Emotional Problems or Spiritual Sin?
Cindy had been struggling with “down” days for as long as she can remember but over the past 7 months she became increasingly more depressed. She described her feelings as “a sort of hell, an endless pit I can’t seem to climb out of, it’s almost like no matter how hard I try – God is punishing me”. Sleepless nights left her exhausted during the day. Eating became a chore as dreadful as washing dirty dishes and no matter how hard she tried to read her Bible and pray, it felt as though her prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. Furthermore, what she read in the Scriptures condemned her and despite utilizing every weapon of spiritual warfare in her arsenal, she couldn’t “snap out” of this deep dark depression.
Many in Cindy’s church couldn’t understand why she didn’t just “snap” out of it. Her pastor and Bible Study teacher had asked her if she had confessed her depression. She cried as she explained how she begged God repeatedly to forgive her of all her sin but some sense of a vague feeling persisted: you must be sinning or you wouldn’t feel like this. She struggled for months before coming to see me and as she sat there, tears rolling down her cheeks with shame, stated: “I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and no matter what I do, I feel like a complete failure.” Over and over and over, I have had clients confess they felt like utter spiritual failures because they were seeking professional help. A large number of Christian leaders and Christians themselves believe that God supplies divine resources to meet every need and that every need of the human soul is spiritual in nature.
Widely held beliefs in the Christian church that psychological problems are unrelated to spiritual or physical causes heap tremendous shame and guilt on believers pushing them further and further into isolation. Most see clients who seek psychological counseling as failing Scripture because Scripture has and will never fail men and women. Sadly, during times when brothers and sisters in Christ need one another more than ever, it’s time to take God out of the box that we, yes, we (even those in leadership) have put Him in.
The widespread nature of Christianity’s prejudice can be seen in virtually every church across the country during Sunday Service. We pray for those undergoing surgery, having a hip replacement, heart bypass surgery, chemo, and radiation treatment but rarely do we hear prayer for those suffering clinical depression or incapacitating panic attacks. While 25% of those sitting in the pews each Sunday are suffering from a treatable and diagnose-able mental illness, while 33% of the congregation struggles with an immediate family member caught in the whiles and depths of addiction or alcoholism and a further one in three women and her children at the hands of abuse in the very place they should expect love and care, this silence from the pulpit brings further shames and subconsciously further communicates that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have. In doing so we further wound those already tormented.
Not only do Christians shoot their wounded, but most of the secular world inflicts further injury on those struggling and suffering with mental illness. A public opinion poll done by the National Alliance for the mentally ill found that 71% believed any type of mental illness was due to emotional weakness; 45% said it was the victims fault; and 35% believed it was the consequence of personal sin. Can a healthy 17 year old athlete really understand how difficult it is for a quadriplegic to get through the day? In the same sense recent studies have verified that depression is more physically and socially disabling than arthritis, lung disease, chronic back problems, hypertension, and diabetes. The only medical problem found to be more disabling than depression was advanced coronary heart disease.
The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that individuals who have suffered both emotional illness and cancer reported that their emotional illness was by far the cause of the greater pain. Isn’t Christ all you need? As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and His provisions for our needs. Though God could miraculously solve every problem, in most cases His sufficiency enables me to deal with these problems and get whatever help it is I need. When our roof is leaking, we don’t hesitate to call a roofer just as when an arm is broken, most wouldn’t think twice about having an orthopedic specialist set the bone so it heals properly. I will agree that many Christian counselors have strayed the path and wandered a long way from the Scriptures and the sufficiency of Christ. That doesn’t however negate that often times there is need to seek loving Christ Centered care in order to heal emotional wounds. At times it is also just as necessary to take antidepressants as it is to take insulin for the diabetic.
Psychology can not and will never be able to solve humanity’s spiritual problems. Only Christ can. Let us be very careful though in passing judgment on those who struggle with mental illness or past emotional wounds that are affecting their ability to receive and walk in the abundant life Christ provides While the church should never condone willful sin, it must learn to accept and support people within who suffer from emotional problems that do not stem from personal sin. There are too many people weighed down with false guilt, burdens, shame, depression and or other disorders who need our help and understanding; not our condemnation. “Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel.” ~ Proverbs 13:10
To say as Christians we don’t need counseling, encouragement, and unbiased, Spirit led wisdom during storms in our life is quite foolish. We can read the Bible, believe wholeheartedly that it is the infallible Word of God, have a personal relationship with Christ, and fast and pray all day long; however, we live in a world where “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ who is made in the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Ephesians 6 makes it clear that as Christians we are in a daily spiritual war where the “thief (Satan) comes only to steal, kill & destroy”(John 10:10). The enemy has been around for a long time and studying us since birth. Don’t deceive yourselves into believing that he doesn’t take every opportunity to distort the Truth we aim to live by. A perfect example of this is abuse.
Many Christian clients come from a background that includes parental abuse. Because God is referred to as our Heavenly Father who gives all good things to us, many struggle subconsciously with distorted images of God because they don’t know what it’s like to have an unconditionally loving earthly father. While it is true that many emotional problems have spiritual roots we must be very careful in giving our brothers and sisters in Christ, pat quick-fix spiritual answers. The next time you are tempted to tell someone to “just pray it away”, think twice and reflect upon the fact that just like cancer patient, they are in need of the same love, care and encouragement.
If you or someone you know is in need of Biblical Coaching, Heavolution International Ministries, has many services to offer to you remotely wherever you are. Don’t hesitate to call Dr. Baldwin at 417-731-8325 or fill out our contact form. It is our greatest privileges to be able to serve you.