I was preaching last night and somehow got on the subject of mental health. I’m just as surprised at what comes out of my mouth as everyone else! I was making the point that counseling is great, and that medication is great but it’s a two-legged stool that will always fall if you don’t add the third leg of Jesus.
One of the guys listening said he thought that was a contradiction. He didn’t really explain himself, but I knew where he was headed. Many in the Christian community feel as if Jesus is all you need when it comes to mental health issues because Jesus is the healer, so you don’t need medication.
I think the guy was surprised – as were some others in the room – when I stuck to my guns and explained why the three-legged stool was so important and that while I respected the guy’s opinion, he was wrong.
I think it’s important I walk you through the logic of this in case you have people in your life who don’t want to go to counseling, take their meds, or help themselves with their mental health issues. I’ve been that guy and seriously regret not understanding this until later in life.
Let me start by explaining something really important: God did not make you the way you are with all your flaws whatever they may be. That’s not to say you were not born with physical, emotional and/or mental conditions. I’m saying God didn’t do it. As Christians, we believe that we live in a fallen world – the original sin committed in the Garden of Eden by Adam (Adam sinned; Eve was deceived) caused the fall of perfect creation by allowing sin (rebellion against God) to enter the world. When this happened, our perfect bodies became imperfect. In other words, we became subject to disease.
Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Arthritis and all the rest are due to the fall. So is depression, anxiety, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), personality disorder, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and all the rest. Sin devastated us not just spiritually but physically, emotionally and mentally.
For some, their condition has to do with their brain chemicals and brain structure (neurobiology and neuropsychology). When your condition is caused by the improper functioning of your brain you need help because you can’t just rub some dirt on it and make it better.
The next part of this explanation is just as important. All good things come from God (James 1:7). That includes God allowing man to discover how the brain works and consequently creating counseling methods and medications that adjust, control and stabilize brain chemicals and brain dysfunction. My wife is a nurse for the Parkinson’s Center of Oregon where they do Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) on patients. Basically, they stick an electric probe into a patient’s brain to stimulate the right thing to help control Parkinson’s movement disorder issues. This is a good thing and we thank God that He’s allowed this type of knowledge to help people
So, what about Jesus? Don’t I believe He can heal? Certainly, but what do you mean by heal?
In scripture, healing takes place a number of ways! Some people are miraculously healed of physical ailments (lepers, blind, lame, etc.). But other people are healed emotionally by being transformed by the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2). Still others are healed by having demons exorcised from their bodies. And still others are healed through Jesus’ forgiveness (adulterous woman). I believe that Jesus heals through the Holy Spirit every day but it’s not always someone growing back a limb that’s been cut off! Sometimes it’s the ability to endure (Job) and persevere (Paul).
This is why I think when it comes to mental health you absolutely have to have a three-legged stool. God gave us the knowledge of counseling to help those in need manage their triggers and reactions to those triggers. God gave us the knowledge of medication to help control out of whack brain chemicals, as well as dysfunctional brain patterns. And God gave us Himself through which we can have miraculous healings that range from physical transformation to emotional and mental functionality.
Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss what Christian counseling looks like from a pastoral viewpoint. Here’s what I told the folks with whom I was working.
True Christian counseling includes five steps:
- We start with the premise that God does miracles. It may be a complete physical healing, or it may be a complete change in attitude. Whatever it is, we start with God.
- The Holy Spirit is alive and well and still has and uses the power He used to raise the dead, heal the lame, cleanse the leper, give sight to the blind and more. The Holy Spirit is the power through which God heals.
- At the 50,000-foot level, all of the conditions we face in life are either organic (body-based) or sin. In other words, we either have a physical problem of some sort or we are suffering the consequences of someone sinning against us or us sinning against God or other people.
- The Bible is what we use to counsel people, teaching them about forgiveness, repentance, God’s love, their identity in Christ, being a new creation in Christ, being more than a conqueror, doing all things through Christ, trusting Jesus, learning to love God and others, and more.
- Finally, we use the various counseling methods (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Emersion Therapy, Psychotherapy, et al) as a mean to apply the first four.
This is what I mean by having Jesus be the third leg of the stool. He’s actually the foundation of all counseling because He is the Counselor!!
I wish I would have understood this years ago when I was struggling so badly with my own PTSD issues. I wish more people would understand this and actually take their meds instead of believing that somehow they are bad and make you a weak person. That’s not it at all! God gave doctors the skill to set a broken bone and put a cast on it when you break your arm or leg. God also gave doctors the skill to set a broken mind using medications to do so. It’s no different.
Anyway, I had fun last night explaining all this to the group. I’m sure they weren’t expecting me to double down on counseling and medication being part of God’s plan, but again, all good things come from God and when used appropriately with God at the center both counseling and medication are means by which God will help you heal and be functional.
Hope this helps you or someone you know who may be reluctant to seek help or take the advice they’ve already been given. Jesus told us that He wants us to have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). You can’t have that abundant life if you’re struggling with untreated emotional or mental illness. Do yourself a favor and allow Jesus to heal you using all the tools He has put at your disposal.