MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, April 3rd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Next up, Janie B. Cheaney on mental illness. And treating the physical and spiritual aspects.
JANIE B. CHEANEY: Record high numbers of college students report anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. In the general public, the rate of serious mental illness has doubled in the last 10 years.
We shake our heads and pray for these poor souls without hope and without God in the world. Then we look around, and find mental illness in our own ranks.
How can that be? Didn’t Jesus promise life in abundance? How can anxiety and depression square with peace and joy? Yet God does not shield his people from all the plagues of Egypt. We understand that when it comes to physical ailments, even terminal ones.
But when mental illness plagues our own husbands, brothers, daughters, and wives, we don’t know what to do. We’re unsure even how to think about it.
Simonetta Carr is a well-known author of biographies for children featuring Christian heroes like Athanasius and Jonathan Edwards. But her most recent book is a memoir: Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them. It details the three nightmare years during which she watched her bright, charming son descend into irrationality, self-destructive behavior, and violent threats.
While frantically seeking help, and not always finding it, his mother also fought doubt and guilt. Prayer didn’t always comfort and verses quoted by well-meaning friends didn’t always affirm.
One young friend who struggles with mental issues tells me, “I’m wrestling with God, and being told to ‘just pray’ or ‘just read’ doesn’t help me. Sometimes when I try to do those things I just get angry.” That friend went through several Christian counselors before finding a medically trained therapist who was also a Christian: now they’re making headway.
Mental illness is the place where mind and body miscommunicate. And while there may well be a spiritual dimension to that failure, treating the spirit alone could be a dangerous mistake.
But isn’t Jesus all-sufficient? Yes, he is. Jesus is not standing apart from the problem. Jesus is in the problem, just as he is in the cancer or the diabetes.
The Spirit indwelling the body is not apart from the body, and if we wouldn’t withhold food from a starved stomach, we shouldn’t automatically block the careful use of meds or secular insight from a frayed mind.
“The gospel has tremendous power,” writes Simonetta Carr, “but it works in ways that are counterintuitive, mysterious, and even imperceptible, transforming into conformity to the image of Christ—a Christ who, in this life, was more anguished than we could ever know.”
No servant is greater than his master; if he was anguished, so may we be. Depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety can’t be ruled out of a Christian life. The peace Jesus promises is “not as the world gives”—which is temporary and superficial. And it may sometimes seem the opposite. But we can thank God for the means to do battle on physical as well as spiritual fronts—and for victory, in this life or the next.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.