A Kind Hand in Times of Darkness?- Thoughts on Loving God and Helping People

March 20, 2009

Mental health is a big issue, and in my own life it has become a topic with which I am highly interested.  Between spending a weekend learning from To Write Love on Her Arms counsellors to my pending arrival in seminary, the thought of dealing with mental health issues as a pastor has been square in my focus recently.  I do not believe there is any other social good the church can do that is in more need in mainstream America today than to be able to counsel people on mental health issues.  Sure, there are poor people.  And of course there are those with AIDS or other physical ailments.  But by in large, Americans are wealthy, healthy people (which, as an aside, makes the health-wealth-and-prosperity gospel all that more ridiculous since we are already much healthier and wealthier than 95% of the world).  However, what we are not is a very psychologically stable bunch.  Mental health issues such as depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide affect many Americans, regardless color, class, or gender, and should be just as prime a target of our churches as any other more tangible need.

A question that arises in mental health then, at least from the Christian perspective, is what can we say about it?  I will state right off that I think Christians can say a lot on the topic of mental health and that a reluctance to do so has led to a number of worsened conditions over the years.  Some mental health issues have a physical component to them, and handling that with medication should not be frowned upon.  But, where it really gets gritty is in trying to flesh out what we see the ultimate goal of the sufferer to be.  Is it just to contain a condition?  Or should we attempt to extinguish an issue altogether, if that is even possible?  Are we to rely on secular psychology or only Christian theology?

You can work through these questions on your own, as I have been doing and keep doing the more and more I am confronted with it.  As you think on it though, I would like to point you to a quote from John Piper talking about social justice that I think we can use to glean some information for ourselves in this situation:

“If you don’t love God, you can’t do anybody any ultimate good.  You can feed them and clothe them and house them and keep them comfortable while they perish.  But in God’s mind, that by itself is not what love is.  Love does feed and clothe and house- and keeps the commandments that include helping others know and love God in Christ.  But if you don’t love God, you can’t do that.  So if you don’t love God, you can’t love people in the way that counts for eternity.” [Finally Alive, pp.135-136]

Think about that.  Think about what it he means by “lov[ing] people in the way that counts for eternity.”   What might that look like for a Christian pastor or counsellor? and what is meant by “lov[ing] God” in such a way that doing this is possible?  If we really understand and embrace this thought I think it will inform a great deal of Christian psychology and will help us who desire to be pastors to actually be effective pastors in the truest meaning of the word.