We’ve messed up big time.
Over the past few years, I have become abundantly aware that the church, not every individual, but in general, doesn’t respond to mental illness very well. Time and time again, I’ve watched friends walk away from their faith because they were told that their struggles with different psychological/mental disorders were due to a lack of faith or a sin that they’ve committed. I’ve seen people leave the church when they are judged for their decision to take a prescription medicine to help alleviate the symptoms of their conditions rather than “praying away” the problems they are facing.
It’s not right. Ed Stetzer wrote about a man from his church when he was a young pastor who struggled with bipolar disorder in his article from Christianity Today entitled A New Approach to Mental Illness in the Church. The man prayed, meditated on the Bible, and told his family and the church of his struggles, so they could “cast out” the condition; the man committed suicide.
“I was unprepared to deal with mental illness, and by my actions, I almost denied that it is even real. Of course, I would have been prepared for any number of other forms of illness. If someone had come to my church with a broken leg, I would have recommend they go see a doctor. For virtually any other illness, I would have said the same,” Stetzer admitted. Don’t put all the blame on Stetzer. The past few years have made it clear to me, in my experiences with friends, that the Church isn’t handling mental illness right.
Now, let’s talk about the brain. The brain is an organ that controls different bodily functions. It also controls other organs. Other organs that you might think of are lungs, kidneys, and hearts. If someone has lungs that are filled with fluid, you would tell them to go to the hospital. If someone’s kidneys stopped working, you would want them to have a kidney transplant or to undergo dialysis. If someone had a liver disease, you would want them to seek treatment. If someone had a heart attack, you would call 911. The brain is an organ, an organ that can “get sick” just like any other organ. Yet, for some reason, many people in the Church treat the brain as though it can’t get sick unless it’s possessed by the devil or being used to punish a sinner. What? Our logic isn’t making sense. As Stetzer puts it, “if we immediately dismiss the possibility of mental illness and automatically assume spiritual deficiency, our actions amount to spiritual abuse.” From what I’ve heard and seen, mental illnesses seem like monsters. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for people who want treatment, but don’t feel like they can ask for it because they don’t know what response they’ll get from people they love. Be willing to be reasonable, remember that the brain can need help, just like any other organ, and be willing to help people seek treatment if they ask.
Yeah, I know. We do have spiritual deficiencies. We tell ourselves all kinds of lies, and we mess up, and some of that is just part of who we are as sinful humans. But that’s just it. We live in a fallen world. As a result of the fall, from the time we are born until the time that we die, we suffer from a lot of different things, in addition to spiritual warfare, including illnesses with our brains.
Don’t get me wrong; God is a great healer. But He also created people with brains that can decipher disorders enough that we can develop treatment methods. Do you think that’s a coincidence? God created us to be complex people with reasoning abilities; we can question things. We can solve problems. I’m not saying don’t pray or ask God to intercede for someone. But do you ask God to carry you to your car when you have legs to walk there? Do you ask God to take a test for you when you have the knowledge and the pencil to fill in answers? Of course not. We can ask God for guidance and intervention, but the fact of the matter is that He gives us tools to aid us, so we might as well use them.
Let’s do better. Let’s educate ourselves. There are lots of sources to learn more, but one of my favorites for learning about mental illnesses and other conditions is called The Mighty. The site includes information and real-life stories, predominately from the perspective of people with the actual conditions or the loved ones of people with the conditions. Learn from people who know what it’s like. Have conversations. Do your homework. We can make a difference.