Target Audience: Evangelical Christians, Christian Leaders/Pastors, non-Christians
This is the first post in a series on Christian Mental Illness. Although many churches are now beginning to recognize that many Christians battle mental illness, there is still a stigma attached to it that can be an obstacle to serving God, or being employed in a church. It is my hope that several voices will be heard in this series.
For decades I pursued the myth of being normal. In fairness, for decades I hung around conservative Baptist churches, generally characterized by a belief in their literal interpretation of Scripture, which often results in a harshly judgmental relationship toward others who view the world differently. For many years everyone, it seemed to me, wanted to be both broken, when it was spiritually cool to be portrayed as broken, and normal at the same time. For a number of years I associated with what I now consider to be an ultra-conservative Baptist denomination that freely described people with flaws as “cracked pots”, thus excluding them from Christian service. While attending a Baptist institute in Texas I experienced a devastating episode of depression. With this flaw exposed, I now joined the many other cracked pots who were set aside because of moral failures or mental health problems. In those days it was also common for many within conservative evangelical Christianity to declare those of us who have suffered moral failure or mental illness to exist in the realm of “outer darkness”. This meant, as I recall, you were still in heaven, but not really in God’s inner circle. That not only sounded extremely elitist, but also completely unattainable for a guy who had many moral failures. What hope could there possibly be for someone like me?
Fortunately Jesus really loves people who have failed. We are His kind of people.
Mark 5:25-34 (NIV)
25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in body that she was freed from her suffering. 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched me?” 31”You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
This passage offers some powerful insights into the compassion Jesus offers those of us who have felt isolated because we have failed or due to mental illness.
This woman was more than a social outcast. She lived in an age when women were considered to be property like cattle or horses. She had an illness that was considered to be unclean, like someone with AIDS or a sexually transmitted illness today. It wasn’t that she was unpopular. She was considered to be a threat to public health.
There are a couple of relevant things we are not told. First, we are not told the nature or cause of her illness. We are also not told how she managed to weave her way through the crowd without being noticed. We are told that she believed that if she could even touch the hem of Jesus’s robe she would be healed.
Jesus could have said nothing when He felt the healing power leave His body, but He asked who touched Him. I always thought that He was angry, but I now realize this is inconsistent with His character. For too many years I viewed God as an angry, vengeful Being of harsh judgment. In my eyes, God was my judge, a being waiting to judge me and punish me for my moral failures and flaws. I had no concept of Jesus as our Wounded Healer. But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NLT)
Jesus didn’t just heal her of her sickness. He welcomed her into His kingdom, a spiritual kingdom unlike any earthly kingdom or culture, characterized by a lifestyle of peace and loving our enemies. He tells this woman to “go in peace”. What else would the Prince of Peace tell her? He not only gave her peace from the bondage of her physical disease, He also gave her spiritual peace because of her faith in Him. Then Jesus set her free from her suffering.
This woman’s encounter with Jesus should challenge any Christian who still believes women are not completely equal with men in God’s eyes. There are several other examples in Scripture where Jesus shielded broken and immoral women from the judgment of religious leaders of the day. More than that, this woman, who was regarded as mere property in the culture of the day, to the Son of God, though, He saw her as His creation, loved, cherished, and ultimately redeemed.
For those of us who are broken by moral failure or mental or physical illness, this should be the ray of sunlight in the darkness of despair. Should Christians seek to live moral lives? No, not really. We should seek to live Jesus-centered lives as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom of Peace.
For most of my Christian life I saw myself as someone looking through a window at “normal” Christians freely participating in Christianity. I did not feel included because of my moral failures and my mental illness. Now I see Jesus as my Wounded Healer. I now see myself as broken by sin but healed by my faith in the Son of God and free of every religious prison. I may be broken, but I belong!