Conundrum. Part 1.

Right at the beginning of my blog, I mentioned that I believed in God, in Jesus and the Holy Spirit of God. I also intimated that I have mental health issues.

I would dearly love to tell you that in living with mental health issues it has drawn me closer to God or that God has miraculously healed me or that I have become even more dependent upon Him or even that I have, through faith, overcome those mental health difficulties to the extent that I can now tell you that I am ‘cured.’

But the reality is… quite different.

Living with mental health issues can be a very lonely road to travel, both for the sufferer and for those that are close to them. That’s never through conscious choice either because although it is referred to as a ‘mental’ health issue, it rarely confines itself to the mind:

For instance: it can bring into its sphere of influence: thought; emotions; speech; hearing; sight; olfactory senses and even other physical parts of the human anatomy.

In fact there is very few areas that adverse mental health doesn’t touch and I could even add to that list, faith.

Faith can be one of those intangible elements – the sort of thing that you can’t really describe but you know it when you see it.

The apostle Paul [1] in the book of Hebrews ( ch11v1 ) of the Bible, attempts to define faith as:

“…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Now in one sense, this definition seems contradictory. For example, how can you have ‘evidence’ of something that is invisible?

We tend to think of evidence, don’t we, as that which is presented in a courtroom? But in this instance we are being asked to accept something that is invisible as being evidence of substance. I could just picture the look on the judge’s face if the prosecutor presented his evidence in a similar manner!

Yes… it’s a conundrum.

And it doesn’t help. In fact in
many ways, living with a faith makes things just that bit more difficult and that’s just for someone that doesn’t have mental health issues. For a person, like myself, having a faith can bring no end of self condemnation:

“YOU do not have enough faith or you would be cured!”

“YOU must have really sinned against God for Him not to have healed you!”

And so on, so forth. It’s a vicious circle: as well as having to deal with your mental health condition, now you have all this condemnatory baggage heaped on!

In considering how the Bible deals with mental illness, though, I’m not really convinced that it properly addresses adverse mental health either. The closest example that I can think of is that of King Saul.

In the old testament book of 1 Samuel 16:23 we read: “And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon ( King ) Saul, David took the lyre and played it in his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better and the evil spirit would depart from him…”

( It’s long been recognised how certain types of music, when listened to, can be therapeutic to adverse mental health and taken at face value, this account would seem to indicate that Saul indeed did have a mental health problem but the episode doesn’t have a happy ending. )

In the New Testament it is even more difficult to find any examples of mental illness. The instances where Jesus Christ heals someone that exhibits mental illness-like behaviour are described as cases of demon-posession or influence by an evil spirit or spirits.

Is that helpful? Is it even accurate? I’m not questioning the fact that Jesus Christ did heal the sick nor am I calling into question the veracity of the Bible, but it occurs to me that in an age that did not have the medical services, knowledge and experience that we have today, isn’t it natural to assume that people would draw a conclusion of demon-posession and the like because that was the extent of their experience in a rumour-ridden society such as they had.

But the question remains: is mental illness in fact a form of demon-posession or the effect of an evil spirit? No doubt, some will read this and feel outrage or dismiss the idea completely out of hand. But we should not be afraid to ask questions like these and it is extremely important to separate opinion and speculation from evidence-based conclusion.

End of Part 1.


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