Guest Post: A Biblical Response to Mental Illness
Today’s guest writer is a dear friend. She struggles with depression and has soldiered through tough situations that have only heightened the situation. Yet, in all these, I have admired her resilience and desire to honor God and respond in the most God-glorifying manner. This article is an introduction. In the future, we will endeavor to write more about mental illness and focus on issues like therapy. Our writer prefers to remain anonymous.
It’s Thursday morning, I wake up feeling deeply burdened, like there is this dark cloud over me. I am deeply anxious. I am also sweating. There’s a sharp pain on my heart’s right side and I just feel so irritable. The burden upon my shoulders is too heavy. I just want to break down in tears. I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to face the world. Why do I feel like I do? Must I continue living life with this weight upon my heart? What happened? Will this misery ever stop? Could my sin be the cause? Is the Lord punishing me? Or could it be that He delights in my sickness? It’s been several years since I first learned that what I had been grappling with, for as long as I could remember, were symptoms of mental illness.
Depression and anxiety disorders are the leading mental illnesses diagnosed in Kenya. It is estimated that one in every ten people suffer from a common mental disorder. However, the number increases to 1 in every 4 people among sick people who seek routine hospital services. According to the recommendations of the mental health task force released on 7th July 2020, the government was urged to declare mental illness a National Emergency of epidemic proportions. But are mental illnesses that serious?
The reality of mental illness is truly difficult to grapple with. The pain and turmoil involved are the kinds you would not even wish on your worst enemy. For believers, it comes with other implications of what to make of the illness. How to make peace between a good God and the illness. There is also the reality of well-meaning brethren that may not know how exactly to respond. Or those that feel the illness is proof of unbelief, sin in your life, or ingratitude. But what does the bible say? What is the problem?
Something must be wrong.
In Genesis 3, we see the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, as a result of their disobedience to God. They willfully ate the fruit God instructed them not to. Their disobedience meant that evil came into the world, corrupting every aspect of humanity. The bible teaches that the post-Genesis 3, pre-Revelation 21 world is far from perfect. Death is now on the scene, men seek new ways of sinning against God and each other, creation itself was subjected to frustration, and sickness and disease are part of the current system. Nothing was spared from the impact of the fall. The fall affected all created things. The implications of this, then, is that things do not necessarily function as they originally ought to; our emotions, our brains, our bodies, our conscience, our heart, our relationships, etc. It is not far-fetched, then, to experience brokenness in this fallen world. Scriptures through the Psalms and other verses like Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.” bear witness to the reality of pain in the current world. It implies pain, crying, and mourning are part of the current order before Christ’s second return.
What we all truly need.
Scripture relentlessly demonstrates that man’s primary problem is the indwelling sin; the fact that we enjoy, long for, and delight in sin. What makes the problem direr is the fact that man left to himself without God’s intervention, cannot move towards, leave alone meet God’s holy standards. Our best “good deeds” are like filthy rags in the presence of a holy God.
To believe this for a mentally ill person may feel counterproductive. The tendency is to feel and think, if only I were healthy, I’d love people more, I’d be happier, I’d be serving God more, or I’d be this or that. But contrary to our worldly wisdom, the Bible maintains that rock-solid happiness lies not in health, prosperity, functional relationships, or good external circumstances. It is only Jesus who secures unshakeable joy. It’s only in placing our hope and trust in him that our souls find rest. The Scripture warns that God’s wrath awaits all those who reject Christ and continue in sin. Revelation 14:10-11 warns us of the gravity of the wrath. The torment of the wrath of a holy God during the final judgment will undoubtedly surpass the torrents and waves of mental illness. My fellow mental illness warriors, let us learn to make use of these torrents. As we experience the illness’ waves, may we be reminded that something worse than mental illness awaits those who reject Christ. Let us then turn to God so that we are spared of a far worse storm than mental illness; God’s wrath.
What next, then?
It is on the bedrock of a relationship with God that we can confidently face the storms and pains of mental illness. It is in knowing that our heart problem; sin, has been solved in Christ. That our eternal future is sure. Only then can we respond accurately to our mental illness. In the Lord, we have the assurance that this is the worst it’ll get. We have the assurance that our tears will be wiped away. That after Christ’s second return, we will be saved from these weak bodies, and we will be made whole and perfect. We are assured that a time is coming when our fallen bodies will not stand in the way of joy. Better still, in the Lord, we know for a fact, that the joy that is coming is nothing in comparison to our current joy. That is a great comfort for those mentally ill, for even in their seemingly joyless life, it means they are not missing on the most important joys of life. The best is yet to come!
So, what do we do before then?
We should arm ourselves with the attitude of James 1:2; consider it joy when you meet trials of various kinds. Though our suffering must be reckoned negligible as compared to Christ’s, we are to count it joy that we have tasted suffering. We can draw comfort in that our Lord gets the depths and heights of how we truly feel because our suffering is just but a drop of water in the ocean of grief He bore.
Secondly, we can find help from the Psalms that bear witness to the pains and realities of life. There is also great comfort in acquitting oneself with those of old who suffered similar afflictions such as Charles Spurgeon and Abraham Lincoln. God’s hand in their lives despite their malady can be a source of hope and comfort. For mental illness sufferers, do not neglect the means of grace that a gospel community provides. Allow people to love you and impact your life. Wage war against the natural tendency to stay alone and push people away.
Additionally, there are other means of grace that God has allowed to make sailing through these turbulent waters more possible. They include nature, exercise, a healthy balanced diet, support from friends, books, and psychiatric/psychological therapy. Do not neglect these either. Spurgeon, one who knew mental suffering too well, with regards to seeking medical help, said, “Do not think it unspiritual to remember that you have a body. The physician is often as needful as the minister.”
Lastly, for those who have been spared the reality of mental illness in the gospel community, I implore you to; read on the subject, support, pray, and love those who are ill, as we all eagerly await the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our hope and sure Savior.