This is one blog in a series where I will be reflecting on the subject of mental illness. My purpose in raising this series of questions is not to lead the reader to the same conclusions I have, but to facilitate better conversations and reflections on this subject within the church.

When engaging a difficult and highly personal subject, it is better to start with good questions than a list of answers. The better our questions are, the more responsibly we will utilize the answers of which we are confidant, the more humbly we will approach areas of uncertainty, and the more we will honor one another in the process of learning.

As I’ve read, counseled, and thought about the subject of mental illness, here are some of the questions that have emerged.

  • Would we want to eradicate all anxiety and depression if we were medically capable of doing so? What would we lose, that was good about life and relationships, if these unpleasant emotions were eradicated from human experience? Would that be heaven-on-earth or have unintended consequences that are greater than our current dilemma?
  • Can we have a “weak” brain—one given to problematic emotions or difficulty discerning reality—and a “strong” soul—one with a deep and genuine love for God? If we say “yes” to this question in areas like intelligence (e.g., low IQ and strong faith), would there be any reason to say “no” about those things described as mental illness?

“Most of the man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst of this raw material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us; all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises (p. 91-92).” C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

  • When do labels serve well (i.e., offering a sense of hope by breaking the sense of isolation and shame that comes with believing “my struggle is completely unique”) and when do they serve poorly (i.e., diminishing hope by creating a sense of determinism and stigma)? How free should a counselor be to choose whether to use or not to use labels based upon these potential benefits and detriments for a given individual?
  • What is happening when we “think” and “feel”? Are these experiences merely random neurological fireworks, the soul talking to itself using the physical organ of the brain like an internal telephone, or something else?

“It is as if the heart always leaves its footprints in the brain… The Bible predicts that what goes on in the heart is represented physically. But the Bible would clarify that such differences do not prove that the brain caused the thoughts and actions. It may very well be the opposite. Brain changes may be caused by these behaviors (p. 48).” Ed Welch in Blame It on the Brain?