of this vicious cycle without the Father’s helpful discipline. We must understand that the Lord will “rock your world” if you keep choosing to sin.

He will not allow you to continue in rebellion or disobedience.

I saw others on their straight path. Yes they sinned and struggled, but they seemed to be going forward, and I wasn’t. There were my issues, Bipolar and chronic pain (what a mix, huh)? I knew I was trapped and I never could break this on my own.

The spiritual scenery never changed for you.

God really does love you. You must become utterly convinced of that. If you’re stuck in a cul-de-sac you must know this. Condemnation never comes from Him. Never. I suggest that you call on Him (get on your face) and ‘beg’ to be with Him.

When You Need to Cover Nakedness

“And don’t build an altar that requires steps; you might expose yourself when you climb up”.

Exodus 20:26

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

1 Peter 4:8

While I lived in the SOS Ministry house in the Mission District of San Francisco a dear brother taught me this principle.  Living in Christian community is a really wonderful thing.  But it also could be a challenge at times.  What Michael shared, allowed my understanding to grow to meet the need of the moment.

The principle is this:  

We are called to cover up our brother’s nakedness.

 Throughout the scripture “being naked, or nakedness” is always a shame.  It comes welded to the concept of being vulnerable or exposed to the sight of everyone else.  It also carries the idea of sin; it is sin that everyone can see; it is very obvious.

For those of us who often sin, we evolve the idea of keeping a lid on it, and being secretive with it.  There will be people who will never know.  Often sex sin, drug and alcohol sin, both are kept hidden from view of family and friends, and the Church.

Noah and His Nakedness, Genesis 9

“Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard. When he drank wine made from his grapes, he became drunk and lay naked in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, looked at his naked father and told his brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth got a coat and, carrying it on both their shoulders, they walked backwards into the tent and covered their father.”

“They turned their faces away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.”  

Genesis 9:20-24

It’s hard to process this patriarch’s gross sin. 

However in all fairness Noah had lost everything in the flood, so perhaps we should be gentle with him. On the other hand, people who cover up the nakedness of others seem to be gentle and humble.  They would never, ever dream of making a scandal.  They are trustworthy and understand to a great degree the things that make a man or woman of God.

Leviticus 18 is the “magnum opus” of nakedness.

We are pretty much told over and over in this chapter, not to ever uncover another. Actually is pretty emphatic and somewhat redundant. But I think the Lord wanted it repeated this way.

Our vulnerabilities are there for all to see.  But there are also men and women who go out of their way to protect and shield.  They are safe people, in the classic sense of the word.  They cover-up, but never in negative or criminal way, but in love and blessing. (If it is a serious crime, the police should be involved.)

Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others. 

Quite often we are exposed, open to attack on our weaknesses.  Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others.  They will refuse to judge or point out sins.  But they will stand in the gap, shielding and protecting.

God’s final word on nakedness is in Revelation 3:18, and this is a good place to conclude this post,

“My advice to you is to buy pure gold from me, gold purified by fire—only then will you truly be rich. And to purchase from me white garments, clean and pure, so you won’t be naked and ashamed; and to get medicine from me to heal your eyes and give you back your sight.”

*bry-signat (1)

A Savior of “Crazy People”

“For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.”

1 Thess. 5:5

My testimony of the grace of God:

A year before I received Christ as my Savior, I was hospitalized in a U.S. Army psychiatric ward.  My uniform was replaced with the distinctive attire of a mental patient.  Ironically, I’d been attached to the same hospital working on the pediatric floor.  And to make things only slightly more surreal was that a medic there on the psych ward was someone I bought drugs from!

Previous to this hospitalization, I had dropped two hits of LSD and found myself in an awful mess.  It was night and I was hallucinating heavily.  I had lost control of my thoughts.  I had pretty much flipped out  and it entered my drug saturated brain that the darkness would kill me that very night!

Utterly convinced I was going to die, my mind seized upon the street lights. 

If I could stay in that illuminated circle I could escape dying that night!  The light would save me.  I stood under that street light for several hours.  As I stood I could see very clearly the boundary between the light and the dark.  I knew I was safe as long as I didn’t wander, but I was trapped.

Despite that traumatic experience, the drugs and my mental instability continued to slide. 

I was shooting up cocaine, crossing my “no needle rule.”  I also became quite the heavy drinker, with Jack Daniels for breakfast.  I had one basic rule though.  As a medic who worked in maternal/child health, I had the best assignment in the Army.  Many people coveted it, and I was not going to endanger it by drugs or alcohol. 

I never went on duty loaded.  It was my rule. I would be the best medic the Army ever had.

Shortly after my psych ward discharge, I was reassigned to Labor & Delivery on the night shift.  One slow time I was pulled from my duty there to go on an ambulance run as the medic in charge.  We were called to officer’s housing were an older man had died in bed. This got me thinking.  Back at the hospital I returned to L&D.  On the way back I took a shortcut through a ward on another floor.  That’s when I found it!

On a waiting room table was a small book called, “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell.  I picked it up, reading it right on duty because there were no one in the delivery room.  By the end of my shift I was well on my way to becoming a Christian.  It was a book solidly speaking of the light, and of the dark.  And I knew beyond a doubt that I couldn’t remain in the dark anymore.

I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in June of 1982. 

I became a born again believer shortly after that.  I went to Bible College that October.  Life has become radically different, and over time I became a missionary and a pastor. 

All I can tell you is that Jesus is real, he is alive and the Bible is true.  I have translated from the dark to the light, and I am not afraid anymore.  Jesus is my light.

“The people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,
    a light has shined.”

Matthew 4:16

Some Very Good Links:

“How to be Saved,” gotquestions

The Sheer Hopelessness of Mental Illness,” brokenbelievers.com

Alaska Bible Institute, my Bible College, (a great school)

“More Than a Carpenter”, by Josh McDowell, (check it out on Amazon) 

 
%d bloggers like this: