Sermon Q&A, Part 1 – Mental Illness

Sermon Q&A, Part 1 – Mental Illness

Sermons are designed to provoke questions because sermons are designed to challenge us with the truth of God’s Word. One example of a sermon preached in the New Testament is Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. That sermon ended with the listeners asking, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Yesterday’s sermon at Desert Hills provoked many good and significant questions after the services. Because many people might have similar questions, I want to raise them here and give some answers to help us think biblically about the topics addressed as we discuss the message with one another throughout the week.

There are three key questions that have been discussed, so I will answer one question each day today through Thursday. Make sure you check the blog throughout the week as I post answers to a new question prompted by Sunday’s sermon.

Question 1: Should people who have a mental illness due to physical trauma to the brain receive medical care as well as spiritual help, or is all mental illness strictly a spiritual problem?

This question is significant because it will guide how we help those who are hurting both physically and mentally, and answering it poorly will create unnecessary suffering. We have to recognize that some people struggle in their minds because of physical trauma to their brains. Often this happens through no fault of their own. Babies who are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or whose mothers used drugs, people who are in traumatic accidents that cause brain damage, people with genetic issues that create abnormalities in the brain, and people who struggle with other neurological issues all face the challenge not only of renewing their minds but caring for their brains, and these two issues can be linked because of how God created us as both physical and spiritual creatures.

People who have medical issues with their brains should treat those issues medically. To use an example that is not neurological but is medical nonetheless, someone with diabetes should take insulin as medically necessary. We know that managing blood sugar poorly not only results in physical problems but makes it difficult to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, such as love and patience. Just because the medical problem left untreated can create a spiritual problem does not mean that the medical problem should be ignored and only the spiritual needs addressed. It also does not mean that the spiritual problem is only spiritual. Physical elements are affecting the spiritual life, and we must recognize the inter-connected nature we experience as human beings to show compassion that helps those suffering with physical and, consequently, spiritual issues. Whenever we have physical problems with our bodies, we should do what we can within biblical parameters to address those physical problems, knowing that doing so can sometimes have a beneficial spiritual impact as well.

At times we might not know whether we are grappling with a problem that is spiritual or a problem that is more complex because it is both physical and spiritual. To go back to our example of a diabetic, that person might not realize his difficulty showing patience is connected to a blood sugar problem until he learns that he is diabetic. If you are struggling with a recurring spiritual issue, you should seek biblical counsel from a pastor or other spiritually mature person who can discuss it with you. If it seems that your struggle could be connected to a physical/medical problem, you should also see a physician, especially one with a biblical worldview. A qualified medical professional can help treat whatever physical ailments you might be battling.

To sum it up, we should use a both/and approach to physical/spiritual problems, not an either/or. We treat the whole person with love and care. We seek to remedy or mitigate the physical ailment, and we lovingly disciple the person so they can honor Christ within the challenges they face physically.

14 Comments

  1. Nancy Stiller

    Not all mental illness has a direct medical cause, but as the wife and mother of three folks who are bipolar, I can tell you that you don’t treat that as just a spiritual issue. Dave once went for a whole year without his medication and struggled to solve his “spiritual issue.” After a session with his Christian medical doctor, he realized that there was no shame in taking the medication that kept him on an even keel. (He had been shamed into going off his medication by some well-meaning Christians.) His doctor assured him that though it couldn’t be seen the way a broken arm or some other physical ailment was, it was just as real an ailment.

    • Robb Brunansky (Author)

      Hi Nancy, thanks for sharing your experience. Every situation is unique. Those who are struggling should be sure to see a qualified biblical counselor. If they think they might have some physical/medical problem that needs treatment, they should also seek help from a physician with a biblical worldview.

      • David oconnor

        I have been diagnosed with a chemical imbalance in my brain by a neurologist and I have had several health problems, procedures and ailments in my short life. I have been misdiagnosed for several years at times. I don’t say all this for people to pity me. I say all this because I have gone several years with ailments and mental disorders and I didn’t have any treatment for those disorders and ailments. And I would use my ailments and disorders as an excuse to not be the husband and provider I needed to be. The thing we must always remember with mental disorders and physical ailments in this lifetime is that God knows for certain that we will have physical problems in this life and God never has given us an excuse to use them to justify or condone sinful behavior. What we need to be careful about is the diagnosis of a mental disorder or physical ailment resulting in an imbalance in the brain, is still not an excuse for sin. Also, I firmly believe that God does use physical ailments in our lives to sactify use and proclaim His glory in us. In scripture paul dealt with a physical ailment and we don’t know what exactly it was but it was a messenger from Satan,** and it affected him in a physical way**. I believe every ailment and imbalance is specifically decreed by our sovereign God and he knows exactly what’s going on and exactly what we need in that moment. And right after that passage of scripture where Paul pleads with God to take his thorn in the flesh, God says, “my grace is sufficient”…….
        in my own life I have fallen asleep in extreme amount of pain and fatigue with no earthly remedy to relieve pain but I could cry out to God! I would cry repeating what would look like a Schizophrenia breakdown…. “your grace is sufficient”.. “your power is perfected in my weakness”. I would repeat this and would believe every bit of it! I would believe that there is not a single molecule outside of God’s sovereign rule! I believe God uses physical and mental ailments to conform us to His image and I praise God for the suffering that He allowed me to experience and I would have not have wanted my brain chemistry to be altered in those times of suffering. And God was faithful and delivered through the times were I couldn’t think straight, were I couldn’t see from ocular migrains causing temporary blindness from a side affect of chemotherapy. I think alot of times God allows imbalances in our brain and physical ailments to expose our sin and show us that we are completely dependent on Him in every way and it humbles us. But also promises us that His grace is sufficient! Alone! God didn’t tell Paul that His grace is sufficient and also take this herb to heal your epilepsy( potential ailment). No, God allowed it to continue…. because it made Paul weak and dependent and it humbled him…. I think sometimes we can take drugs to suppress these times that God is trying to work in our lives and humble us and cause us to be more dependent on him.. im not saying there is never a time for anti depressants but I this as a wise Christian we should seek counsel from a biblical counselor before we ever consider taking them. We must make sure this isn’t something as a result from sin which God does say! We can become weak and sick from our sin in our lives. I have seen in alot of believers lives that have contemplated taking drugs for depression or other related mental health problems it was actually sin and them riddled with worry and anxiety causing them to not think clearly. This is why it is very wise in my opinion, realizing we are also spiritual beings, that God may cause an imbalance to remind us that we are not eating our spiritual food.. or to remind us when we need to be in the word and feed that part of us. I have found in my life when I am anxious and worried and feel like I’m going crazy… I’m usually not in the word everyday and I’m not walking in the spirit. When I’m in the word eating my spiritual food and walking in the spirit, when the imbalances come and depression hits scripture is in my mind and my mind Is renewed and ready to deal with what may come.

        Things I ***DIDN’T say:
        – drug for mental illness are never necessary
        – people who take these drugs don’t have enough faith
        – mental illness is always from a sin problem
        -natural remedies are not useful

        – I have discussed this many times with many people over the years and think the best plan is biblical counseling first and seeking counsel for potential medical treatments from both biblical counselors and doctors who are Christians.

    • Linda

      Great points Bob!! PTSD is something many people suffer with and it should definitely include Biblical counseling and physical medical evaluation. God bless our veterans and soldiers. Linda Brunansky

  2. Linda

    Excellent perspective! It explains a holistic approach to being a spiritual and physical human being. Biblical and thoughtful as well as encouraging. Thank you!

