As I continue reading and re-reading Sarah J. Robinson’s amazing book “I Love Jesus, But I Want To Die” The more I realize how ignored Mental Health is in the church. As me and My cohost of Bishop Brothers, Aaron Williams discussed the book on our weekly Facebook and YouTube show, it hit me. The Church views Mental Health as a PR problem. The Church doesn’t deal with mental health, because it does not want to admit it needs help. In a way, the church itself is suffering from a corporate mental health crisis.
You see, in many western churches, especially in Independent and Fundamental movements, help outside the church is not an option. These churches boldly declare all they need is the Bible to fix any problem. If the Bible cannot fix the problem, then it is God’s will that the problem cannot be fixed. However, there are deep issues both biblically and ecclesiastically with this concept. We will discuss some of them here.
Permission to be Broken is Biblical
I find it fascinating when I hear pastors or Christians claim that those with mental health issues somehow are not “really Christians” or simply do not have enough faith. There seems to be this belief amongst fundamentals that Mental Health issues are a marker of lax faith, or an indication of the absence of faith. It is almost as if a person simply cannot truly be a Christian if they are struggling. But this is not a “Biblical” Stance. Consider the fact that multiple persons in the Bible suffered with depression like symptoms… with no Bible to be found. The Bible as we know it was not really finalized until around the 4th Century. So the idea that the Bible is the only cure for depression doesn’t make sense because those Christians from the First to Fourth centuries didn’t use it, because it did not exist.
What Does the Bible Provide Us?
What the Bible does provide for us is examples of people who struggled with mental illnesses like depression. It actually gives pretty open and honest accounts and the reality of there rarely being a “happy” ending. You see, the Bible shows us in many cases that prayer or deliverance didn’t fix the problem. we find in the following people a true biblical understanding of mental illness. And the truth is this: The Bible wont “fix” you, people in the Bible clearly struggled with mental illness or periods of mental instability, there were not always happy endings and most importantly, the presence of mental illness is not the mark of God’s disapproval of a person. In fact, God seems to magnetize toward those in the struggle, not those who have no struggle.
Biblical Accounts of those Struggling with Mental Illness
David was constantly struggling with what would appear to be depression and bouts of deep anxiety. He is also stricken with uncontrollable grief at the loss of his sons:
David was beside himself as he struggled with the illness and death of his son. He could not bear getting up, had no desire to eat and wanted no company. These are depression symptoms. Listen to the frustration in his voice in Psalm 13:1-3:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
Questioning God is Biblical
David is saying something many of us who have struggled with anxiety or depression in the church say. How long? Why Me? Why wont you answer me? Do you not love me, God? In some cases we may even feel like we want to die. Guess what? ALL of those questions and feelings are BIBLICAL. What is not biblical is pretending it isn’t a problem or having a pastor give you some cute verses or prayers to “fix” you.
No Guarantee of a Happy End
The biggest catch of Davids “biblical” life? Many times God did not “cure” him or the fix the problem just because David prayed or went to temple. David had to work through his trauma. But even though he was never “fixed” God still kept promises made to David, including the fact that Jesus would descend from him and his line would forever be on the throne. Davids life and struggles prove you can have mental health struggles and still be dearly loved by God.
Jonah, in the small period of time we get to meet him in scripture, is well known for his anger and frustration with God. In todays church, he would be a prime candidate for anger management. Jonah was so angry and in my opinion, hurt by Nineveh, he had no desire to be a part of its salvation. His anger and frustration lead him to turn away from his call, and he flees. No the argument of Big Fish or whale or “did it even happen?” are irrelevant here. He then did what God asked of him an still desired the failure of the outcome. Jonah was so angry with the outcomes he was seeing he wanted to die!
Now O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:3
I am angry enough to die.” Jonah 4:9
And guess what? Just like David, Jonahs story ends with him still hurt and angry. There was no happy ending for Jonah. Loving God, didn’t fix him. Preaching the word or just loving God didn’t fix his hurt and anger. What the Bible actually tells us with Job is that it is biblical to be upset when things don’t go your way. And when major things blow up in your face, you can feel so much despair you want to die, and yet God will still love you.
Jeremiah suffered from great depression at the hands of those he loved dearest. He was met by constant rejection from the people he was meant to help. He lived alone, never marrying or having children, he was poor and rejected to the point of violence by his own people. To say Jeremiah was depressed is an understatement. He is referred to as the weeping prophet. Jeremiah was likely depressed to the point of suicidal ideation. Consider this:
“Cursed be the day I was born…why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” Jeremiah 20:18
Jeremiah shows us that even people pushed to the brink of suicide by what is going on in their lives are deeply loved by God. To believe that a person has a demon in them or they just “don’t love God enough” is absolute trash. Jeremiah is one of the greatest prophets in that bible we like to ignore mental health with, and he was depressed to the point of wanting to die, and yet still, God not only loved him, but held him the highest regards as God directed Jeremiah to speak truth to power. You may be depressed and even thinking of ending your life, and you can still be a Christian. struggling through things is part of life, not some demonic presence or proof your not a “real” Christian.
I know just seeing the Lords name in this list may make people exit out of the article completely. But like a famous quote from an old movie “quite frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn”. The reality is Jesus, in human form with humanity had to struggle with mental health. We know because He says so Himself:
“And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’ And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.'” Mark 14:34-36
It is biblical to say this: If you think God does not love or can be indwelled in those struggling with mental health, than Jesus is a liar and the bible that you put so much stock in is contradicted. My argument would be to say that a person is not a Christian because of their mental health is grossly unbiblical. Yet we say it to people every day. We must repent as a corporate body of the sin of indifference to those struggling.
The Bible is Not a Therapist, or Therapy
If anything, a true “biblical” understanding of mental health is that it confirms the reality of mental health issues, even within its heroes; and even within its Savior, Jesus Christ. It also confirms that it makes no attempt to heal or even be an expert on these issues. Since many need a bible verse for everything, I will leave you with a great verse that support therapy:
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:4)
If you are struggling with mental health, get help. The bible is not going to fix you. God made amazing therapists for that. If your Pastor is telling you the bible forbids therapy…run and never return. Pastors are not therapists and as a guy who went through an MDiv and Doctorate I can tell you the education they received has not prepared them for mental health crisis.
If you are considering suicide stop reading and dial 911 immediately
If you are struggling please call 1-800-273-8255
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