Mental health problems impact more people, including Christians, than we sometimes realise. Many within our own church family struggle in this area. This extract from a talk by Will van der Hart who is on staff at Holy Trinity Brompton is relevant and helpful as we seek to understand and help the subject.
“I realised that Christians suffering from mental health problems were often subject to what I’d call the theology of unbelonging. This wasn’t a Biblical theology, it was built upon superstition and misunderstanding around mental health. The extent the theology of unbelonging continues to be espoused in contemporary Christian texts is alarming. Some suggest still that depression is a decision, anxiety is a sin, psychosis is clearly demonic, positivity is a virtue, and all mental health problems can be resolved through prayer. But a true Biblical theology of mental health is of course far from these things. A true theology of mental health is a theology of poverty. A theology of mental health is one that acknowledges that material poverty, homelessness, exclusion, the plight of the UK’s 87,000 prisoners, are all inextricably linked to mental health conditions. When Jesus said in Matthew 5:3, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ He meant these poor.
“In 1 Kings 19 verse 4 we see the beginnings of an outworking of a theology of mental health. Elijah is suicidal. He’s been chased around the block by Jezebel who’s been saying all sorts of things about him. He is physically exhausted, no doubt, and he’s certainly psychologically disturbed. He cries out to God, ‘I’ve had enough, Lord. Take my life.’ God did not condemn Elijah. God does not exclude Elijah. God didn’t punish Elijah. God didn’t say that Elijah’s theology was out of whack. Instead, God responds in the most Godly biopsychosocial manner you could ever anticipate. ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’, says God. So we see God respond to Elijah with gentility and compassion, celebrating the whole of Elijah, not just his mental faculties, his physical ones too, his sense of exhaustion and desolation. The God of love, present in the desert with the broken.
“Hence, a theology of mental health is an integrated biopsychosocial one. One that integrates mind, body, spirit, community, and family. Jesus himself expressed a full range of emotions -as it says in Isaiah 53:3, he was a man of sorrows, familiar with sufferings. A theology of mental health sees people not as mental health problems to be fixed, but as children of God waiting to be loved.
“Pope John Paul II, in his important 1997 piece of work, The Image Of God In The People With Mental Health, says, ‘Whoever suffers from mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness in himself, as does every human being.’ So a true theology of mental health celebrates the whole person and stands with them in their suffering.
“A theology of mental health is a theology of the victorious Christ who is suffering. The suffering Christ and the victorious Christ are one and the same. Our church will only be a valiant church if it’s a suffering church, a church that does not segregate love and suffering, but loves in suffering.”
You can listen to the full talk using the link below. It is 8 minutes long.
Written by Tony Thompson