  3. Bob Reynolds

    Robb- You are right on!. A perfect example is my fellow GIs who are suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury who may or may not be receiving proper medical treatment. Unfortunately in many cases in our woke military and the VA they are not receiving spiritual counsel as well. Certainly during my years of service not all our chaplains were true believers, but those who were could give sound Biblical counsel. We need to keep our military personnel and chaplains in our prayers. Thanks for preaching sound Biblical truth.

  4. Edward Gerdemann

    Amen! Perhaps the greatest thing God gave us, besides His saving grace, is our minds, and I believe He expects us to use them. While it’s true that human minds, because of sin, have caused many great evils, it’s also true they have done some wonderful things that can improve the human condition. There is nothing in scripture that says we should not take advantage of science when it can heal us physically and mentally which I believe is also connected to the spiritual side. Those who say we should not use science to treat the physical being should also refrain from driving cars, flying on airplanes, eating any type of processed food, using electronic devices or engaging or utilizing anything in which human scientific discoveries have made life easier.

    I consider all technologies that help us to be ultimately gifts from God. Just because Satan might use them for evil doesn’t mean that we should not use them for good.

  5. Dan

    Thank you, Pastor Robb.

    After listening to the sermon, I really appreciate the thrust of this blog series. Since there are two more posts yet to come on this subject, I don’t want to be premature in my observations, but I’ll share a couple of them here in regard to question #1 with the only goal that they are constructive and beneficial to all.

    Question #1 refers to “physical trauma to the brain” and in the post, the term “medical issues” is used when saying, “People who have medical issues with their brains should treat those issues medically.” This can be true, but it can just as easily be problematic to the reader without further defining exactly what constitutes a physical/medical mental issue (illness). Part of the problem stems from the stigmatism that comes with a diagnosis of mental illness. Another problem can be almost the opposite, an overreliance or an identity built upon such a label. Both problems find solutions in God’s Word, specifically Gal 2:20, 1 Pet 1:3-9. So then, a lot of caution should be taken before using such a term.

    I believe that we can know for certain whether to categorize it as such and begin treating it from a purely “medical” approach. I think your example of diabetes and the effect of insulin on the brain is good. It’s good because it demonstrates a condition that is measurable, observable, and quantifiable. We know empirically what a proper insulin level should be, and the medical intervention is targeted and specific. My point is that we should be very particular about using terms like mental illness so that we’re only describing organic conditions that are quantifiable and measurable/observable (i.e. show up on scans) and even then, I don’t think we can unequivocally say that they should be treated medically and that’s because even sin patterns (sin practiced over time, like porn) can cause observable damage to the brain. In those cases, the treatment simply cannot be purely medical, if at all. Even for direct trauma to the brain, we must be alert and ready to use God’s Word to treat the flesh as it reacts to such a trauma. In our modern world, the process of diagnosis goes like this: Identify a mental illness based upon an ever-changing definition of the term, prescribe the medical treatment that is popular at the time, and reduce all negative (sinful) behavioral traits down to merely attributes of the disease, thereby removing personal responsibility and effectively excluding it from Biblical scrutiny.

    I would suggest that medical (i.e., organic) illnesses do not make us sin. To say anything less is to create a category of sin that one cannot be fully responsible for, and this is flatly rejected by scripture. There are no valid situations in which I am not personally accountable to obey all that I have been taught and commanded in scripture. In fact, as a Christian, I am told that I am not only accountable but I am also empowered to obey because of the gift of the Holy Spirit. My failure to do so rests on my failure to submit my will to God’s will and cannot be blamed on any infirmity I may be suffering. An example of proper use of “medical” (mental) illness would be concussions and resulting migraines, vertigo, memory, or vision loss, etc. The concussion caused measurable trauma to the brain that shows up on scans and has physical manifestations that are strictly amoral. That’s not to say that someone with a concussion and resulting symptoms is immune to having a sinful response to this. Self-pitying absolutely and invariably gets used to excuse sinful behavior and the loving remedy for this is to work to rescue our brother from this trap and see him restored to a right identity in Christ. What such an afflicted brother needs is Christ: to know Him and to touch His body which is you and I. Together we can play a part in the restoration of our brothers, but we must guard them just as we guard ourselves against any excuse for sin in the name of pity.

