Stuck Between Worlds
“Why isn’t God healing this???!!!” Georgia* felt a little stuck between worlds. Her severe struggles seemed to need more help than she was getting. However, her church and community group commonly taught her that Christ is sufficient to heal–with the important role of prayer, Scripture, and community.** They had long been excellent supports and nonjudgmental, and they were never against medicine or therapists per se. Yet, for deeply entrenched problems of OCD and Addiction, Georgia believes the message was quite clear: the deeper battle is one of faith. After all, God is our Healer.
For Christians, a powerful question summarizes the tension: Do I seek God or treatment?
What If There’s More to this Picture? Come and See
The question above is misleading. It’s not God OR treatment. It is often implied, though left unstated. Those with mental suffering are often left ‘holding the bill’ (sometimes literally).
I wish to seek God above all else, and part of what has helped me seek God has been treatment for my mental suffering. Georgia asked me what I recommended for her, and I shot straight. For her OCD, she would benefit less from the tips given in her Bible study and more from ERP. For her pornography addiction, I recommended she dig into options that respect both the intensity of the struggle and also provide a concurrent level of help, such as peer support (e.g., 12 steps), focused therapy, and/or a mix of options. I encouraged her to stay connected in her church, work on her diet and get sunlight, pursue consistent prayer, study Scripture, exercise, and serve others.
A lot of it entailed steps and techniques not developed by Christian thinkers. She was open–but hesitated.
What Do I Tell My Family?
She asked for advice on how to speak to her family and faith community. I told her to encourage them to “Come and see” (I was thinking of John 1:39). This is my best defense.
After 17+ years of walking with everyone from pastors to stay-at-home Moms, I have seen firsthand the freedom experienced in mind, body, and soul from pursuing psychological treatments with intentionality and care–alongside mature spiritual growth. I think the healthiest people have a mix of measures that are both “secular” and “sacred.” God sends sun and rain for the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). He loves us. HARD STOP.
He loves us.
Yes, we have a relationship with God if we receive Christ. There are special privileges that come with it. But don’t get it twisted–he loves us all and provides good things even to those who reject him. Why would we think mental health is some different category than any other benefit that God showers upon all his image-bearers?
For years, I have studied, counseled, spoken, and written on this subject. I fiercely respect people who hold very different views. I’m beginning to speak into the void directly and assertively because I see what goes on in the void when no one is fighting for outcasts–often those who have mental and emotional struggles different from the typical population. It’s called “disorder” for a reason. I like to help people find order. God is a God of order and peace, not confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Georgia was asking for wisdom on talking to others, but she was grappling with the issue for herself. How can she have strong faith while relying on things that don’t seem to come directly from her spiritual practices?
My Two Key Arguments
The two key points I want to make here are:
- Come and see. Some of the brightest minds and deepest faith come across my doorstep and walk away with significant improvement, mostly by employing psychological treatments (because that’s most of what I do, though when requested and warranted, will speak directly into something that seems to be a faith issue).
- Is it possible God works through various measures for growth and glory? Can there be genuinely physical, psychological, and emotional challenges that, while interconnected, often benefit from just one being addressed? Could there be problems of the brain and body that can find health through predominantly physical or psychological means? Is it possible all these things are part of the whole picture of yearning for God? Can my faith grow deeper through it?
My critical defense on this topic is my experience. If I am wrong, may the Lord show me. Whatever is good and lovely about what I share, may it sink in–gently and firmly–and show you hope.
The position I hold has fewer “catchphrases” (e.g., “just have faith,” “trust in God”). Maybe one of the reasons that the perspectives counter to using psychological treatments are so catchy is that they can be quickly communicated and are straightforward. This is all good and well when dealing with things that should be simple, like the Gospel (Mark 10:13) or Occam’s razor in philosophy. I have read succinct books and arguments for why the Bible, prayer, and the local church are enough for any Christian to overcome emotional problems. I would love to believe them. But I don’t think they tell a complete picture. I think they tell a whole picture in some cases for some people–not all. And I also work with deeply faithful people who trust God with faith to move mountains (Matthew 17:20-21). That was my first clue years ago that maybe something else besides faith was at play.
Ultimately, God is the possessor of all truth and protects all those who trust in him (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 18:2). His ways are unfathomable to us (Romans 11:33-36). I will be wrong about plenty in my life, and I stay prayerful regularly about these things. If you find yourself at a crossroads, fed up with what life has been like and yearning for some change, though afraid if you pursue therapy, recovery, or any other endeavor that may not inherently be Christ-centered, I beckon you to ask the Lord if it could just be the direction He has to open yourself up to growth of body, mind, and spirit in ways that seem incongruent with what you may have been (or are) taught.
There are few topics that get me more excited or riled. My heart breaks for those of you who have been mistreated. But the church is beautiful–namely because it is God’s love and God loves to work with messy people. I see so much good and so many local churches getting it right. I will keep working to write, speak, and make poignant arguments while providing education. Will you join me? Drop a comment to let me know how you are a part of loving those with mental suffering.
My Prayer for Us
Father, Thy will be done, not mine; your will–on earth as it is in heaven. Help me care for all those who come across my path and to experience your care for me, Lord, that my heart would simply spill out of from the abundance I have with you, Jesus. Amen