Faith and mental illness

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By Michael Horton

According to a 2013 survey by LifeWay Research, one-third of Americans agree that “prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness.” Nearly half (48 percent) of evangelicals agree. (1)

Why on earth would Modern Reformation imagine that it had something important to say, from a distinctly Reformation perspective, on mental illness? That was a big question we discussed in our editorial meeting. By the end, though, after sharing our own experiences, the answer became clear. To the extent that evangelical attitudes reflect theological imbalances—and even errors—we think we have something indeed to contribute.

Like their neighbors, Christians acknowledge that people suffering from cancer, AIDS, migraines, or cerebral palsy are still responsible for their actions. Their suffering does not entitle them to hatred, self-loathing, or the mistreatment of others. And yet, we allow room. With even a modicum of sympathy, we recognize they are miserable in ways that are not just limited to their physical distress. First, we want to relieve their immediate pain and, as much as possible, the effects of their disease; we seek every possible medical treatment for them. If a brother or sister has cancer, diabetes, or a stroke, we pray that God will give the doctors and nurses wisdom and skill to relieve their suffering. We realize there is an important place for caring for their bodies and souls, for their medical needs—which are beyond the church’s competence—and for their relationship with God.

And yet, when it comes to mental illness, we still don’t really believe that it is a medical problem. Many of us were raised in an era when “it’s all in your head” meant that mental illnesses weren’t real—at least not as real as a broken arm. This tendency reflects not only a lack of appreciation for the rapid growth in medical diagnosis and treatment of such disorders, but a cluster of theological misunderstandings. So here are a few introductory theses to consider.

For the rest of the essay, please go here.

The wisdom of the Word versus the wisdom of the world

The wisdom of the church  is unlike the wisdom of this world.  Why?  Because the wisdom of the church turns on the wisdom of the cross, which is folly to this world.  Paul explains:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
(1Corinthians 1:18-2:5 ESV)

What wisdom does the church need from the world in order to fulfill its ministry, which centers on preaching and the administration of the sacraments?  Does the world have anything on the church when it comes to its mission and its message?  The Word and Spirit are sufficient.