How Does God Redeem Mental Illness?

I don’t know exactly where we all get our ideas about people with mental illness or why we tend to simultaneously laugh at them and believe they’re all dangerous criminals. Why we think our jokes and stereotypes aren’t hurting anyone. I don’t know why we believe mental illness is so much rarer than it is, why we tend to deny our own mental and emotional struggles, or why some Christians have such a hard time accepting the presence of psychosis in a world they fully acknowledge is systemically and pervasively poisoned by sin and death.

I do know, though, that people with mental illness get a bad rap. And the people who love and care for those with mental illness often feel a shame they can’t explain and a terrible burden to keep secret what they most need to share. This doesn’t stop at the doors of the church.

I’ll be among the first to acknowledge that what an illness like schizophrenia does to a person is not pretty. It’s an ugly and heartbreaking reality, and my mother’s illness has presented the single greatest test to my personal faith. So I’m not trying to minimize the confusion and revulsion we can feel when dealing with people whose brains give them skewed pictures of reality. But like all suffering people, pretty or not, people with mental illness should find solace and acceptance in the church.

All of creation (including our own bodies) groans under the weight of the consequence of our sin. We are all twisted and foul in our natural, hopeless state. We may be uncomfortable and confused in looking at the manifestation of sin’s sickness in mental illness, but perhaps it helps to recognize that we are seeing reflections of ourselves in many ways.

People who suffer from mental illness see distorted images of reality, and of God himself. So do the rest of us: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Cor 13:12). Someday this hazy glass will be shattered and we will all see the truth–the truth about who we are, who God is, and what is real.

“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are” (Rom 8:18-19). We will see each other as God sees us–and we will love what we see. We will know true joy, untainted by sorrow. Our thoughts and perceptions will no longer be distorted by pain, grief, selfishness, greed, depression, anxiety, psychosis, or pride. I can’t wait until we see him face to face, in a place where sickness has been banished. I can’t wait to worship alongside my mom and so many other daughters and sons of God who will have come through deep and acidic waters to see his face clearly.

We are all in this together, and we all have hope in the current redemptive work of Christ and the future and eternal fulfillment of his promise of life without the burden of sin. “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Cor 4:17-18).

Yet our hope is not only for the future. In his grace, God gives us glimpses of the glory to come. He makes old things new. He transforms dead souls into live wires. He cleans, polishes, and repairs what he finds in the garbage. He breaks through darkness and shines light into places we thought it could never reach. He changes people from the inside out, and he infuses our stumbling, bumbling, ridiculous efforts to serve him with effective, graceful revelations of himself that somehow cause ripples in the world around us. Our hope for the present is in Jesus and his work in and through us. Sometimes that work brings healing; sometimes it brings a new and deeper perspective on pain. Sometimes it knocks down prison walls that will never be rebuilt. Regardless, it always redeems.

At my eighth-grade graduation ceremony, I stood up and read Romans 8:28, describing the hope I had for the future: “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” I believed it then, but I believe it more deeply and with greater conviction now. And I actually understand a little of what it means. My conviction comes from seeing it happen in the decades since.

What’s remarkable about this life is not that we have pain, that we suffer, that life gets so ugly we can’t even look at it. The remarkable thing is that we have anything but suffering. That there is a large supply of goodness in this world. That despite our best efforts at self-destruction, grace still shines on us and the sun rises. That we are surrounded by beauty. That we know how to laugh. That we can laugh and cry at the same time. And–most remarkable–that our suffering and pain themselves become the media for some of God’s most beautiful work. It’s called redemption, and we overlook it every day. God always does this whether we appreciate it or not. And sometimes we actually do recognize it. We get to see it as it happens.

Let me tell you how we–my family, my friends, people I don’t know but admire greatly, and I–have seen it not only in spite of, but even through mental illness . . .

 

To read more, please see the stories I’ve told in Chapter 9 of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission. If you want to read more about how God redeems mental illness and how we can all participate in that redemption, you can find the book here.

 

Taken from Troubled Minds by Amy Simpson. Copyright(c) 2013 by Amy Simpson. Used by permission from InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.

3 Comments
  1. Rachael says:

    My condition brings me closer to god, I do not have delusions. When I’m in emotional distress the only person who really knows me is god and its him who then carries me. The church can turn there back because of there own weakness, judgments and fear. The church is full of vulnerable and lost people who do not have mental illness, I think my reality when I’m ill can be quiet distorted In many ways but also in contradictory way it is very clear because I get closer and I pray more and then I gain more hope, also it makes me stronger. Mostly churches are the same as society, keep quiet and pretend u r ok but as in the world u get amazing people who really are compassionate. There’s this misconception that we have stupid but that is not true and you experience close encounters with god when your near the edge, there’s all these negative thoughts bombarding your mind but then there’s this one peaceful one saying hold on. I’m not talking about actual voices I’m talking about thoughts and a feeling of peace suddenly. But people who I have met who have squzophenia often end up in an endless battle of good and evil delusions which must be scary, seeing devils and god and angels this is different in my opinion and is not real btu I have seen very sick people find very good coping strategies and they are able to separate from voices and then they become quiter and not obtrusive. It is and unkind world if u have this illness, I’ve been laughed at, judged as dangerous but the most judgmental are often bordering on the illness themselves and in turn it seems they have not accepted something in themselves as is always the case when someone js so strong on something.

    It has its benefits, you gain compassion, growth emotionally and if you are not working you get to define yourself by just you and your progress towards this, for me getting well enough to work is a goal, I will be so grateful to hold down a job can normal people ever really have this gratitude for there work. I cannot wait to be out there inspiring others and helping them achieve there goals :).

  2. james says:

    my name is james stoddard i have a daughter that suffwers from mental illness and it has all but torn me apart inside i have prayed from the bowels of my soul for god to heal her and take the anger that has built in me over time because my daughter hasnt been healed i prayed my prayers pure from the heart at the alter in the yard just about anywhere you can think and at the end of the day my daughter is still struggling with mental illness my house is divided and my prayers havent been answered god says if you have faith to tell a mountain to move and believe it will then it will he also teaches us to bring our sick before the church and have the church pray over them well i did that also at the end of this all i no longer have custody of my daughter because she drew pictures of her step mother,little brother and half sister all floating dead in a pond with snakes and alligators going to eat them and she did this while in a mental hospital so of course they said she couldnt live with me anymore she also told her real mother that wew beat her and left bruises on her wich was not true. this would be the same mother that ran off with a drug dealer when my daughter was 4 and my son was three and let her drug dealing boyfriend molest my daughter so i have followed gods guidance and have not found an answer or peace not to mention all the people who turned there backis on myself and my wife at that time not only did people turn there backs on us they shared bthere opinions about what should happen to my daughjter to my wife wich inturn divided us becausae as a father i will nevere give up on one of my children so i guess i ask why does god bless so many and put so much on others im angry because the prayers for my daughter werent answered and by the time i had to give her up people were so hateful to her about things she couldnt controll so where is the lesson in love in this because god is suppose to be love peace forgiveness and there is none in this entire situation so look in your bible and see if you can explain to me why god punishes my daughter if he has to punish some one let it be not my child i would rather die than see my daughter and family suffer

    • Amy says:

      James, you have good reason to be in pain, and I’m sorry for what you and your daughter are going through. If you really want an answer to this question, I encourage you to bring it before God and honestly listen for and seek his answer. I do not believe God is punishing your daughter or you, but we do live in a world where all of us constantly reap the consequences of our own choices and other people’s choices. This means we all have pain and suffering caused by others–and for some people, the suffering is horrific. It shouldn’t be this way, and the Bible is very clear (if you ask me where, I’ll tell you it’s the entire book) that our world is all wrong. We long for a world without excruciating suffering?and this longing is good; we were made for a better world and someday will live in one. But the presence of suffering in this world is caused by sin, not by God. And believing God should regularly rescue and shield us from the consequences of sin in this world means that in looking for relief, we have misunderstood the destructive power of our own condition and lost sight of God?s glorious and permanent rescue plan and redemptive power. I respectfully suggest that you may want to consider that your daughter’s suffering is caused by what other people have done to her–not by God. There is redemption, love, peace, and forgiveness in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we will be healed in this life. I hope you will be able to find some loving support for yourself and your family. I encourage you to check out the Mental Health Grace Alliance for some caring Christian professionals and support groups who may be able to help: http://mentalhealthgracealliance.org/

© 2013 Amy Simpson.