Christianity and Mental Health
J. David Lawrence
Competent psychiatrists should be lauded. However, not infrequently we hear of a psychiatrist leveling an attack against Christianity on the grounds that it is a contributing factor to mental illness. This is an unfair accusation, and reveals the doctor's ignorance of the gospel; but often he may influence an individual to forsake the Lord.
The anti-religious psychiatrist can enumerate several reasons why a person should not be overly religious. He will tell you that a man can be moderate in devotion, but if he is excessively so he becomes susceptible to frustrations. These frustrations arise from a sense of failure as he realizes he cannot be as perfect as the gospel would have him to be. Also, he is frustrated when his family and friends fail to embrace the same religious beliefs as he.
It is true that a large number of Christians, especially gospel preachers, have suffered nervous breakdowns and other forms of mental disturbances. The facts in the various cases will differ. Perhaps some were ignorant of gospel teaching regarding mental health. Perhaps others failed to apply and appropriate the teaching. But one thing is sure: Christ and his gospel are not at fault.
The following scriptural evidence is presented as the basis upon which the conclusion is formed that the gospel of Jesus Christ, when properly applied, is designed to and will produce the soundest condition of mental health possible for man. Further, this condition of sound mental health will occur in the devoutly religious, faithful Christian, and not necessarily in the individual who is "moderately religious." The reader is urged to test the evidence and see if the conclusion is justified.
First: the gospel teaches that the Christian is not to be concerned about the future, but live the best he can day by day. He is told to seek to serve God first, and promised that God will supply the necessities of life (Read carefully Matthew 6: 24-34). The psychiatrist must admit that the absence of excessive worry and concern about the future, and an acceptance of the present is a sign of mental health. It is a blessed and comforting thought that the Christian will never go hungry or naked!
"Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (I Pet. 5:7). Here is what the psychiatrist would prescribe for his patient: someone to share and even assume burdens. Who could be more qualified to do this than the Son of God? This is far from a "frustrating" thought.
Along this line we may notice several other scriptures which will lead us to believe that Christianity is conducive to mental health.
God teaches us to be content with what we have: "...and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb. 13:5).
"Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).
"...for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11).
To answer one of the misconceptions of the psychiatrist opposed to Christianity, we might point out that God never requires of his children above their ability or opportunity (See I Pet. 4:11, Gal. 6:10).
Although we are exhorted many places in the gospel to press on toward perfection. God does not expect us to become mature Christians overnight. We are to take our spiritual growth a step at a time (Phil. 3: 16). Surely this is sound psychiatric advice.
Then attention must be called to the great spiritual blessing in Christ of peace. Peace resulting from a knowledge of fellowship with God plays an integral part in the life of the Christian. Peace of mind is indeed the most significant attribute of good mental health. (See John 14:27, Rom. 8:6, 14:17, Gal. 5:22, Col. 3:15, II Thess. 3:16.)
The psychiatrist often tells his patient that he needs to face reality and accept responsibility. So does the gospel tell the Christian (Gal. 6: 5). The Christian knows that some day he must give account for all the deeds done in this life (II Cor. 5:10).
The gospel releases one from the real race of society. The Christian is not concerned about popularity with the world, for he realizes that God and one man make a majority (Rom. 8:31). The tension that accumulates in trying to maintain a position disappears.
The gospel provides significance and value to life. The Christian is not dismayed because physical life is transitory, like a vapor (James 4: 14). Living the Christian life causes every moment to be precious and good. This is the abundant life (John 10:10). The Christian is supplied with everything he needs in order to serve God in the gospel (II Pet. 1:3, Col. 2:10, II Tim. 3: 17).
Finally, the Christian is in possession of the hope of eternal life. This is by far the greatest of his blessings, and the most conducive to mental health. The Christian knows that if "our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (II Cor. 5:1). The Christian can say as did Paul: "...for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (II Tim. 1:12).
It seems to this writer almost incredible that an individual could maintain sound mental health without being a Christian.
Truth Magazine VI: 4, pp. 23-24