Difficulty and pain sometimes come from others, and challenges to the Lordship of Jesus often come from our unique circumstances.
But what if it was something we’ve done?
I remember the classic picture of a Buddhist monk who sat in the middle of a street. He was serene as he soaked himself with gasoline, and lit himself on fire as a protest against a war he believed was wrong and evil. He burned himself in front of the cameras.
All too often we’re pretty much responsible for our own self-immolation. It is we (and we alone) that set ourselves ablaze. Sin affects our minds and hearts. We set ourselves on fire.
When we sin– when we walk in ‘known’ disobedience we always put ourselves in an awful place. We love it but learn to hate it too. But we continue to do it regardless of the awful death that ensues.
God promises to forgive us. Out of our ashes, He keeps bringing us life and hope.
You can be forgiven. You can find life again, even if you’re fully responsible for the evil we’ve done to yourself. Yes, we all sin, and yes we walk in our own personal rebellion. But Jesus knows it all. These awful things we’ve all done can be forgiven.
As a man and a preacher of the Gospel, I realize that I often choose to sin. In spite of all I know and teach I realize that I can live in the ashes of my own making. As one who also struggles with bipolar, I understand that I’m even more susceptible to doing awful things. I understand that I choose darkness even though others will call me “a man of God.”
As you read this I’m praying that you find His forgiveness and mercy. You’ve come a long way it seems, but you must see His blood that was ‘released’ from His veins and arteries for you.
He desperately loves you–even if you’ve set yourself on fire, and sit in the ashes of your doing.
“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.“
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.
“The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in.”
“It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together.”
—James H. Aughey
We live in challenging times. As people of faith, we’re slowly learning what Jesus really wants the Church to understand. Sometimes it seems we are taking two steps forward, and once step back. The Church must reacquaint itself with the total love of God for people once again.
The Father hasn’t given up on us. Repeatedly, over and over, (and then over again) we learn about His unreal faithfulness to the Church and His love for all people. But sometimes we have a hard time believing these things. Honestly, we’re not what we should be, but thank God we’re not like we were. We’re learning this as well.
On an individual levei we find it’s the “poor in spirit” and those who “mourn” (Matthew 5:3-5) who are the fortunate ones–these are those who are “blessed.” We are needy people, but the Father has and is seeking us. Always. He’s more faithful than the ‘faithfulist’ person who has ever lived!
And we also must understand this. He is always seeking those who are on the margins: the lame, blind, sick and crippled. (I for one have managed to combine all of these!) But thank God He’s still in the business of ‘collecting’ people who are desperate. And if you can’t see this, perhaps you should.
The Church, and the churches we attend, are meant for those who are sick–the outcasts. It’s primarily a hospital, and the “sentinels” (pastors and elders, and others) must understand this. We must know and believe this. And we must know for ourselves the love “the passes all understanding.”
Jesus loves all, but He’s looking for the outcasts.
A really good study are those persons in scripture, who in their neediness, scream out “Son of God, have mercy on me.” There are 4-5 in the Gospels who said this (outloud) and although they modify this plea/prayer in slightly different ways, all of them are very desperate.
(I’m seriously thinking about changing my middle name to “desperate.”)
I encourage you to study this out, and get a deep handle on it.
Our churches mustn’t lose sight of this kind of love, and if your fellowship isn’t doing this, just maybe you’re the one called to implement it. (And if this isn’t possible, you might consider moving on.)
Please reject the country club version of the Church. It isn’t right and it’s not the heart of God. It’s religion that comes to us in its gradient forms of foolishness. It doesn’t really reflect the intense seeking love of God. Somehow, along the way, these churches got lost.
I suppose that the challenge/temptation is not just to turn away from the pigs like the prodigal did. But on the other hand, we also must not go to the opposite end–we dare NOT become the older brother– (Luke 15:1-2 and vv. 30-32). We usually will be one or the other. Unfortunately.
The question facing the Church is this:
Do we want a face-lift or a heart transplant?
One is for looking better, the other describes an entire overhaul. One is cosmetic, the other is a matter of life and death. One is minor, the other is not. What kind does the Church have?
I don’t know who the artist is who created this artwork that opens this. It resonates within my heart, and I love the ‘feel’ it brings. Notice the figures, they all have soiled garments, even the one doing the ministry!
Do you know someone who seems like he or she has “lost touch” with reality? Does this person talk about “hearing voices” no one else can? Does he or she see or feel things that others can’t? Does this person believe things that aren’t true?
Sometimes people with these symptoms have schizophrenia, a serious illness.
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a serious brain illness. Many people with schizophrenia are disabled by their symptoms.
People with schizophrenia may hear voices other people don’t hear. They may think other people are trying to hurt them–we call this paranoia. Sometimes they don’t make any sense when they talk. The disorder makes it hard for them to keep a job or take care of themselves.
Who gets schizophrenia?
Anyone can develop schizophrenia. It affects men and women equally in all ethnic groups. Teens can also develop schizophrenia. In rare cases, children have the illness too.
When does it start?
Symptoms of schizophrenia usually start between ages 16 and 30. Men often develop symptoms at a younger age than women. People usually do not get schizophrenia after age 45.
What causes schizophrenia?
Several factors may contribute to schizophrenia, including:
Genes, because the illness runs in families
The environment, such as viruses and nutrition problems before birth
Different brain structure and brain chemistry.
Scientists have learned a lot about schizophrenia. They are identifying genes and parts of the brain that may play a role in the illness. Some experts think the illness begins before birth but doesn’t show up until years later. With more study, researchers may be able to predict who will develop schizophrenia.
What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia symptoms range from mild to severe. There are three main types of symptoms.
Positive symptoms refer to a distortion of a person’s normal thinking and functioning.
They are “psychotic” behaviors. People with these symptoms are sometimes unable to tell what’s real from what is imagined. Positive symptoms include:
Hallucinations: when a person sees, hears, smells, or feels things that no one else can. “Hearing voices” is common for people with schizophrenia. People who hear voices may hear them for a long time before family or friends notice a problem.
Delusions: when a person believes things that are not true. For example, a person may believe that people on the radio and television are talking directly to him or her. Sometimes people believe that they are in danger-that other people are trying to hurt them.
Thought disorders: ways of thinking that are not usual or helpful. People with thought disorders may have trouble organizing their thoughts. Sometimes a person will stop talking in the middle of a thought. And some people make up words that have no meaning.
Movement disorders: may appear as agitated body movements. A person with a movement disorder may repeat certain motions over and over. In the other extreme, a person may stop moving or talking for a while, a rare condition called “catatonia.”
Negative symptoms refer to difficulty showing emotions or functioning normally.
When a person with schizophrenia has negative symptoms, it may look like depression. People with negative symptoms may:
Talk in a dull voice
Show no facial expression, like a smile or frown
Have trouble having fun
Have trouble planning and sticking with an activity, like grocery shopping
Talk very little to other people, even when they need to.
Cognitive symptoms are not easy to see, but they can make it hard for people to have a job or take care of themselves.
Cognitive symptoms include:
Trouble using information to make decisions
Problems using information immediately after learning it