    Consequently, I would suggest that the remaining “inorganic mental illnesses” (those which cannot be measured, observed, and quantified) can trace their root to this same pride, self-centeredness, and self-pity. I know that such a claim will be perceived as unloving and outrageous today, but only when we dispense with God’s Word and opt instead for secular philosophy. If God’s word is sufficient for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, then there is no area of life that it does not touch. There are no missing books in which God meant to deal more specifically with PTSD, anorexia, or schizophrenia.

    We can fully trust God’s Word in every situation! It gives life and hope and light!

  6. Nancy Stiller

    Not to be argumentative, but perhaps Dan has never had to deal with someone who has schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. I know that these are mental illnesses caused by brain chemical imbalances and am not sure they are “quantifiable,” but I do know that they cannot be treated strictly from a spiritual perspective.

    • Gus

      Also not to be argumentative…

      I agree with Dan in his inclination to question categories that cannot be quantified empirically, but more importantly from the word of God.

      “Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder” are modern categories foreign to the text of Scripture, based on a materialist view of human beings, developed by atheistic assumptions of psychology. At the end of the day, this is an issue of ultimate authorities.

      In other words who has the ultimate authority to define terms, objectively? Who gets to define evil or illness and by what standard?

      Nebuchadnezzar’s behavior in our day would have been excused as some biochemical “imbalance,” I’m sure. However, it was revealed that he was under the wrath of God. Claiming to be wise, God made him a fool (Romans 1, Exodus 34:7).

      Nancy, would you be willing to share the worldview of who diagnosed your children? Were they affiliated with Christ, in whom the Scripture says, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”? Paul continues in that verse by explaining, “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” It is significant to notice that Paul acknowledges that the world has plenty of “plausible arguments” that can dissuade us from the revelation of God. How would you test if you have been deceived in your assessment of your children?

      Nancy, you claim you “know these are issues caused by brain chemical imbalances,” and that you “know they cannot be treated strictly from a spiritual perspective.” How do you know? What constitutes “knowledge“ in your worldview? I sincerely ask in love.

      I am only asking to try to figure out what your test is to try to discern what Paul warned Timothy about: “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith. Grace be with you all (1 Tim. 6:20-21).”

      With sincere concern for Truth,

      Gus

  7. Nancy Stiller

    Gus, my husband, who is a godly man was diagnosed over 40 years ago by a Christian psychiatrist, as was my son at age 19. I know what happens when my husband is off his medication. It is not a situation that he can control with solely spiritual help. I am so angry that people want to judge him for something he has no more control over than does a diabetic does. It is the same situation that he encountered years ago when he tried to go without medication.

  8. Linda

    God have mercy on us all. We all display much ignorance and sometimes wisdom in discussions and in this world that is so divided in so many areas i hope we will step away from saying our own opinions snd pray for each other. Pray that God in his infinite wisdom and mercy will lead His people in every health situation and pray more when we don ‘t agree with others choices. God in His sovereign grace will lead us to trust and often bearing our souls, opinions, fears, doubts and needs to Him. We must not divide ourselves as the Body of Christ with judgements on others when we know nothing of what they are living with. We must encourage one another in God’s love, plan, and examining His Word and asking His Holy Spirit to guide ourselves and those we will spend eternal life with. Mercy and compassion must lead our lives not our book knowledge other than the Holy Word of God. May God have mercy on us all.

  9. David D. Edgington

    Here are some thoughts about what is commonly called, “Mental Illness.” If anyone wishes to contact me, you can do so directly at “[email protected]” or (602) 384-4417.

