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.

Should I Take Medication?

What’s Your Take on Christians Using Antidepressants?

by Pastor John Piper

I’m going to say that there are times when I think it is appropriate, but I want to go there cautiously and slowly, with warnings.

Depression is a very complex thing. It’s got many layers. I think we all would agree that there are conditions in which nobody would deny that certain people are depressed in a pathological way because they’re immobile. They’re not even able to function.

And then there’s a continuum of discouragements and wrestlings with having an ‘Eeyore-type’ personality, which may or may not be depressed.

So that means that I want to be so careful not to have a knee-jerk reaction. When you come into my office and describe to me your discouragements, I don’t want my first response to be, “See a doctor and get a prescription.”

I fear that is way too quick today. The number of people on antidepressants as a first course rather than the last course is large.

And the assumption is that you can’t make any progress in counseling unless you get yourself stabilized or something.

So I just want to be very cautious.

As a Christian who believes that Christ is given by the Holy Spirit to deliver us from discouragements and from unbelief and sorrow and to help us live a life of usefulness, what makes me able to allow for antidepressants is the fact that medicine corresponds to physical realities.

And the physical realities are that we get headaches that make us almost unable to think. Migraine headaches can put a man out. And we are pretty much OK if the doctor can help us find some medicine that would not let us get these immobilizing headaches.

And the headaches clearly have a spiritual impact, because they’re making me unable to read my Bible and function in relation to people that I want to love and serve. And so medicine becomes spiritually effective in that way.

So we apply this principle that we all use to depression, and then the fact that the body is included in depression. Whether we should use the terms “chemical imbalances”—I’ve read both sides on that. Some people say that there is no scientific evidence for such a thing and others say that it is a given. Whatever. Everybody knows that there are physical dimensions to depression.

If that physical dimension could be helped by medicine—in the short run especially, sometimes long term—then I think, in God’s grace and mercy, we should take it as a gift from his hand.

 


© Desiring God, desiringGod.org

John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, where he first sensed God’s call to enter the ministry. He went on to earn degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.) and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at desiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and an increasing number of grandchildren.

Was Jesus Mentally Disturbed?


“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Mark 3:21, NIV

Even our Lord’s own family did not believe Him.  I can see them gathering out of concern, not only for concern for Jesus, but for the family name– perhaps they felt a need even to protect themselves?  They talked at length, and decided on an intervention, to take custodial care– as families must do at these difficult times.

Jesus had been saying things, disturbing things. 

He had resolutely confronted the religious system, and then rebuked King Herod and the civil government.  He was living on an edge, and the sense that His family had was that He had become mentally unhinged.  He had been cavorting with decidedly irreligious and wicked people.  He lived in constant bedlam, with people mobbing Him for healing.

His teaching seemed extremely radical, almost absurd. His “parables” contained bizarre ideas. And the massive crowds actually would chase Him, trying to anticipate His next move. He was essentially a celebrity –  a “rock star.” I suppose we have no idea, of His appeal to the masses.

We have some choices that must be made. What do we make of Jesus? Is Jesus Christ:

  • Legend
  • Lunatic
  • Liar
  • Lord and GOD?

In his famous book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes this statement,

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg–or he would be the devil of hell.”

“You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

The accusation has often been the case for His followers. Some of Paul’s friends thought he was crazy when he went blazing over land and sea to carry the gospel to every city. But his answer was, “No, I am not crazy; the love of Christ controls me” (2 Cor. 5:14). 

This was a good kind of crazy. 

He was being used by Jesus to continue the ministry that Jesus had started– the establishment of the Kingdom of God. 

I believe it is a far deeper insanity, that seals up the truth and the light and keeps it away from unbelievers.  It is crazy to know total forgiveness and unconditional love, and then to avoid opportunities to share that same love. Now, that is crazy!

Our fear of being ostracized and mocked is an intense experience. Peer pressure is not just something our teens go through. We are always in danger of being molded into the world’s image.

Who are we? 

Our Lord and Master was vilified, He was falsely accused of insanity.  But perhaps, it is the other way around.  Perhaps it is this world, and its bondages and sicknesses that is ill.  

You must decide.

Please see this link: “Who is Jesus Really?”

Stigma Sucks

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Mental illness doesn’t necessary mean exotic or strange– but it does mean different. It doesn’t make one bizarre, or odd. Coming to faith in Christ really settles this issue for most. While our mental illness is flaring up, yet we are still being changed by the Holy Spirit. He’s still at work–perhaps hidden, but he still is there.

We can’t really nullify the work of God. It takes as much grace to change a “normal” man as a mentally challenged one. God does not have to work any harder; there are no lost causes or last chances. All require the same grace. I really must thank God for this. Seriously.

Since I fight with depression I’ve become aware of mental illness throughout history. Many painters and poets, inventors and doctors have come from the ranks of bipolar disorder. Because many of those with manic depression and sufferers of depression have excelled; we would not have harnessed electricity if it wasn’t because a bipolar/ADHD created the light bulb.

But we are different. But we also can bring a giftedness that is necessary. We are not pariahs or leeches, but rather we are unique. Typically we may be passionate and sensitive. We are touched by something creative. Some have called depression and bipolar disorder as those “touched by fire.”

Mental illness can be seen as more of a mental difference, than a liability. We are not crazy or lunatics running amok. Sometimes others pity us; often when they do they shut us off, and permanently seal us up into a weird sense of extreme wariness. This should not be.

13 “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.”

Psalm 139:13-14, NLT

God has created each one. We are all “knit together” by the hand of God. There are no second rates– never prototypes, not quite His best work. The blood of Christ works in spite of handicaps and personality quirks.

Some may hesitate about this. But it’s essentially an act of faith. The treasures of the Church are unique. They are the blind and the lame, the ones not always stable. What others consider marginal, or lacking, are really the valuable ones. It’s these that the Church should glory in.

During the middle ages a large church was surrounded by vandals. The priest was told that by noon the next day he must bring out the treasure of the church and pile them out on the steps. The next day, the vandals found a group of lame, weak, sick and mentally ill out on the steps. “What are these,” the leader demanded. The priest calmly said–these are the treasures of the church. 

We’ve become the audio/visual department of the Church. They see us and understand God’s gift of grace.

I encourage you to broaden your thinking on this. To stigmatize others is never a healthy, or a God honoring attitude. It indicates a small heart. If you pass false judgement, He will deal with you.

 

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