This evening I got tired of the TV. Or maybe tired of the control it emits over me. I picked up one of the many Bibles I have in my loft. I do think it is ‘funny/sinister’ of the real pressure it takes to open its pages. I have no doubt it is the darkness of my flesh and the wickedness of demons. Melodramatic? I think not.
But this is what I read and thought.
“Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. 2 Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man,“Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”
Matthew 9:1-2, NLT
Jesus is mobile. He moves and goes where His Father goes. At this moment He is needed in Capernaum. He is to meet a small crowd– and a paralyzed man on a mat. Jesus travels, but this man can only be carried. So Jesus Christ the Son of God, comes to him.
The Lord’s eyes alertly move over these people. People are the reason He came. This crippled man has been waiting. Jesus looks, and all He sees is “faith.” And He knows that the Father has led Him here.
The Word says that He could see their faith. Funny. What does faith look like? It seems like that is the first thing He saw, and noted. I’m not sure about the man on the mat. Did he have faith? Or had it been ‘burned out of him’ by too many doctors, and too many ‘treatments’? It is good to surround yourself with others who will believe when you can’t.
Jesus finally spoke, and its worth noting His first utterance was to proclaim forgiveness. Not healing. Forgiveness! What did this man’s friends think? I see them feel tenative, and maybe a bit shocked about this. What evil did their friend commit? What had he hidden from them, the way we try to hide things from each other?
The healing is going to come. This man will stand. He will carry his mat and go home. (V. 6). But perhaps the paralysis wasn’t the main reason he was there.
Maybe, his biggest need was to be forgiven?
Man has two basic needs.
One, to be forgiven of awful sin. Washed and cleansed. Forgivemess.
Two, to become a good person. Kind and humble. Healing.
There will always be those looking on who will condemn and challenge what is taking place. For them, it has nothing at all to do with the hearts of people. That means nothing to them. Rather for these, it has to do with a rigid and lifeless religion– with its 613 laws, and tithing of dill and mint.
What do you really need? Forgiveness? Or something else? Psalm 103:3-4, are verses for the redeemed.
“He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. 4 He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.”
“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”
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.
18 “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.I want to do what is right, but I can’t.19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”
Romans 7:18-20, New Living Translation
“How can you be so inconsistent? I feel like there are two ‘Bryans,’ I don’t understand how you can live like this.”This is what a dear friend said to me recently. I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know how to answer. It was a bit embarrassing, but I couldn’t respond. Later, the Spirit ministered to me while praying about it.
I realize I should have said this: “You’re absolutely right, I am a bit of a flake. But you only see the veneer, deep down I’m much worse than you will ever know. I can’t defend my actions, and I desperately need a Savior. Would you pray for me to work this out?”
The daily struggle with sin is sometimes more visible than we would like. Even as a believer I can and do sin. That should surprise no one, and yet, I am the most surprised when sin breaks out. (Inconsistently is a factor in Bipolar disorder, but it’s more than that.)
In Romans 7 we are confronted with a man who is constantly disappointed in himself. It can be wrenching to read—partly because it is so real. It describes us too well. At times it is like looking into a mirror.
Romans 7 describes what is wrong with us, who are attempting to keep the law from our own efforts. We slide into this from grace when we attempt to stand before God in our self-righteousness. We have a strong tendency to do this at times. We venerate holiness, but we fall woefully short. We aspire, but cannot attain.
“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.”
We have a problem when our heart doesn’t match our actions. It gets a little hairy when our sin is visible to others. We feel like hypocrites and taste guilt like it was sour milk. We’re certain we’ve shamed Christ in some irrevocable way. Now a lot of this can be satanic, he is “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev 12:10). We should neutralize his influence with the Word.
Whenever we stand before God, we should never come with our list of great things we have recently done for Him. It won’t be accepted. They are at best, filthy rags. They’re not fit for a King’s court. But yet we keep coming, parading our dirty rags. Self-righteousness is repugnant to a Holy God. I wonder when we strut into His presence if the angels don’t ‘roll their eyes?’