    •When we speak of the “Sufficiency of Scripture,” we are saying that Scripture is sufficient on all that is speaks about.  It does not purport to tell you how to change oil in your car, or set a broken bone.  But it DOES tell you how to be saved (2 Timothy 3:15) and how to counsel any problem of living (2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Psalm 119:24).  When it speaks on history, it is completely accurate.  When it deals with science, it never lies.  When it addresses anthropology, harmartiology (study of sin), Christology, Pneumatology (study of the Holy Spirit), etc it is completely sufficient.  And if it does not “answer your question,” then you are asking the wrong question, or a question that God has chosen not to answer.  And we need to humbly accept that since God knows all that we do not know (Romans 9:18-23; Deut 29:29; Ps 19:12; 90:8; Job 34:32).

    •We need to be careful to distinguish between a “Brain Injury” and what is called “Mental Illness.” The former is due to trauma (TBI) or injury caused by an external force (such as in a motorcycle accident), the latter is due to other factors, which will be addressed below.
    •”Mental Illness” (MI) is a metaphorical term. Please consider that your “mental” faculties cannot possibly be literally “ill.”
    •When we say we have a “sick” economy or an individual does depraved/wicked things, it is common to say he is a “sick” individual. But this too is metaphorical – actually it is a euphemism. The same is true for MI. On the surface, it “seems” more merciful to categorize it euphemistically, but in reality it is side-stepping the real problem.

    •It is cruel and lacking compassion to tell someone diagnosed with an MI that they “lack faith” or “just need to trust God more.”
    •Taking medication is not sinful, but that is really not the issue.
    •Getting a person off of medications is not the goal either.
    •The goal is sanctification (if the person is saved), or salvation (if they are not).

    •It is usually very difficult to counsel someone biblically who is on psychotropic medications since it typically masks the problem. Sanctification is very elusive for them. Nevertheless, I counsel people all the time who are on a variety of medications. I have been a certified Biblical (Nouthetic) Counselor for over 25 years.
    •We should “put on compassion” (Col. 3:12) for those who have been labeled with an MI. Labels are often counterproductive to sanctification and trap suffering people, rather than give them the hope that we find in the gospel of Jesus Christ. When people say “I am bi-polar” or “I have clinical depression,” it is often hard for them to get past the label and find any hope for sanctified change. They become convinced that no change or improvement is possible. They believe it is the same as saying, “I have the flu” or, “I have cancer,” but it is not. Be careful to accept any label – other than those found in Scripture.
    •The gospel of Jesus Christ is the key – believe it and apply it. That is not a simplistic answer, but it is simple.
    •Martin Luther “The gospel cannot be preached and heard enough, because it cannot be grasped well enough.”
    •I have counseled many people diagnosed with an MI (and am currently counseling several now). All people diagnosed with an MI can and should be counseled through the Word of God. In fact, for those who have been told by their Psychiatrist that they should be on (psychotropic) medication, I urge them to delay that until we can see how God’s transforming grace works in them through careful application of the Scriptures.
    •I have counseled many people diagnosed with schizophrenia (including my own father), bi-polar disorder, suicidal tendencies and a host of other professionally diagnosed MI.
    •I recently counseled two people who were suicidal due to trauma in their lives. Both were diagnosed with MI. Both are believers, but one rejected biblical counsel and decided to go the medication route. The other received the Word of God and has been applying it. The former is not growing and still has the same struggles. The latter is growing by the grace God supplies to him. I don’t condemn the former, but I am deeply saddened for him.
    •Some (like the man above) view medication as a short cut. He does not want to humble himself before God’s Word. He wants a 
“quick fix” and going the medication route “seems” like a quick fix.
    •I have counseled many schizophrenics and have yet to counsel one who did not struggle with pride and bitterness. See the following passages for insight (Psalm 73:21-22; Dan. 4:16; Deut. 28:28, 34; Zech. 12:4).
    •Remember that “a biblical worldview,” should definitely include a view of the “sufficiency of Scripture” as described above.

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