The Role of the Gospel in Mental Health
We are two and a half years into a global pandemic, we have been hit by a tidal wave of cultural upheavals including identity confusion, heightened racial tensions, and the judgment-infused, silencing power of cancel culture. On top of that, we continue to see dramatic and often terrifying shifts on the geopolitical front.
The impact of the pandemic alone on our collective mental health is eye-opening.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that 1 in 5 US adults reported that the pandemic had a significantnegative impact on their mental health. That’s about 66 million people. Younger generations of Christians are impacted significantly as well. In December 2021, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities reported that demand for mental health services at two-thirds of Christian universities increased during the pandemic, while even more (78%) saw signs of student distress such as struggles with classwork, participation, and attendance.
The struggle is real, and the struggle is for Christians, too. This is not an issue that is “out there” or “for those who do not have Jesus.” The effects of the Fall impact every one of us, and the area of mental health is no exception. I think this is incredibly important to keep in mind.
But it’s not enough to acknowledge that mental health struggles are real. As Christians, we need to be mindful of how the gospel brings comfort and deliverance – both for us as we struggle, and for others we encounter who are facing mental health challenges in these hard times. Three important reminders come to mind.
The Gospel reminds us that we are not our own
One of my favorite books outside of Scripture is the Heidelberg Catechism. It begins with this question: “What is my only comfort in life and death?” And the answer begins with words that wash over me often in my lowest moments: “I am not my own.” It’s a stark reminder that as Christians, we don’t belong to ourselves. We’re not owned by our broken bodies and imperfect brain chemistry. I belong to another – to the One who has paid it all for me and declared me righteous. Not only do I belong to Him, but in the not-so-distant future, I will stand with Him, unbroken in every way in glory. What a great reminder for myself and also to pass on to others who may be anxious, in mental anguish, or simply overwhelmed.
The Gospel reminds us that Jesus wants us as we are
I can almost hear “Just as I am” as I write this (younger readers can feel free to Google it). We encourage non-believers with that a lot; telling them that Jesus loves them just as they are. However, as Christians, when we struggle with severe depression, high anxiety, or more severe forms of mental illness, doubt can begin to creep in. We can begin to feel like our inability to summon joy, consistently depressed moods, or unpredictable thoughts are more serious than other struggles. But we have to remind ourselves that this is an absolute lie. Jesus is well aware of our fallen condition – our physical and mental ailments – and He wants it all. While Satan comes to steal your confidence, Jesus is right there, reminding you and me that He came to give us abundant life – just as we are (John 10:10).
The Gospel reminds us that we will one day be fully delivered
Perhaps one of the most dangerous things we can tell ourselves or someone else who struggles with a mental health issue is “trust in Jesus, He will take it all away immediately!” Of course, He might. However, He may very well intend to use that weakness to glorify Himself and show His power in that very weakness. He may say, “my grace is sufficient.” We may need to continue with therapy, we may need to continue with the prescription; we may need to continue with the support groups. However, one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that though we will have trouble in this world, Jesus has overcome it (John 16:33)! And because of this amazing fact, we will be delivered from our ailments, our weaknesses, and our struggles. The gospel is a message of deliverance! You are delivered immediately into the security of salvation upon trusting in Christ – and one day, you will be delivered from the brokenness in the world – the brokenness in us as well.
At a time when I was battling severe depression, I remember a non-Christian friend asking me, “aren’t you supposed to have the joy of the Lord or something?” He had seen me go through some major struggles and never felt I was living inconsistently with my faith. But now, seeing me battling depression, he was asking, “What’s wrong with you? This isn’t how Christians are supposed to be.” It made me want to ask the same question. “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have the joy of the Lord?” This was not a big help for the state of my depression.
I wish I knew then what I know now. But I do know it know. Mental health is a real struggle for an incredible amount of people. And if we’re going to be any help to ourselves when we struggle or others as they’re struggling, we’re going to have to step in gospel first.
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