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.

Jumpstarting a Prayer Life

We must (MUST!) pray as believers in Jesus. Prayer is the oxygen of our spiritual life. We must breathe, or else. When I go to my doctor she puts an 0ximeter on my finger so she can assess how my lungs are using oxygen. I suppose if we would put it on our “spiritual finger,” might it reveal something?

We don’t know exactly how to pray, I think communicating with God isn’t natural. We must be taught. The disciples wanted desperately how to pray–they didn’t know how, (Luke 11:1-2). So, we too must have Jesus teach us.

We can only learn how if the Spirit teaches us.

Also, we must practice praying. We may do it terribly rotten, but we should never give up–it’s not natural–it’s supernatural. But we learn by doing. We may get discouraged but keep at it. Even if you’re a pro, the Holy Spirit will make sure you keep learning. Our walk should always grow deeper.

For me praying the Psalms is good practice, and there are 150 of them. The Jewish people have a 4000-year start on us–they’ve used the Psalms as their prayer/praise book. My sense is that this covers every human need–the entirety of our spiritual walk!

I think that Psalms 103 might be a great place to get started.

I’ve been told by some that the “Lord’s Prayer” is quite useful as well. I guess if you honestly take it phrase by phrase, something good will happen. I’m still learning (and I suspect I still will).

Below we find a way to jumpstart our prayer life. I hope you can use it.

One more thought. “Conversational Prayer” is a good thing for me lately. Talk with Jesus as if He was in the same room with you (He is) and just converse. Share your ups and downs, and it’s okay if you feel messed up. Relax. He’s your Father!

He absolutely loves talking with you.

Being Very, Very Sick

Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel
Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel
“Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.”

2 Corinthians 1:9

To be chronically ill often means awful frustration. We can’t do what we want, we are ‘trapped’ by a disease we never asked for, and we’re held hostage by our minds and bodies. We once had a job– a career… and our time was occupied by that.

We were accustomed to something, anything more than being very sick.

I once was a pastor of a small church. I also taught Gospels for several years in a local Bible Institute. I loved ministry very much. They defined my identity and gave me purpose. I enjoyed helping people and teaching the Word. I endeavored to be faithful in the ministry. I hope I did.

With the sudden onset of a brain tumor, followed up by a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (BP), my life more or less exploded. I had extensive memory loss. I knew I had to step out of the ministry. I simply could not function. It was a hard thing to leave it behind. (I still miss it).

My depression grew even more profound with the stillborn death of our third child just 3 days before her delivery, Things suddenly ground to a standstill as my wife and I tried to process all of this. I guess I just couldn’t understand and more or less just shut down. I was angry at God. I spent months in bed, unable to function.

A profound sadness settled on me.

Some people were true jewels. Others were mean and uncaring. (I had to learn to take the good with the bad.) I suppose I should have understood, but things were so tangled up inside me that I couldn’t verbalize a thing. But God knew all about me.

The post-op recovery following the tumor was an ordeal, as I had to learn many things all over again. A few years later I ended up on disability; I was unable to work, and my symptoms were so unpredictable. I dealt with profound depression and a solid dose of paranoia and fear.

I learned that meds can help, but they can’t fix the problem.

The isolation of being ill seems worse than the pain. We wonder why this is happening to us, and we hear lies about our worthiness or God’s goodness. Our value to others seems to be scuttled by our illness. We can feel cursed, forgotten, crippled by God, or even worse. (Maybe even irrevocably lost.)

Satan craves our spiritual destruction, and he snares unsteady souls.

I admit I have been slow to learn this– but God brings good things out of the dark. I’m embarrassed by my personal lack of acquiring all of this. Now I’m starting to learn finally, and I want His words to reflect these truths.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

This light will shine. The treasure is found in clay vessels. Brokenness only means the treasure is now seen clearly. It’s important to note–treasure loses none of its value by being surrounded by broken clay. Our weaknesses are being turned into goodness, understanding, and love for our brothers and sisters.

Troubles of many different varieties will visit us. Count on it.

No matter what their nature, God holds his people in place while everything else is falling apart. But for the broken believer, there is another dimension; we will indeed triumph. The tragedies we’ve had to endure only supplement our faith. We will stand– because He makes us stand.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

bry-signat (1)

Visit my new site: alaskabibleteacher.com

I Came to Love You Late [Regrets]

regret

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 61 now and am surprised by the memories of things gone by. I guess this is one of the job hazards of getting old.

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 who have been severely wounded when a regret goes off. Out of the blue–whammo!

But what really bothers me is all of the missed opportunities.

I wonder what life could have 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 a 70-year-old man who had just received Christ, “Why did I wait so long for this to happen?”

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 learned to adjust his vision. He no longer let regret define him, choosing rather 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.

And 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 since 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 the 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.

Oh, what joy for those
    whose disobedience is forgiven,
    whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

Psalm 32:1-2

“Maturity comes from obedience, not necessarily from age.”

    Leonard Ravenhill

%d bloggers like this: