On a Sunday morning, a child who seems old enough to know better makes noise at the wrong time during the service or sings along during the pastor’s responses. Perhaps a certain adult cannot be silent during the sermon or comes to church disheveled. It appears they may have a mental illness.
People in our congregations may exhibit behaviors or perform actions that violate the basic norms of our culture and society. The behaviors may be as mild as difficulty looking into your eyes during conversation or as severe as a complete inability to communicate.
They are children for whom Christ died; they are beloved by Him.
Mental illness, like all disease, has sin as its root. Original sin, that is. When Jesus was asked who sinned that a certain man was born blind, He said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). So also, God does not punish parents or family members when a loved one suffers from mental health issues. Rather, the sin of Adam and Eve broke the entire creation, and every human being suffers the consequences of sin.
At the same time, recent advances in medical technologies have enabled us to better understand those who suffer with these diseases and to develop techniques and tools to help them live with or even overcome their illnesses. Advancements in psychology and psychiatry have helped many people who suffer with ailments such as depression or schizophrenia live more contented lives.
And that’s the key: Mental illness is not an either/or proposition. Psychologists and psychiatrists, therapists and counselors can provide sound advice and medical help according to their training and resources. At the same time, Christ provides spiritual care through His church to resolve the root of the problem and provide eternal healing. It does not mean, of course, that receiving the absolution will make your depression go away. It does mean that God’s care for you is not limited to services on Sunday morning. He provides daily ongoing care for you in body, soul and mind.
As a special note, the Rev. Michael Kasting wrote an abbreviated story of his wife’s decline into Alzheimer’s disease and the struggle he endured as her primary caregiver. Mental illness affects not only the person with the illness, but often burdens family and friends as well. You can purchase a print copy of his full story or download a free PDF from lutheranwitness.org.
Confident in Christ,
Roy S. Askins
Managing Editor, The Lutheran Witness