A Christian Response To The Mentally Ill


A Reaction To The Newtown Shootings

Another mass shooting in the U.S., another news spectacle, and another tie with mental illness.  True, the tragedy of twenty young innocent children and six adults is horrific, and the news media is placing the magnitude of the pain of the parents, family, and community under the microscope as if it is incomprehensible, but can you imagine the pain, the guilt, the embarrassment, the shame, etc. that the brother of the shooter is feeling who lost his mother, and estranged, mentally anguished troubled brother while being blamed at first for the shooting because of stolen identity. Those of us who have loved ones who face severe mental illness cringed because it just could have been our loved one who made the news.  We are use to blame, to manipulation, to fear, to ridicule, to misunderstanding, to embarrassment, to the pain and stigma that mental illness can bring when engulfing our loved one. The secular world is questioning gun control as a possible solution, but missing the underlining cause for the shooting: mental illness. What should the Christian response be to all of this blackness, darkness, abyssfull behavior?

Mercy: God’s Presence in the Temple’s Holy of Holies was above the “mercy” seat protected by two cherubim. What is mercy? Police officers at a Crisis Intervention Training course sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill recently could identify. If someone has a gun against your temples in your head, you are at their “mercy”; you have no control over if they will pull the trigger or not. It is out of your hands, and you are at the total will and actions of the one whose finger is on the trigger. Then you beg for “mercy”. For one facing severe mental illness, the mental disorder they are facing is the finger on the trigger; they are at the “mercy” of the disease, but God never pulls the trigger; He extends “mercy” often through forgiveness, unmerited favor and kindness in spite of who we are, what we are like, or what we have done.  Our actions, attitudes, and sin qualify us for the trigger to be pulled, but God opts to not pull it, drop the gun, and extend a hand of help and hope instead. In the midst of darkness, He is light; in the midst of hopelessness, He is hope; in the midst of confusion, He brings clarity; in the midst of insanity, He can bring sanity.

Grace:  In the midst of all the pain, confusion, and maelstrom of emotions, God extends unmerited favor, kindness, and love. When we deserve the worst, He extends His best.  In place of judgment and condemnation, He extends unmerited favor. In place of engulfing guilt, He extends forgiveness and peace. In place of bondage, He gives freedom. Those fighting mental illness probably know more about grace than we who don’t have to face it.  Depression brings darkness, hopelessness, anxiety, fears, and uncertainty, yet God’s “grace” offers light, hope, stability, and peace in the midst off all this.  Often many negative deeds and actions by one fighting mental illness is actually a cry for help and “grace” to be extended their way.

Connectivity:  Mental illness brings disconnectivity. There is a feeling of detachment from one’s feelings, social relationships, family, friends, and life in general.  Those standing in the peripheral circles around one’s life now look distant, as they withdraw, not sure how to respond, creating even more disconnectedness. Soon the one fighting mental illness feels “detached” from everyone; he/she becomes a loner.  This is when they find themselves in a dangerous position.  The Christian Gospel is all about “connectivity”: 1) man disconnected from their God can be reconnected through forgiveness from the Father, God, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, their sacrificial lamb; 2) man disconnected from each other can be reconnected through reconciliation, forgiveness by each other, bringing restored relationships; 3) man disconnected with his mind, his emotions, himself can be restored through God’s healing touch restoring “the mind of Christ” in one’s mind and a “heart for God” with one’s emotions.  The Body of Christ, the Church, is all about connecting with one another, reaching out to one another, and restoration of relationships.  It is exactly what those battling mental illness need.  Instead of isolation and loneliness, the Church must offer them fellowship and acceptance.

Often when one battling dark depression picks suicide as a viable option they do not want their attempt to succeed; they want someone to intervene because it is actually a cry for help?  Judgment, criticism, and isolation are just what the person doesn’t need, but usually gets from us who do not understand their conflict, the darkness that they are experiencing, nor the emotional pain that torments their very existence. We Christians, the Church, need at those moments to not ostracize them, criticize them, nor ban them to isolation and loneliness. It is then that we need to “connect” with them, for that is the gospel. That is the hope they are looking for.

Many are asking, “What can we do to prevent another disaster like the one this weekend?” Hopefully we will extend “grace”, show “mercy”, and help them to connect with their God, their family, and people who will extend “grace” and “mercy”.