Questions I Get From “Church” People About Mental Illness:

Questions About Morality, One’s Conscience, Righteousness, Grace & Mercy

-  (From a Pastor) Question: How do you deal with a person facing a mental disorder (schizophrenia, bipolar, psychotic, delusional, etc.) when they morally break the law, are unfaithful in marriage, treat others cruelly, are self centered, and can bring havoc and dissention to their families, etc.?  I am pastor of a flock, and have the moral obligation to address their misbehavior as my sheep if.  What do I do?

Response “Sanity” is acting within the “rational” boundaries we establish as our moral code. “Insanity” is acting beyond those boundaries believing they don’t exist.  You cannot “rationalize” with someone when they are mentally ill.  They do not believe they are ill because they believe their rationalizations are real and logical, making sense to them. Debating with them is ineffective. It makes sense to them if they are hyper-sexual to have a sexual affair outside their moral code of marriage because it is real to them and they are driven by this facet of their disease.  This does not make it morally right, in fact, just the opposite is true, but we need to understand where they are at those trying moments and get them help with their “disease”.  When mentally healthy, their moral code will come back. They will experience “guilt” and “remorse” for what they have done when ill.  Their conscience will work again!  When Jimmy Cricket is ill, he can not “give a little whistle”, but he can when he is healthy.  We need to help the person get healthy again rather than being judgmental and ostracizing them.  Rejection causes isolation, and isolation to a person who is mentally ill can bring tragic results for themselves and others.

- Question: But in the Bible it tells how you are to “give some over to satan” if they are immoral and unteachable.  In order to maintain a high standard of “righteousness”, isn’t ostracizing someone for the sake of the flock okay sometimes?

Response The church, historically, has looked at mental illness as “demonic” over the ages.  They believe that those fighting mental illness have already been given “over to satan” because of their actions.  How untrue that assumption is, for I know many Christians who love Jesus, have a deep faith in Him, yet still fight mental illness in their lives. In the Bible that Jesus healed the sick (physically) and cast out demons (mentally), but the Church has not come to grips how to do that in today’s society and culture.  According to Biblical accounts, people with seizures had demons; the demoniac who hid in the tombs and self-mutilated had legions of them, BUT Jesus healed them all. If the Church is the extension of Jesus today, I ask, “Where are the healings?”  The Puritanical church at Salem Massachusetts looked at women who were psychotic or schizophrenic as witches and burned them at the stake rather than offering them the healing they so desperately needed. I have personally seen a pastor try demonic deliverance on a person who was schizophrenic without success.  I have met people who have been supernaturally healed physically, but never have met one who was supernaturally healed mentally of a severe mental disorder. That does not mean that it has never happened, but in my experience I have not met one.  

“Righteous” means being in a “right relationship” with Jesus.  I personally know Christians who are in a “right” relationships with Jesus, who have made him not only the Savior of their life but also Lord, who worship and adore him, who experience a personal relationship with him when healthy.  When ill, depression has made them “doubt their salvation”, extreme darkness prevails, and no religious rationalization of “assurance” can persuade them differently.  Mania has made them super-spiritualize everything, and no Biblical dissertations or debate, Bible Studies, Christian counseling, or sermons can make a difference.  During mental illness, one can lose that intimacy with Jesus, and often the dark side rises, voices telling of destruction, of self-metallization, etc.  I know the scriptural passage of “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world”, but I do not know why darkness has such a powerful prominence at those moments over one’s faith in Jesus.

Question: So how is the Church to respond?  How are we as believers in Jesus to respond?

AnswerI have learned more about “grace” and “mercy” through my journey facing my spouse’s mental illness than through all my years of Bible study as a Christian (over 50 years).  I know “grace” to be “unmerited favor” by God Almighty. Mental Illness and its stigma knows what “unmerited” means.  To be in God’s favor in the darkness of times is topics found in Psalms when David faced some of those same issues. I believe that someone facing mental illness understands “unmerited favor” more than we who are healthy.   “Mercy” is extended when you have no control over a situation. If a person has a gun to your head, and you are helplessly under their control, they have the power to take your life or restore it. You can only beg for “mercy”.  A person with a mental illness is at the “mercy” of their disease.  The gun is pointed at their head.  They have no control if it is going to go off into another psychotic, bipolar, or schizophrenic episode or if it is going to let them live a sane life.  If God’s Presence is at the “mercy seat”, then people fighting mental illness may have a better perspective of understanding the “Presence of God” by knowing his “mercy” than we, who are healthy, can understand.