Wednesday, August 7, 2019

'Mental illness' vs. the Gospel

An illness is when a person is sick or has a disease that interferes with normal organ function. There are clear symptoms and signs for identifying when one has a condition needing medical attention. The brain is one of our organs, and when it is not functioning right, there are clear symptoms and signs, like seizures, for when it needs medical attention. Medicine is in the realm of hard, natural science.

Anything that has to do with the mind first pertains to how one thinks. This is first a matter of philosophy and purpose, not body function. Of course, one's mental state can be affected by one's physical state, particularly as it relates to desires and unmet needs. Being hangry is a thing, but then we're already back to hard sciences.

When people speak of “mental illness,” they are neither speaking of things from natural science, nor from philosophy. A mental disorder, as it is more properly known, is in the realm of soft, social science dealing with human behavior.

I am neurologically hard-wired to have a propensity to take what people say literally. It's not a weakness; it's just an outlook and disposition. It may not be neurotypical, but it's not wrong. It's not something to be fixed. Some people don't understand this, and then misunderstand me. This has been a considerable source of friction in my life over the years. Only about four decades in, am I beginning to adequately unpack this. I can learn when people don't mean their statements literally, but it's just that—learned, not a default understanding.

Lots of people have things about them that are different, that deviate from someone's determined norm. It shouldn't be that big of a deal. We used to just call this being unique. Now, there's a diagnosis and therapy for almost everything. Some 10 million Americans are thought to have some kind of mental illness. For some people, their entire job, career, and life's work is centered on systematizing and categorizing all of these supposed disorders. The DSM has grown exponentially over its decades of existence.

Some things have come and gone from the list over the years like homosexuality. The DSM is not based on anything absolute, but rather, who can propose a theory and find the most support for it. The DSM knows nothing of sin.

And yet, sin is a reality. The entire purpose of Jesus coming and the Gospel is for him to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). People don't just have evil, or a damaged good nature; they are evil. We have evil wicked hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

We have a tendency to carve the world up into “good people” and “bad people,” but that's not the truth. Jesus alluded to this point when he asked, “Why do you call me good?” We're all bad. We are all evil enough to commit a mass shooting. Some people reject this and propose a theory this is not true, citing as evidence the fact that most supposedly evil people don't commit mass shootings. That doesn't matter. The Gospel is not based on consensus, but on the Word of God. Whatever way and however much our heart manifests its evil is not the point. The point is we all have an evil heart, face judgment for this, and each of us must be reconciled to a holy God who does not consider evil hearts acceptable.

The Church should be the clarion voice of clarity on these matters. References to “mental illness” are inherently skewed to despiritualize and secularize humanity. We should reject these distortions and maintain a clear Gospel message.

Others who are not in a position to clearly voice these truths should also avoid using or affirming this term, much less embracing it. For instance, a chaplain is not, as some would suppose, a “mental health professional.” A chaplain is there to address the spiritual nature of life.

What is not there to determine the acceptableness or not of my spiritual nature is the government. The government is there to punish those who do evil, not think evil. I find it rather appalling that there are three significant states that have a “Department of … Mental Hygiene.” What? No. No government or government entity is there to ensure the people governed have clean thoughts.

This is what happens when a government or people reject the truth of the Gospel, yet confront the reality of evil in the world. They must have some other explanation. The evil in man, they claim, is not evil; it's a lack of education, resources, mental health, etc. They may claim scientific rigor in their conclusions, but in the end, their reason cannot be sin.

Paul wrote of those who “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:15). People may realize they have a problem (accusing) or deny they have a problem (excusing), but either way they have a problem. We all have a problem. We all have sin.

Nowhere—not in the Church, not in the workplace, not in public policy—should we deny the sinfulness of man. Dismissing sin as mental illness is wrong. (Branding people's legitimate tendencies as mental illness is also wrong.) The Church is there to proclaim the Answer to sin, and the state should not interfere with her ability to do that, directly or indirectly.

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