Note from CM: Ten years ago, Michael re-ran a series about Christians and mental illness that he originally wrote in 2005. For the next few days this week, I will re-post edited versions of those pieces. Today, we read Michael’s introduction and some of the questions he will raise.
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Several times a week, I have to read folders containing psychological evaluations of prospective students. They are often quite daunting and detailed. The stories range from ordinary to nightmarish and disturbing. I must read and review the psychiatric evaluations and counseling histories of all students who are seeking admission to our school. After reading, I make a recommendation as to their appropriateness for us. In some cases, I do an additional interview, and make an evaluation based on the interview and the information.
I’ve ministered with young people and adults long enough to have seen a lot of mental illness–from my father’s depression to the suicides of co-workers and young people to the many episodes of emotional and mental illness I have encountered in church and community. I’ve visited hospitals for the mentally ill, counseled families and individuals dealing with the mental illness of a family member and helped individuals decide to seek help for everything from depression to delusions of being God.
For many years, the majority of my work week was counseling individuals at our school. In these hours of counseling, I saw all kinds of human emotional brokenness, much of it related to what we commonly call mental or emotional illness. I continue to deal with people who have sought psychiatric and psychological help, and many of our students are on psychiatric medications.
As a Christian, a minister and a servant, I am compelled to look at the subject of mental illness and make some important decisions. While the subject is tossed around without much seriousness, it is a matter of immense human pain and suffering. It is a dimension of life that Christians cannot pretend is not present and all around them on any Sunday or Monday.
Is there such a thing as mental illness? Many Christians are suspicious of the psychological worldview that diagnoses human behavior in terms of “illness” and “disorders.” Can Christians have anything to do with a way of looking at human beings that is rooted in an atheistic worldview? Is the use of medication ethical and permissible for Christians? Can we accept descriptions and diagnostic terminology rooted in psychology rather than scripture?
Is mental illness a manifestation of spiritual forces (demons) or the result of personal sin? Many Christians have embraced models of dealing with human behavior that respond to what we call mental illness with scripture-based behavior modification, scripture memory, repentance and spiritual warfare, even exorcism. Is it ethical to seek to “cure” mental illness?
Is there mental illness in the Bible? Did Jesus encounter the mentally ill? Where in the Bible can we see mental illness? Were Saul, Jeremiah and Ezekiel mentally ill? How would Jesus or Paul respond to a mentally/emotionally ill person?
What is the church’s responsibility to the mentally ill? How should they be viewed and included in the Christian community? Should the mentally ill be allowed to be part of the ministries of the church? What about their experience of God? Is it valid, or a manifestation of their mental illness?
What does the Gospel say to the mentally ill? What does it say to all human beings about the mentally ill? What does their presence among us tell us about ourselves? How is mental illness related to “true humanity?”
These are the questions we will address in these posts.