The following article was written by Stephen M. In 2001, when Stephen was 19 years old, one of the many things he experienced emotional turmoil in was a second job–a job he quickly came to despise. He could not quit without experiencing overwhelming guilt because (as he understood it) his mom (and/or God) did not want him to quit. Between a rock and a hard place, he eventually snapped; while on a break during this job he recklessly drove his parents’ car and crashed into a street lamp. Though physically unharmed, he was nonetheless escorted by ambulance to the hospital where he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.On November 2, 2003, a European missionary named Ian Green came to the church he was attending. He preached a sermon entitled “Jesus: Better Than You Think.” It was a 50-minute legalism-detox-with-God’s-grace session. It proved to be a watershed moment in Stephen’s life. Contrary to some doctrine Stephen had previously been taught, Ian showed that someone could lose sight of God’s love and be burdened by guilt that was unnecessary. About six months later, Stephen was baptized of his own choice.
Stephen says, “I have come to learn that the cognitive and behavioral changes needed to overcome Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) run contrary to IBLP teachings. Actually, after years of study and exposure to the stories of many others with mental illness, I now feel the general way IBLP approaches the topic of mental illness is an abomination. With IBLP, way too much emphasis is placed on God’s law at the expense of God’s grace; people have had the burden of responsibilities and how they must not fail drilled into them. For example, on page 11 of my Basic Seminar workbook it says we are responsible for five things: “Every thought, every word, every deed, every attitude, and every motive of the heart.” However, in my treatment for OCD I have learned to transfer responsibility for these things from myself to Jesus–after all that’s what the cross was about wasn’t it?! (Dr. Ian Osborn demonstrates this transfer of responsibility principle beautifully in his book, “Can Christianity Cure Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?”) I also remember learning in the seminar that there probably isn’t any such thing as “false guilt” but rather it is “misplaced conviction” (Basic Seminar workbook, page 38); I have now rejected this as a categorical lie which leads people into bondage.”
One of the pioneers of the protestant reformation, Martin Luther, was no stranger to mental affliction and depression. He once wrote, “The devil beleaguers and storms a heart with doubt. Often he has offered an argument of such weight that I didn’t know whether God exists or not.” He also says, “The content of the depression was always the same; the loss of faith that God is good and that he is good to me.” That Martin Luther knew what some people suffering mental illness went through might be evidenced when he wrote, “Those who experience sadness of spirit, to them all creatures appear changed. Even when they speak with people who they know and in turn hear them, the very sound of their speech seems different, their looks appear changed, and everything becomes black and horrible wherever they turn their eyes.”
Proverbs 18:14 says, “A person’s spirit sustains him through sickness–but who can bear a crushed spirit?” (NET)
Dr. Dwight L. Carlson writes of the “famous preacher Charles Spurgeon, who lit the fires of the nineteenth-century revival movement. (Charles Spurgeon) struggled so severely with depression that he was forced to be absent from his pulpit for two to three months a year. In 1866 he told his congregation of his struggle:
‘I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go (through).’ He explained that during these depressions, ‘Every mental and spiritual labour had to be carried on under protest of Spirit.’”
Sometimes people can look at someone suffering from mental illness and form an opinion based on ignorance, and even their best efforts to help can fall short. Have you ever been counseled by someone who did not seem to understand what you were going through? A church elder once asked this question of a doctor: “The Scriptures tell us that in Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness, correct? So can you explain to me why Anna’s bipolar disorder and her dependence on medication is not an issue of weak faith or sin?”
In the Bible, Job suffered the loss of his material possessions, all of his children, and then finally his physical health as well. In a spirit of anguish Job says, “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, ‘There is a man child conceived.’ Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it” (Job 3:1,2). On top of all this, after hearing Job’s anguish of mind, Job’s friends then began to unjustly criticize and condemn him only adding to the immense physical and emotional pain which already burdened his confused mind.
Job declares in chapter 7: “…I have been made to inherit months of futility, and nights of sorrow have been appointed to me” (vs. 3). Ask yourself this question: Does your theology allow for a time of “futility” in which someone does not seem to be accomplishing anything? Or do you ask how someone could be experiencing the power of Christ if they are wallowing around in depression and sorrow?
If You are depressed, if you are going through difficult times, some people have the idea that it is your fault God cannot heal you. Maybe you don’t have enough faith. But the fact of the matter is that you may be right where God wants You. You may be closer to the life of Jesus than you think. Jesus declares in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit and Blessed are those who mourn…” (Matthew 5:3,4). In Luke 6 Jesus declares, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you. Blessed are you who hunger now for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh.” (Luke 6:20-22, NET)
The world says I’m successful when I have a good job; the world says I am successful when I have lots of money; the world says I’m successful when I have good health; the world says I’m successful when I have the comforts of life; when I’m free of depression or anxiety and when I have lots of friends. Unfortunately, sometimes the Church says the same things. However, we know from the Bible that God’s unnatural selection redefines success. The apostle Paul writes, “So that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me–so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak , then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NET)
For many Jewish people, Jesus coming and dying on the cross caught them off guard. The Messiah was supposed to overthrow the Romans. The Messiah was supposed to bring peace on earth. Isn’t this what a successful Messiah would look like? Do we have faith that He will one day do these things? Likewise is our own salvation–It is dependant on faith; It is dependant on something we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Faith is believing in the character of God when life demands the opposite!”
But God has not left us without hope. Romans 8:23-25 says, “But we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly wait our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.” (NET)
Hebrews 2:8,9 says, “…But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus…”
When we suffer physical affliction, does God care? We know that Jesus suffered physical pain!
We may be crushed by depression, but we know that Jesus said in Mark 14:34, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death.” (NET)
We may feel rejected by God. But Jesus said in Mark 15:34, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (NET)
Other people might judge us in something they do not understand or in some way we think is unfair, but we know from Isaiah 53:4 that people “thought He was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.” (NET)
Isaiah 53:3 says, “He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.” (NET)
Jesus suffered anguish. In his sermon, “A Call to Anguish,” the late pastor David Wilkerson defines anguish as“Extreme pain and distress. The emotions so stirred that it becomes painful. Acute deeply felt inner pain because of conditions about you, in you, or around you. Anguish. Deep pain. Deep sorrow. Agony of God’s heart. All true passion is born out of anguish. All true passion for Christ comes out of a baptism of anguish.”
When Jesus was judged unfairly, when Jesus was left to suffer humiliation and abandonment of death on the cross, He suffered anguish. Jesus Himself, the God of the universe, was baptized in anguish!
Why does God allow suffering? One pastor has succinctly put it this way, “It’s simple: because He values it.” (Jon Morrison)
Sometimes it is when we ourselves experience pain, and we ourselves are at our weakest, that we are best able to relate to others going through hard times. Jesus associated Himself with the lowest in society. In the Bible we are called to empathize with other people. Hebrews 13:3 says to “Remember those in prison as though you too were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment” (NET). Galatians 6:2 says,“Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (NET).
It is often the people with direct experience to the pain and suffering of mental illness that are best able to relate to others who are afflicted. Sometimes what we find from the ignorant is judgment or criticism. What we can find with the afflicted is grace and compassion. Jesus was afflicted, and He wants to show compassion.