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.

The Scum of the Earth

“But when some of the Jewish religious leaders saw him eating with these men of ill repute, they said to his disciples, “How can he stand it, to eat with such scum?'”

Mark 2:16

“When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.”

I Corinthians 4:12-13

My ministry is “Scum of the Earth Teaching Ministry.”

Here is the teaching I gave on “How Scum Hear His Voice” given at a home fellowship group given on February 9, 2020, Homer, Alaska.

The video teaching can be found here.

It was a bitterly cold night, with lots of wind, but the fellowship was very good. and the wood stove was a blessing. After this teaching, we had a good time praying and took communion.

I really hope this blesses you.

When Life Hurts You Terribly, Some Guidance

How you handle these fragile moments is pretty much key to the remainder of your life. It’s ok to feel abandoned or alone. It’s ok to be depressed. But let God know about where you’re at. I’m convinced He really wants to know.

I really hope that these thoughts might help. We face challenges and difficulties. Just maybe this post will strengthen your walk? I chose each thought purposefully and every one contains something helpful (I hope). 

Quotes to Guide You Through Your Trial:

A.W. Tozer

“It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He’s hurt him deeply.” (Roots of Righteousness, Chapter 39)

Calvin Miller

“Hurt is the essential ingredient of ultimate Christ-likeness.” (Quoted in Christianity Today, July 2007, p41)

Larry Crabb

“Brokenness isn’t so much about how bad you’ve been hurt but how you’ve sinned in handling it.” (Christianity Today, A Shrink Gets Stretched, May 1, 2003)

“Shattered dreams are never random. They are always a piece of a piece in a larger story. The Holy Spirit uses the pain of shattered dreams to help us discover our desire for God, to help us begin dreaming the highest dream. They are ordained opportunities for the Spirit to first awaken, then to satisfy our highest dream.” (Shattered Dreams, 2001)

Alan Redpath

“When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible person and crushes him.” (Quoted by Gary Preston, Character Forged from Conflict: Staying Connected to God During Controversy. The pastor’s soul series, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1999)

Bruce Wilkinson

“Are you praying for God’s superabundant blessings and pleading that He will make you more like His Son? If so, then you are asking for the shears.” (Secrets of the Vine, 60.)

Charles Swindoll

“Someone put it this way, ‘Whoever desires to walk with God, walks right into the crucible.’ All who choose godliness live in a crucible. The tests will come.” (Moses, Great Lives from God’s Word, 285.)

“Being stripped of all substitutes is the most painful experience on earth.” (David, p70)

Elisabeth Elliot

“The surrender of our heart’s deepest longing is perhaps as close as we come to an understanding of the cross… our own experience of crucifixion, though immeasurably less than our Saviour’s nonetheless furnishes us with a chance to begin to know Him in the fellowship of His suffering. In every form of our own suffering, He calls us into that fellowship.” (Elisabeth Elliot, Quest For Love, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1996), 182.)

George MacDonald

“No words can express how much our world ‘owes’ to sorrow. Most of the Psalms were conceived in a wilderness. Most of the New Testament was written in a prison. The greatest words of God’s Scriptures have all passed through great trials. The greatest prophets have “learned in suffering what they wrote in their books.” So take comfort afflicted Christian! When our God is about to make use of a person, He allows them to go through a crucible of fire.”

Helen Keller

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” (Quoted in Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 4.)

Oswald Chambers

“God can never make us wine if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with. If God would only use His own fingers, and make me broken bread and poured-out wine in a special way! But when He uses someone whom we dislike, or some set of circumstances to which we said we would never submit, and makes those the crushers, we object. We must never choose the scene of our own martyrdom. If ever we are going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed; you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.” (Chambers, O. (1993, c1935). My utmost for his highest : Selections for the year (September 30). Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers.)

“No-one enters into the experience of entire sanctification without going through a ‘white funeral’ — the burial of the old life. If there has never been this crisis of death, sanctification is nothing more than a vision… Have you come to your last days really? You have come to them often in sentiment, but have you come to them really?… We skirt around the cemetery and all the time refuse to go to death… Have you had your ‘white funeral’, or are you sacredly playing the fool with your soul? Is there a place in your life marked as the last day, a place to which the memory goes back with a chastened and extraordinary grateful remembrance–’yes, it was then, at that ‘white funeral’ that I made an agreement with God.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, January 15, (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour and Company, Inc., 1963).)

Jesus Christ had no tenderness whatsoever toward anything that was ultimately going to ruin a person in his service to God…. If the Spirit of God brings to your mind a word of the Lord that hurts you, you can be sure that there is something in you that He wants to hurt to the point of its death.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 27, (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour and Company, Inc., 1963.)

Charles Stanley

Does God purposefully allow suffering? “The comfortable, but theologically incorrect, answer is no. You will find many people preaching and teaching that God never sends an ill wind into a person’s life, but that position can’t be justified by Scripture. The Bible teaches that God does send adversity – but within certain parameters and always for a reason that relates to our growth, perfection, and eternal good.” (*Stanley, C. F. 1997, c1996. Advancing through adversity (electronic ed.). Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN.)

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