The Church is supposed to talk about the Bible, right? Sing songs to Jesus, study the Word, talk about God and debate theological constructs. Why would we spend time talking about mental illness? What does that have to do with Jesus or the church or theology?
Here’s why: the Gospel is centered on suffering. The whole of humanity began a steady decline the moment we stepped out of the Garden, and that suffering got worse and worse. Jesus came, and instead of ending it all right there he entered the suffering. His victory over death was achieved through suffering. He continually demonstrated compassion to those who were suffering and he entered their pain. If we as Christians are to imitate him, then we must also voluntarily enter another person’s world of pain.
Mental illness is a hot topic because people are suffering. And not just non-Christians. Right here in our church’s four walls there are those who are suffering with symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, attention-deficit disorder and many more. Too often we preach a works-based Gospel we don’t even believe theologically. “Just do _____ and you won’t feel bad anymore!” Our solutions are often so wrapped up in all that we can muster for ourselves that people walk away saying, “I tried ‘Jesus’ but it just didn’t work for me.”
The only guarantee that we have is that this suffering will end in the end. I can say to anyone with a mental illness or cancer or a heart condition, “You will be healed because in God’s kingdom this doesn’t exist.” But that’s eternity (except for the very real but rare divine moments in which God heals instantly here and now). And it’s a very real hope, but it ends up sounds like a hopeless message when we say it and then walk away from those who are hurting and leave them to bleed. The only thing that can follow up an eternal hope message is a commitment to walk alongside that person with compassion and support for the rest of their days of suffering. Without that, we fail to imitate Christ who entered in with us as a co-participant in our suffering.
Who are the people you are walking alongside through the suffering of their mental illness? Are you leaving the “quick fixes” at the door or do you find that you are exasperated by all the things they are not doing that would (in your mind) solve everything? Are you a safe person to turn to when they need support? In what ways can you live out the Gospel in the midst of another’s pain? If the person is not healed on this earth, are you willing to walk with that person all the way to the gates of Heaven? These are the questions we as the Church must answer or we will decline into a social club for insiders only. Some would say we are already there.