The Gospel and Mental Health
It is true that the emphasis of the gospel is spiritual as opposed to secular. For this reason, we read of spiritual salvation and heaven in contrast to "how to get rich and live comfortably in this life" (cp. Matt. 5: 12, 2 Pet. 1: 5-11). While the emphasis of Jesus' gospel is on eternality, there is also stress placed on this life (Mk. 10: 28-31). Our title of "The Gospel and Mental Health" may, at first, appear to possess a hint of the social gospel (focus on this earth), but I submit that with the proper qualification, mental health is a vital and too often overlooked feature of the Jerusalem gospel.
America became especially interested in mental health in the seventies. It was during this focus that a Doctor Harold Voth prepared some material on the trends in America. Doctor Voth discussed a number of conditions in our country that he believed pertained to the Presidential Commission on Mental Health. Matters such as the trend that had become very definable in the seventies of an increase of working mothers, the smoking of marijuana, and gender distortion and homosexuality. Doctor Voth reported that a believed eight million American children were in need of immediate help from psychiatric disorders (some estimates during 1976 were as high as thirty million). I do not believe any knowledgeable person would suggest that things are better today than they were in the seventies. It is conservatively estimated that at least one out of every two hospital beds in America are occupied by a person suffering from mental illness that is often accompanied by physical symptoms. What relevancy does the gospel have to mental illness, anyway?
The gospel imparts understanding. A percentage of what we classify as mental illness or aberration is influenced and precipitated by lack of understanding. In view of this absence of understanding, there is mental confusion and conflict, simply viewed. John wrote to Christians:
"And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ, this is the true God and eternal life" (I Jn. 5: 20).
As a result of the gospel, man can now have an understanding of "light and immortality" (2 Tim. 1: 10). We can know our origin, purpose, and eternal destiny (Gen. 1, 2; Eccl. 12: 13; Matt. 25: 46). By using the gospel, man can discern and determine truth and error and what is pleasing to his Creator (cp. Gal. 2: 14).
The gospel imparts a remedy for guilt. Guilt plays an important role in many instances of mental illness. People know they are wrong and this knowledge affects their mental state. Some cannot forgive themselves of acts that they have performed that have adversely affected others. Hence, over time they develop a problem. The gospel informs man how he can achieve God's forgiveness and acquire the perfect peace of the Bible (Acts 2: 38, 22: 16). When the Christian sins, there is no need to carry around guilt (I Jn. 1: 7-9).
A forgiven person should be a person with a healthy mental state. The gospel even teaches how to make peace with others against whom we have sinned (Matt. 5: 23-26, cp. 18: 15-17). Rather than allow anger to grow, the Christian is taught to, "Be ye angry and sin not, let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the devil" (Eph. 4: 26, 27).
The gospel is a system that promotes regular self-examination. The chief role of psychoanalysts is simply that of attempting to assist and encourage the patient to examine himself. Paul wrote thus to the Christians at Corinth:
"Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates" (2 Cor. 13: 5, 6).
The faithful Christian is one who makes time for healthy introspection. They spend time examining their attitudes, motives, goals, and life in general. In areas that are on course, they practice reinforcement, but when they find themselves getting off course, they make the necessary adjustments. The gospel is the standard that they use to determine needed adjustment or continuance in the same (cp. Gal. 2: 14).
Life lived one day at a time. Ancient and modern psychologists have stressed the must of living life one day at a time. Many project all the problems of the future and attempt to battle them all at once, we are told. Such a task is self-defeating and destroying. However, we can tackle and manage the problems introduced with each new day. Even perennial problems can be incrementally addressed each day. This is precisely the teaching of the gospel. Hear Jesus:
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things (material needs, dm) shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought (worry, dm) for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matt. 6: 33, 34).
Involved in this matter of life lived one day at a time, there is a relief mechanism, if you will, provided in the gospel: prayer. The Christian is not to worry, but express his cares and concerns to God (Phili. 4: 6). As a result of petitioning God and leaving with him the concerns that we have, "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (vs. 7).
The gospel provides a sound priority order. Many are experiencing problems because of the priority confusion they undergo. They make a decision and it often turns out to be the wrong discussion, creating many undesirable consequences and conflicts with more important matters. Such clutters people's lives and minds, sometimes to such a serious degree that there are debilitating mental conflicts. God's simple priority order is as follows:
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6: 33).
What we eat, drink and wear to cover and protect our bodies are matters of importance. However, Jesus is teaching that there are issues of more seriousness than these (Matt. 6: 25ff). The lesson is to take the most important, one's relationship with God, and then allow the other matters their proper descending place. Being a Christian greatly simplifies life and the decisions that must be made on a daily basis.
The gospel prevents personal hatred. The two often influential factors or conditions involved in mental illness are guilt and harbored hatred. There are some things the Christian is taught to hate. For instance, error and every false way are to be hated by the Christian (Rom. 12: 9, Ps. 119: 104). However, hatred of others is always and unconditionally wrong and dissuaded. Jesus unmistakably taught and challenged as follows:
"43: Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45: That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46: For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47: And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5).
Notwithstanding Jesus' plain teaching, not a few are living miserable lives because they have allowed hate to enter and find lodging in their minds. A percentage of these people suffer from various stages and forms of mental sickness.
The gospel provides worthy goals. It has aptly been said that man is a goal-seeking creature. It has even been remarked that man in order to succeed, must have goals toward which to work. The gospel offers the greatest goal man could ever attempt to attain. The goal is two-fold. It involves emulating God in this life and ultimately making heaven an eternal and blissful home of the soul (Matt. 5: 48; Eph. 4: 4, Matt. 5: 11, 12).
While the gospel is not social in its essential nature and focus, the gospel certainly does address social issues. Involved in spiritual health is good mental health. The foregoing briefly considered matters are all essential to a good healthy state of mind in general. As we have seen, the gospel provides all these essentials. Not only are they resident in the gospel, but they are taught on a higher and fuller level than in any secular source. It is true that some religionists have a host of mental aberrations. However, these people either have a false religion or they have not correctly applied the teaching from God. The gospel, I submit, results in greater mental hygiene than any philosophic or psychiatric system known to man. Alas, so many are not taking advantage of the preventive and curative nature of the gospel. (To study the social gospel, click on "The Social Gospel.")