“The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.”
We forget that only Christ’s righteousness is accepted. Heaven is satisfied with His atoning blood that covers sin. The tension we feel in Romans 7 is there because it turns us away from our self-effort. Our ‘confusion’ over this chapter indicates the depth of our attempt to be righteous on our own.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3:18
Often people will look at someone, and try to figure them out– they listen to their words or vocabulary. They examine the things we say, and also the way we say it. But according to John, this a flawed way of discerning legitimacy.
Love, in his eyes, is most assuredly “doing.” Speaking falls really short. Our words, although important, are an insufficient way of proving authenticity. When you listen closely, even the best fall short. Love is not expressed by being profound or eloquent in our speech. We can shout out the truth and never show love at all. That is disturbing, but when will we figure out that love is a verb?
“Actions and in truth.” This standard propels us to another level. To act and reveal, puts us on a sound and sure level of discipleship. It means that we will not just say things that sound really good and wise. But we would “do love” and not just be talking about it.
I can quite easily mimic the dialect of love. I verbalize so much that is just plain goofy and nonsense. My eloquent words simply fog and darken. They are not real. (If it were real, I would “do.”)
John is calling believers to a much more real kind of love.
If we do adjust ourselves to this, it alters and shapes us into authentic believers. Admittably, this can be frightening, and something that will disturb us deeply. Even as mature believers, we will avoid it and try to “imitate” something else. It’s not only easier, but less dangerous.
And to love is to be profoundly dangerous.
We are expressly called to do, and not to say. No questions about our words, and speech–they are significant. But our deeds, putting love into acts and deeds is vital, critically so. Being a doer, and not just a speaker, is the descriptive essence of the real believer.
Regrets are a funny thing. You really start to gather them when you get into your fifties. They are a bit sticky, once you have them, they’re hard to get rid of— (kind of like dog hair on a nice jacket.) I’m in my mid-50s now and am surprised by the memories of things gone by. I guess this is one of the job hazards of being middle-aged.
Why do we remember the bad things; surely they weren’t all mistakes?
God’s Word gives us fresh insight into this state of mind of regretfulness. What it gives is akin to instructions to disarm a bomb— it’s ticking, and ready to explode. There are some have been severely wounded when a regret goes off.
What bothers me is all the missed opportunities. I wonder what life could of been like if I had accepted Christ at a younger age. A lot of pain would’ve been averted and perhaps I might have loved Jesus deeper than I do now. Some of us come to love Jesus late in life. There is so much time frittered away. I regret the years spent in rebellion and disobedience. I remember the words of an 70 year old man who had just received Christ, “Why did I wait so long for this to happen?”
13 “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Philippians 3:13-14, NLT
Paul had learned to adjust his vision. He no longer let regret define him, choosing rather to forget the past and press into the future. The solution to regret is to focus on what lies ahead. Heaven is our destination–it is our calling, it’s really where we belong.
Peter tells us that our past sin was enough. We have wasted enough time doing evil. I don’t know about you, but I had a bellyful of sin, and it’s time to lay all the foolishness and rebellion and live instead for God. Enough is enough.
3 “You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.”
1 Peter 4:3
There is a sorrow that leads us to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10) ,and while it affects me I should make full use of it— not knowing when it will leave. I have regrets like anyone else, but there is also a joy of having my sin forgiven. They both mingle and at times I rejoice, but the sadness comes and goes as well. David, that great sinner-king, understood the joy of forgiveness.
1 Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! 2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”
Galatians 6:2, NLT
By Lisa Schubert, Guest Author
Samantha approached me outside the church on Thanksgiving morning with her hair disheveled and her coat covered with dirt smudges and rain drops. She demanded to borrow my cell phone to find if the Thanksgiving dinner she had requested from a charitable organization would be ready for pick-up in an hour. I was in a hurry. I needed to be inside preparing to lead worship. I begrudgingly let her borrow my phone, but I insisted on dialing the number myself and standing with her in the gentle rain.
