A few years back, Lifeway Research released a study that indicated over 50% of evangelical Christians believed that mental illness could be overcome by bible study and prayer alone.
I think about this statistic often. In part, because there was a time where I would have counted myself among those espousing this belief, and though my feelings on the matter have shifted dramatically, I still wonder how we could have ever arrived at such a conclusion.
Consider the following. In practice, we regularly prove that we don’t believe hunger can be satisfied by bible study and prayer alone. We don’t believe that thirst can be quenched, or broken arms can be reset, or malignant tumors can be shrunk, or cars can be repaired, or our taxes can be calculated by bible study and prayer alone.
It’s not because we are faithless that we rarely expect the miraculous to occur when facing needs that need met. It’s because we’re generally at peace with the idea that there are needs for which God and his agents have made provision that we would be foolish to not take advantage of.
The brain presents a problem though. It’s a physical organ that houses spiritual belief. Everything we believe about God resides there. Since we believe (rightly) that actions flow from what we think, we tend to make the leap that lands us here: Low spirits, uncomely behavior, doubts, and anxieties will always flow from lack of belief, and belief is strengthened by bible study and prayer. Case closed. End of discussion.
But before you pat yourself on the back for your firm commitment to disciplined adherence to biblical truths, please ask yourself the following: Do I believe the brain can get sick?
Why wouldn’t we? We are no doubt willing to concede that every inch of our frame is susceptible to injury and disease. Why would we talk about the brain differently? Why, when it’s time to separate the physical from the spiritual, do we so often toss the brain in the wrong bucket?
Because if the brain can get sick (spoiler alert: it can), then it stands to reason that it can and should be treated physically when it does.
I’m not here to tell you exactly what that should look like. I am no doctor. I’m just a christian living with a mental illness who has found that everything from daily exercise to therapy and psychiatric medications have blessed me with relief from mental health symptoms and enabled me to more freely walk in my identity as a follower of Christ. And yes, I still pray for God to heal me. And yes, I do believe he is doing so, just not in the way that I originally had hoped or expected.
The moment we begin to accept that it’s okay for people experiencing mental health symptoms to employ available means to achieve healing, a few things happen:
- We see our brothers’ and sisters’ burdens lifted and are given reason to rejoice alongside them
- We escape the fear that the gospel will be rendered ineffective by advances in modern medical science
- We communicate to those in our community that we are churches that care for bodies AND souls
- We display a big God who through divine providence has gifted us with many good gifts, even little white pills
- We see heads lifted as those we minister to escape the terrible weight of waiting for miracles where God has already provided means
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