On the Bible, Mental Illness, and Medicine

As a minister I’ve had to counsel individuals struggling with mental illness.  In most cases, when this becomes known to me, I refer them to an expert, someone who can help them, because I can’t.

Along the way, I too had to wrestle with the Bible, mental illness, and the medicine, having heard that we do not need medicine to treat mental illness, because the Bible is sufficient.  As you already know, I don’t hold to this view.

I also agree that mental illness is a result of the fall.  This is in keeping with my theology as well.  But I also hold that mental experts and the like, whatever we want to call them, are the result of God’s common grace, as is the case of our various physicians and so on.

We must consult them, use them.

But then there are those cases, as with pastor Rick Warren’s son–who was born with a mental illness and suffered with depression all his life–where specialized treatments, meds, doctors, and so on, simply couldn’t stop the pain.

In cases like these, suicide is often viewed as a way out–a way to escape the pain.

Then there are those with mental illness who have been tremendously helped by similar treatments.  I’ve witnessed this firsthand with some of the counselees I’ve encountered.

Using medicine to treat mental illness is very much in keeping with the Bible.  And I challenge those who would think otherwise.

And the Bible reader who continues to object to the use of medicine to treat mental illness, I simply ask, Do you take pain killers of any kind, you know, for your pain, whether for a temporary case or chronic one?

The good Lord has blessed us to be wise and not otherwise, with the marvels of his common grace.

(For a list of various links on the above, see here)

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10 Responses to On the Bible, Mental Illness, and Medicine

  1. Lon says:

    TC, I agree with your reflections here, and have close experience via my wife’s mental health struggles. The key thing Christians get mixed up is the question of when we can expect complete and permanent deliverance from all the effects of the fall. Like you, I see that common experience teaches us, “not yet.” Regardless of our faith, or medical advances, or spiritual resources, we still suffer and die in a fallen world… for now.

    • TC says:

      Lon, from experience with those who are thus afflicted, I know to a degree, that it’s not easy – you and your wife are in my prayers and thoughts, brother.

      Yes, we are all longing for the “Not yet.” Earlier this morning in my daily reading I was reminded of this, in Romans 8.

  2. Simon says:

    Great post TC and you are spot on. Treating mental illness with medicine does not mean that there is no place for Christian spirituality. They should both go together and compliment one another.

    I’m not sure why treatment works in some cases and not in others. But I do know that people who are really that sick need professional help. I hope that you can spread this message among evangelical Christians. I think most pastors and Christian counsellors would also take your view. But there are a few who, for ideological reasons, close their eyes to the reality of mental illness. And much harm has been done as a result.

    • TC says:

      Simon, there’s something of a maze here. It’s not easy. But try we must, yes, utilizing both medicine and Christian spirituality. Perhaps with the high profile case before us, we will see a serious revisiting of the matter. I still hope.

  3. Craig Benno says:

    I was blessed that I was saved through the ministry of an ex mental hospital chaplain. For many years this minister worked alongside a shrink who would send his patients to him every Tuesday, saying, you deal with the spiritual stuff, ill deal with their other stuff. One of the things he taught me was that he would never minister to them if they were not on their medications,. He said through his experience sometimes mental illness can be demonic, organic, or both, often having a link of unforgiveness towards someone or something, whether real, or imagined – or a root of trauma of some description. It was important to note that while some were healed, some were greatly helped – others were grateful for the support as it was the support network that helped them through week to week.

    A number of years back, I ran a suicide prevention and awareness campaign throughout our local area, which also included 2 memorial services for those bereaved by suicide.I remember this incident which is burnt into my memory. After one service I asked a lady how she was going and if she found it too much. She replied while holding both my wrists tight.

    “Craig, 12 years ago, our son died by suicide. That Sunday at church, the preacher spoke about how all who suicide are going to hell. My husband stood up, took me and our daughter by the hand and walked out. We were blackbanned by the church as being back slidden. In the midst of our pain, the church we had belonged to most of our life, abandoned us. —- Craig, I believe in Jesus, we never have stopped believing in him.. but how the church has hurt us.”

    She then said to me, while crying and holding onto me. “Craig, we want to find a church and belong, but the pain of the past is keeping us away, as we don’t want to face that pain again… You have given me the hope that indeed once again, we can now start looking for a church that will love us the way Jesus does!”

    • TC says:

      Craig, thanks for this. How can the church hurt its own so much? We can’t keep doing this to our families. Craig, I’m glad you were there for them. We need to be more gracious and defer such judgment to our merciful heavenly Father.

      • Craig Benno says:

        T.C. The level of pain that come out of that was amazing and the fruit of what came out was just as amazing. During the event, we had an lady in her 80’s share how her dad had taken his life when she was 12 and her mum made her promise never to speak of it, or share it ever.. and she sobbed and sobbed – she had been a deacon in the church for years and even her husband didn’t know. A person came into one of the churches 12 months later, said to the minister, I need help, I know you can help me .. my mum took her life.. 12 months ago, I saw all the posters on the shop windows advertising what you were doing and it wasn’t for me… but it is now.. help me. Another lady, who was a friend of a friend of mine (he is a gifted evangelist) would tell him shut up about God and Jesus and if you continue I will go home now.. She came and gave me a big hug 12 months later.. she said, I have become a Christian, I was baptised last week, I”m doing an Alpha course…thank you thank you thank you.. Her partner had taken his life while she was pregnant and she was carrying so much pain from that experience…

        I have prayerfully talked a guy out of taking his life while holding a gun to his head – twice now the Lord has given me a ” word of knowledge / prophetic insight” where I have just said to someone, the lord has just told me your suicidal and planning to take your life.. and they have stopped and looked at me and asked “How did I know?” And we were able to get them help, and pray that God will give them the will to live.

        On a personal basis, when I was first separated from my abusive ex – one particular day I had been verbally abused by her for not returning a pair of my sons underpants, which he had soiled and I had put in the washing machine and hence not returned.. soon after that phone call, I crossed the road to go to the local shops and a lady from another church stopped me and told me she and her prayer group / church were praying that I would return to my wife. ( I had endured 18 months of verbal, emotional, spiritual, physical and even sexual abuse from her – hence my leaving) I was immediately filled with horror at the thought of returning to that abuse – and I said I would rather die, and turned around to see if a truck was coming down the road – if one was, I would have stepped out in front of it at that time. I now praise God that at that time, that the road was empty…

        Indeed, let us leave the judgement to Christ, and let us instead live out the mercy of Christ.

  4. indytony says:

    Very well put.

    Since hearing of Matthew’s death, I have been praying and reflecting on my own experience. I’m only now emerging to join the conversation.

    As a Christian with a mental illness who has attempted suicide myself, I grieve for the Warren family and can appreciate Matthew’s struggle.

    I’m happy to report that I am enjoying a period of relative balance, thanks to help from a variety of sources – a pastoral counselor, medication, a psychiatrist, a church community, prayer, Bible reading, family and friends.

    Ultimately, there is no “cure” for mental illness, but we can (and should) receive appropriate treatment to continue to “choose life” for ourselves and our loved ones.

    Thanks for the post and the opportunity to share my story.

    • TC says:

      Craig, I praise God for your deliverance, brother, and now you can be so used by God to help others. I’m reminded of Elijah wanting to take his life, but God had more in store for him.

      Tony, thanks for stopping by and sharing. I’m so encouraged that you’re getting the help you need and have found the right resources “to continue to ‘choose life’ for you and your loved ones.” God be praised.

  5. Pingback: On Hurtful Responses to Rick Warren’s Family Tragedy | New Leaven

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