Mental Illness

The gospels are full of stories of Jesus and his power to heal. You remember the dramatic story of the demon-possessed man in Mark in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20). I will never forget the description of this man before Jesus came, “no one could bind him, not even with chains, for he had often been bound with shackles and he had pulled the chains apart…” And I will never forget the powerful climax as Jesus cast out the demons and now the man was “sitting and clothed and in his right mind.”
“In his right mind.” Many people are not in their right mind. Mental illness seems to be an epidemic among us. At the same time, resources to help with such illness seem to be disappearing. In the church, we struggle to understand why Jesus doesn’t just show up and heal.
Jesus does not just show up and heal. The purpose of Jesus’ ministry of healing when He was on the earth was not to promise to heal every disease instantly. We do not doubt that Jesus can and does give miracles of healing. But these are always special circumstances. Healing does not usually come in a miraculous way or instantaneously. Even the great apostle Paul prayed for deliverance and received instead the promise of God’s grace to endure his affliction (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
As Christians we are especially prone to think that when we, or someone we love, has a mental or emotional illness that praying should be all we have to do. But mental illness is no different than physical illness. While we pray for God’s healing and help, we should also do what we do when we are physically sick, provide care and support, encourage them to seek a competent doctor and to follow the treatment plan.
When a brother or sister in the church has cancer, we show up with casseroles or mow their lawn or just sit and visit and provide a listening ear. When someone is dealing with mental illness, we have often abandoned them because of our fear or uncertainty. We need to show the love of Christ to them in just the same way.
Showing the love of Christ also means that we recognize that mental illness is usually a chronic disease. Even cancer is sometimes only a temporary physical condition. Mental illness might be managed by lifestyle changes and medicine, but it does not go away. Relapses and new symptoms will come. Be ready for that and don’t quit when those relapses come.
Remember that help needs to be offered in ways that are really helpful. Sometimes families and individuals dealing with mental illness need to say no to you. They cannot always cope with social interactions that would seem benign to healthier people.
Jesus has given us the task to be His hands of healing. Most of the healing that Jesus does comes from giving His Spirit through His church, His people. As we bless others with our presence and our help, we are Jesus’ ministry of healing. Jesus does show up and heal…through us.

Love in Christ,
Greg W. Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

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