Samantha issued commands to the person on the other end of line. When she hung up, the rant continued against our church, our staff, the weather, and this meal that would serve as her Thanksgiving dinner. I had to let her go mid-rant, but not before reminding her that I would keep her in my prayers.
My encounters with Samantha have continued over the past few months. She’s almost always confused, angry and paranoid. She tells stories about growing up with another member of our staff, who never met her until recently. It’s hard to know how to respond to Samantha.
A friend called me recently to ask if our church had any resources for helping congregations to welcome those who struggle with mental illness. I pointed her in a few directions, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at www.nami.org. Even as I offered her the information, I felt uneasy. Connecting with those who have mental illnesses is a complex, difficult journey.
It was raining again on Monday when I saw Samantha. She was sitting in the front lobby of the church. She shouted at me as I walked out the door, “Be careful out there! Two guys tried to kidnap me, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.” Unwilling to believe her, I replied, “Samantha, I’m sorry you had a rough morning. I’ll be thinking of you. Hope your day gets better.” I continued out the church doors and opened my umbrella.
I later discovered that Samantha was mugged that morning. Thankfully, the police believed her while I had blown her off. They arrested the alleged perpetrators that afternoon.
I’m embarrassed by my lack of gentleness and compassion toward Samantha, and I know I’m not alone. I wonder what it means for the Church to embrace, accept and listen to those who have mental illnesses. I wonder how church leaders like myself can grow and help others to deepen their care for people like Samantha.
There are no simple answers, but I think the answer starts in a simple place: We stand with them in the rain.
Lisa Schubert is Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Formation of North United Methodist Church, Indianapolis
“At some point in the Alps, the guides warn tourists not to talk nor sing, nor even to whisper, lest the reverberation of their words in the air may start an avalanche from its poise on the mountain, and bring it down upon the villages and homes in the valley. There are men and women who are carrying such loads of duty, anxiety, or sorrow—that the slightest addition to the weight would crush them. They are battling bravely against odds.
They are holding out under great pressure, sustained by a trembling hope of getting through, at last, successfully. They are bearing up under a burden of difficulty or trouble, comforted by the expectation that in the end—their darkness will turn to light. But everything is “in the balance”.
Then along comes one of these gloomy discouragers. He has no perception of the fitness of things. He lacks that delicate, sympathetic feeling which enables men of a finer grain and a nobler quality—to enter into the experience of others and put strength into their hearts. He discovers the trouble through which his friends are passing. But instead of speaking a word of cheer to help them to be victorious, he talks in a pessimistic or disheartening way which makes their difficulties seem greater, their burdens heavier, and their sorrows altogether hopeless!
It is hard to be patient with such people, for they are really enemies of human happiness! They make life immeasurably harder for everyone they meet. They take the brightness out of the sunniest day; the blue out of the clearest sky; and something of the gladness out of the happiest heart. Then they make work harder for every toiler—and pain keener for every sufferer! There ought to be a law making it a crime—for one man to discourage another, and affixing severe penalties to every violation of this law!
How much better it would be—if instead of being discouragers, we would all learn to be encouragers of others! The value of words of cheer is incalculable!
There is an old story of a fireman who was climbing up a ladder amid smoke and flame, trying to reach a high window—to rescue a child from a burning building! The man had almost gained the window—but the heat was so intense, and the smoke so blinding, that he staggered on the ladder and seemed about to turn back. The great crowd below was watching him with breathless interest and, seeing him waver and hesitate, began to “cheer” him! This nerved the fireman anew for his heroic task, and in a moment the brave fellow had entered the house and soon returned, saving the child. It is ‘cheer’ that people need, not discouragement, when they are fighting a hard battle!
Men who give us only their doubts and fears, are misanthropists. True philanthropy brings us hope and heartening. The truest helpers of others—are those who always have words of exhortation and inspiration to speak, who always are encouragers.”