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The Only Army that Shoots its Wounded

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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.

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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.

 

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Together, for Each Other

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“The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” 

–John Wesley

There isn’t really a place for the individual in our walk of discipleship.  This is a most exceptional truth.  You might say that our society here in the U.S. is expressed in the ‘Marlboro Man’ who rides alone.  “High Noon,” (my favorite Western) is based on a solitary man who stands when other won’t.  The message of individualism saturates this movie. Like Gary Cooper, I think I have to face the bad guys alone.

But I think we need to understand that we are connected to other believers.  In fact, I believe that the Holy Spirit works quite distinctly in ‘generations.’  Whether we like it or not, each of us is connected to our generation.  We are responsible for our own time and place. I’m a child of the Sixties, it’s what makes me tick.

Stellar individuals like Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody spoke directly to their generation.  They were voices in the late 1800s.  They connected to their particular milieu, but were surrounded by many praying believers.  Their ministries and sermons, were founded upon the prayers of many saints.  Their ministries were an extension of many people. They were surrounded by other believers.

We are connected with others who are also connected. We are organically related and that needs to be understood.  It’s funny about that, we are called a “body.”  This is a difficult concept for us to understand.  But we need to know that you are not so much solitary, but woven into the life of others. The Church is plural and it happens when believers join together.

We need to understand that the Christian life is not solitary.

If this makes you curious, check out the word “together” in New Testament.  We can reflect on this, and think out what that really means. Just a few scriptures:

“From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  

Ephesians 4:16, ESV

“For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part.”

1 Corinthians 11:17-19

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:24-26,

And there is at least a dozen or so more.  The idea– ‘together,’ is only a start, and we need to understand that the Christian life is not solitary. The Father melts our independence, and then molds us with each other to make us into something new.  Whether we like it or not, we are “together.”

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The Sterile Curse of Social Isolation

“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.”

Luke 24:15

Quite a few studies now out, revealing the reality of social isolation.  It seems more and more people are veering away from social contact. A Duke University study found that Americans are choosing to become more solitary than ever. Many are eschewing all relations all together.  This is a problem.

I’ve seen some of the statistics– fully 25% of people have no relationships at all, and something like 50% have no relationships outside of their spouse and children.  This disturbing trend is building momentum.  In 1985 the figure was just 15%.

I think that a lot of pressure may be coming from the internet, although Facebook and Twitter have reconfigured social connections. Longer work hours, the iPod and Blackberry, chat rooms and cable TV contribute to the move away from human contact.

The commute time is also a factor.  For every 10 minutes stuck in traffic there is roughly a 10% drop in social relationships.  So if you have a bad commute on I-80 you are more likely not to want to have a friend over.

Hundred years ago our society was far more geared for personal contact.  People would regularly visit each other.  Neighbors knew each other.  There were parlor games and dinners.  Music recitations and skits.  Card parties. Television and radio had not yet grabbed the countries psyche.  Sociologists and anthropologists confirm that our history was deep in contact with each other.  We were not built for solitary living.

With community life disappearing people are turning to online relationships. Our churches are trying to adapt, as even Christians are not connecting like they should.  I have been out in the Alaskan bush villages, and the older generation is frustrated because the younger generation seems to be in trouble.  “They don’t pick berries, or hunt; all they do is sit in front of the TV playing Nintendo, or their laptops.”

We need fellowship with others, and God as well. There are very few solitary believers.

I guess the biggest issue of all is mental illness.  Social isolation is a direct antagonist of depression and other disorders.  In order to get better, people must reach out and connect.  There is no substitute, no other option.

I see the shift in my own life.  I have dropped back about 80% of my Dish Network.  I am seeking to back off of being online 6-8 hours a day.  I am trying to be around flesh & blood as often as possible.  I am personally trying to consciously maximize that time.  It keeps me healthier.

To be healthier, we think its physical.  We have our gym memberships and we run on the treadmill.  That is good.  But I’m thinking we are losing out if we don’t workout socially (and spiritually) as well. Christians are  a special species; we need fellowship with others, and God as well. There are no solitary believers.

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”

1 John 3:11, NLT

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The Corrosiveness of Social Anxiety

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“In any social situation, I felt fear. I would be anxious before I even left the house, and it would escalate as I got closer to a college class, a party, or whatever. I would feel sick in my stomach-it almost felt like I had the flu. My heart would pound, my palms would get sweaty, and I would get this feeling of being removed from myself and from everybody else.” “When I would walk into a room full of people, I’d turn red and it would feel like everybody’s eyes were on me. I was embarrassed to stand off in a corner by myself, but I couldn’t think of anything to say to anybody. It was humiliating. I felt so clumsy, I couldn’t wait to get out.”

Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is diagnosed when people become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have an intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them. They can worry for days or weeks before a dreaded situation. This fear may become so severe that it interferes with work, school, and other ordinary activities, and can make it hard to make and keep friends.

While many people with social phobia realize that their fears about being with people are excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome them. Even if they manage to confront their fears and be around others, they are usually very anxious beforehand, are intensely uncomfortable throughout the encounter, and worry about how they were judged for hours afterward.

Social phobia can be limited to one situation (such as talking to people, eating or drinking, or writing on a blackboard in front of others) or may be so broad (such as in generalized social phobia) that the person experiences anxiety around almost anyone other than the family.

Physical symptoms that often accompany social phobia include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty talking. When these symptoms occur, people with social phobia  feel as though all eyes are focused on them. 

Social phobia affects about 15 million American adults. Women and men are equally likely to develop the disorder, which usually begins in childhood or early adolescence. There is some evidence that genetic factors are involved. Social phobia is often accompanied by other anxiety disorders or depression, and substance abuse may develop if people try to self-medicate their anxiety.

Anti-Anxiety Drugs

High-potency benzodiazepines combat anxiety and have few side effects other than drowsiness. Because people can get used to them and may need higher and higher doses to get the same effect, benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for short periods of time, especially for people who have abused drugs or alcohol and who become dependent on medication easily. One exception to this rule is people with panic disorder, who can take benzodiazepines for up to a year without harm.

Clonazepam (Klonopin®) is used for social phobia and GAD, lorazepam (Ativan®) is helpful for panic disorder, and alprazolam (Xanax®) is useful for both panic disorder and GAD.

Buspirone (Buspar®), an azapirone, is a newer anti-anxiety medication used to treat GAD. Possible side effects include dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Unlike benzodiazepines, buspirone must be taken consistently for at least 2 weeks to achieve an anti-anxiety effect. Social phobia can be successfully treated with certain kinds of psychotherapy or medications.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

Important Links:

http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/ http://morethancoping.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/social-anxiety-disorder-social-phobia/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_anxiety_disorder http://www.dmoz.org/Health/Mental_Health/Disorders/Anxiety/Social_Anxiety/

 

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