2. I just need to have more faith.
One of the most common and shaming beliefs held by Christians in response to mental health concerns is the assumption that we just lack faith. The comments like, “Maybe you need to pray about it” or my favorite, “Just surrender it to the Lord”, are not only assuming and condemning, but they also neglect to acknowledge emotional pain. We can acknowledge the biblical foundation of belief, as we are called in Scripture to prayer and spiritual practices, which strengthen our faith.
Yet, if we start to believe that all emotional distress is a measurement of our faith, we are missing the Gospel completely. The assumption here is that our pain and emotional difficulties are a direct result of our lack of faith in God. I feel that we need to define faith here to clarify. According to Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.
By this definition, we can have faith and struggle at the same time. Faith cannot be measured by our experiences and feelings. It is actually by definition the exact opposite; trusting God even when we do not see or feel that He is working amidst our pain.
Here is the problem: When we equate emotional distress with a lack of faith, we default to a works-based theology and place the responsibility for our healing and emotional wellness on our behavior. This belief not only strains our relationship with God but also creates pressure for perfectionism, which hijacks the central message of the Gospel.
To say that faith cannot coexist with emotional distress implies that the state of our brokenness must be ignored. The Gospel provides a contrary message, asking all who seek healing to first acknowledge their insufficiency and in faith, accept the hope that Christ offers.
Although I agree Scripture empowers us to confess our sin, surrender our lives to Christ and seek the peace of God in circumstances out of our control, I believe it also states that perfection is not obtainable here on earth.
Paul reminds us of this in Philippians 3, not having obtained the full righteousness of Christ, but pressing on to make it our own, knowing that our citizenship is in heaven, where our transformation will be complete. Scripture calls us to remain steadfast amidst our trials not to deny discouragement and disguise our deficiencies.
The greatest danger about believing this myth is the potential to shame our pain and equate our insufficiency with sin. We are all broken and regardless of the source, God’s word welcomes us to wrestle and find rest. Seeking support through counseling or other avenues does not negate our foundation of faith nor should it replace our prayers for direction and peace. By reaching out, we allow others to join our journey of faith, seeking endurance and encouragement.
3. Mental illness does not exist.
First, this statement holds a limited understanding of applied theology. Sure, so the New Testament does not discuss mental illness outright. If we want to use that logic, we will have to discount all scientific advancements not mentioned in Scripture. Application of Scripture must cross the cultural bridge of interpretation.
The Bible was not written to 21st century America, so understandably there will be limitations to our culture’s application. Due to scientific advancements, psychology has gained academic credibility through discoveries in neuroscience and other psychological research, which have foundations in scientific reliability.
Here is the problem: We are quick to run to the closest ER if we start coughing up blood, and we hug doctors who say the words “you are cancer free” but we cannot accept the scientific research that has granted avenues for mental health treatment. This incongruence denies hope for those who have experienced years of trauma and for individuals who have been plagued by psychotic symptoms since childhood.
From a Scriptural perspective, we see an emphasis on emotions throughout the Old and New Testament as David used much of the Psalms to process his pain. Jesus also embodied the role of a counselor throughout the Gospels, embracing those who were in need both physically and emotionally. I am convinced this belief is a result of cultural thinking rather than biblical thought.
The controversial beliefs associated with psychological advancements trace back to the origins of psychotherapy. We all know the moral debate surrounding Sigmund Freud and his less conservative views on human development. At that time, the religious climate clashed with Freud’s psychosexual perspective and the Church disapproved of Freud’s moral impropriety.
Over 100 years later, we continue to debate the differing theories of human behavior and overlook the advances evidenced-based treatment has provided to individuals. The bigger issue is that many do not even understand the purpose of a mental health diagnosis. Its primary use is to determine the best course of treatment for an individual.
No one person fits in a single box or a single list of categorized criteria; yet by identifying specific symptoms of emotional distress counselors and other helping professionals can support individuals in obtaining effective treatment. For more information regarding the reliability of psychological findings and treatment, I encourage you to look into the research and be informed.