Healthy living must be an important issue for the church, giving Christians the opportunity to lead the effort globally to minister to people with mental illness.
The Bible says Jesus dealt with people who had all kinds of afflictions—including mental health issues. I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Matthew 8:16, where he writes of Jesus, “That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill” (The Message). Jesus modeled ministry to the mentally ill.
For 2,000 years, the church has cared for the sick. In fact, the church has cared for the sick longer than any other institution. We invented the hospital. Go into nearly any country in the world and you’ll find that the first school and the first hospital were started by missionaries. Christianity has always been a preaching, teaching, and healing faith.
But there’s another critical reason why the church must take the lead in addressing mental illness. Churches are typically the first organization that families in pain reach out to. When a family is having a mental health crisis, they don’t go first to their lawyer, their accountant, or the police. They go to their pastor. We have at least 350,000 churches in America. I can take you to 10 million villages around the world where the only institution is a church. No other institution is better equipped to take the lead on this health issue.
As we engage mental illness around the world, I believe these five theological foundations should be at the core of all of our efforts.
Every person has dignity.
We all have dignity because we’re all made by God. That’s true of you, me, and every person on the planet with a mental illness. We’re made in God’s image, and we’re made for God’s purpose and glory. God has never made anything without a purpose. If your heart is beating right now and you’re breathing, God has a purpose for your life. Our dignity as human beings doesn’t come from the government, our appearance, or our economic prosperity. Our dignity comes from our Creator, who gives each of us a purpose.
All of us are broken.
Every single one of us has weaknesses, wounds, and mental illness. We all have our obsessive thoughts, compulsions, fears, and phobias. Since we all have disabilities, we all need each other. That’s one of the reasons God allows disabilities. If we had no imperfections in our lives, we would be arrogant and self-centered.
Even though we’re broken, we’re still deeply loved and deeply valuable.
Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (NLT). God’s love for us is unconditional and unending. God doesn’t say, “I love you if . . .” God loves us because it’s who he is.
We get well in community.
The Bible reminds us of this constantly. Paul writes, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NLT). We need to be ready to share the burdens of people impacted by mental illness. It creates isolation, which is devastating for human beings. God says it’s not good for anyone to be alone. Community plays a part in God’s healing process of a variety of afflictions, including mental illness.
What isn’t healed on earth will be healed in heaven.
We can keep going and keep helping because we know that what happens here on earth isn’t the end of the story. I’ve read the end of the story. We win. We win against disease, illness, selfishness, and brokenness. In the very last book of the Bible, the apostle John writes: “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4 NIV).
That’s a great promise we can hold on to as we seek to minister to people who suffer from mental illness.
These five truths should shape our approach to mental illness. With these truths in mind, we should do as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14: “Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (NIV). That’s good advice for all of us who are ministering to the needs of the mentally ill.