Warning. I am writing this essay to reflect my personal views. I am not a pastor or religious authority of any kind and my views do not reflect those of my church or any other organization I am a part of. This is my opinion and not proven fact. I will tell you a story about a friend of mine. For the sake of her family and our friends I am not going to use her name or any identifying information about how I know her other than what is necessary and critical to the story.
I once knew this girl. She was an incredible person. I did not know her well but I was immediately impressed with her. She was in ministry and she was probably the first person new comers would meet. She was outgoing and giving. She was the type of person that has such a solid walk with Jesus and uncompromising values that people would take notice of her for it. She lost a battle with depression and killed herself last year. I attended the funeral and people from states all over came to honor her and grieve with her family. They all said the same thing “we worked in ministry with her and we don’t understand how this could have happened.” The moral of the story is that amazing Christian people can succumb to a mental illness and it has nothing to do with their legacy or salvation.
Her story haunts me to this day because it had a profound impact on my life. There are certain people that believe suicide is a sin and people who commit it will go to hell. There are ministers who will not preform funerals of suicide victims. I’m not here to debate religion and try to tell you in absolutes who is saved and who is damned because I do not know and will never know. All I know is that my friend had a better relationship with God than I ever will.
Her story addresses an important concern that many Christians have regarding mental illness. Can you be a true Christian and have X (insert depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, etc.) A certain percent of people will tell you with absolute certainty the answer is no. They will tell you when it comes to disorders of the mind the person just needs Jesus.
I think the church gets into trouble when they equate mental health to spiritual maturity because the two are not related in the way they assume. Yes, there is a devil and whatever other negative forces you believe in. The problem is that mental disorders are illnesses. You don’t tell a diabetic person to stop taking insulin because if they had a better relationship with Jesus they would be healed and no longer need medicine. So why is it so easy to use the same rationale with a person who has a mental disorder?
I think it is very taboo for Christians to admit they suffer from these things because in their mind they shouldn’t have these problems. I am reminded of the headlines regarding the Warren family. Many of you may know of Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. He wrote the Purpose Driven Life and The Daniel Plan. As far as preachers go this man is accomplished and even though I don’t know him I am certain he is a great man of God. His son committed suicide. The world was as shocked as we all were at my friend’s funeral.
When I look at mental illness an Christianity I look to the bible. In the New Testament Paul talks about how he had a thorn in his side and he prayed to God to heal it. God did not and Paul accepted it as his cross to bear. Most scholars believe that this passage refers to illness.
Does God perform miracles and heal people? Yes. Is there a spiritual component to all illness? Yes. Does “being saved” protect you from all illnesses? No. Does acquiring an illness that God won’t heal you from put your salvation into question? No. Is it okay to go to a doctor if God hasn’t healed you from something? Absolutely. Is mental illness in the church and in society a taboo issue? Yes. Will it be taboo forever? Hopefully not.