In the wake of two high-profile celebrity suicides last month and the countless crimes from plagued gunman ravishing across school campuses and workplaces, it would seem the national conversation regarding mental health has intensified. I’m now seeing many clergy, denominations, religious orders, and concerned Christians discuss a very complex issue such as suicide in the public sphere. Not only discussing it but attempting to educate the public on various approaches to address the millions suffering quietly.
Recently, released numbers from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) validate this claim on those who suffer. In 2016, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States with approximately 45,000 lives lost. If that isn’t startling or revealing than don’t grow numb just yet. Suicide has jumped to 30% in nearly half the states since 1999.
With all that said, what do some Christians have to offer on addressing this growing public health concern? The usual “Jesus loves you” or scripture quoting approach that has become tiresome and repetitive.
Far too often, many Christians use this as a go-to response for many complicated problems.
For those suffering from pornography addiction “Jesus loves you. ”
For those suffering drug addiction “Jesus loves you.”
Maybe a 2nd Corinthians verse on “God’s power made stronger in weakness” is thrown out there too.
It’s almost as if these common “go-to” phrases and routines have become the norm for social problems. These comments aren’t bad, but for many, they’re not enough.
The people that say these, even myself in the past to others, quote a fancy verse to support their attempt to reach out to those in need. Actually some of the time, these people need professional help, but not in isolation of a solid spiritual advisor. Both of these professionals can work hand in hand to assist those quietly suffering.
Again and again, Christians are appealing to the same form of reasoning that doesn’t effectively address real symptoms of mental illness. By doing so, Christians perpetuate the culture’s narrative on “science vs. religion” you know the false debate about how the two disciplines are mutually incompatible. Those pro-science or reason see religion as the biggest hindrance to social progress while pro-religion sees science as an exclusive branch of knowing that excludes the possibility of God. It would seem that the two sides constantly bicker about which is triumphant when both can actually exist together without friction. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 159 addresses this topic by saying, “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. ”
This is an important aspect to consider when we discuss issues such as severe mental illness. Faith is greater than reason, but actually, the ability to use reason and apply it in science helps to understand the human condition even greater. By understanding how brain chemistry works and greater research on the intersection of biology, environment, and psychology we obtain a closer understanding of the depths of how much we need Jesus’ healing touch along with effective treatments.
When we approach serious health matters from a “Bible-alone” perspective we undermine the true severity of empirical matters. For many, faith isn’t at the forefront of their daily lives. Especially, those that aren’t a baptized Christian, faith isn’t on their radar. Pushing a scripture verse in their suffering might be consoling, but is it what’s truly beneficial for someone battling grave mental conditions that impair proper function? To know that Jesus is the great divine physician is a great reassurance, but probably not the best starting point for engaging non-believers quietly suffering.
Moreover, appealing to a “Bible-alone” approach diminishes the importance of modern medicine. We live in the 21st century, far removed from the time period of the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible does it condemn medicine. Jesus Christ even affirmed medicines value when he gave the proverb about the sick, not the healthy that need a doctor (Matt. 9:21; Mk. 2:17; Lk. 5:31).
Perhaps one of the greatest pet peeves of mine regarding mental health is the desire to label such things as demonic possession. Perhaps, some could be spiritual related. When non-Christians hear “demonic possession” as labeling of mental illness, this immediately conjures up images of religious fanaticism. This sort of labeling completely distorts authentic demonic possession from clear signs of help that desperately need professional help. From what I know, even exorcist have to rule out common psychological problems before an exorcism can be performed. Despite people bringing pressing cases to the priest’s attention, these instances of unusual behavior can be explained naturally too. Therefore, not everything odd that afflicts a Christian is demonic in nature.
Now, where does Christianity go from here to confront this widespread growing concern of suicide?
Better marketing for starters. Far too often, many that oppose Christianity only understand what we’re against and not what we’re for. We polarize those fatally suffering from chronic and severe mental illness as “going to hell” without properly understanding one’s responsibility in the process. This sort of hellfire preaching only widens the wedge between faith vs. science thus pushing those further away from embracing God’s merciful love.
Next, American Christianity needs to embrace the sciences as an interpreter of the human condition. We as Christians know that sin has tainted our humanity. Science seeks to give more knowledge using the scientific method on human and social phenomena. Properly understanding the various social sciences and the immeasurable wealth found within gives greater comprehension of how impaired we truly are far beyond a spiritual level.
The single greatest thing Christians can do is support and implement prevention. CDC has numerous prevention measures that communities, employers, media, healthcare systems, and schools can implement to address matters such as suicide. Many of the aforementioned places are owned privately by Christians, so it’s a matter of administration and leadership taking control of educating their respective base.
The gap between science and faith doesn’t have to exist. Christians can play an integral role in reducing a growing public-health concern by truly being salt and light in the world. Not attacking my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but it wouldn’t hurt if we did things better. Jesus demonstrated himself to be a physical and spiritual healer, so he is certainly capable of restoring us regardless of our problems. But thankfully, God has risen great practitioners in medicine to cooperate with God’s providence.
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