I was recently invited to join a working group looking at the issue of mental health as it affects members of our church fellowship. We’ve produced guidance for the U.K. and Canada but there are still a lot of countries to cover where we also have churches. Some of those countries are facing major traumas beyond Covid so the mental health problems are also probably very significant. Our guidance simply identifies a whole range of mental health issues ranging from depression and anxiety to OCD and PTSD, with many more conditions in the mix. We’ve also given some advice for church leaders on how they can best provide help and support. What we can’t do is tell them how to cure any of the conditions because (a) none of us are specialists and, more importantly, (b) there are no cures. A combination of drugs and therapy may help and suppress a condition for years on end, but there is no ultimate cure. I know because I’ve been a depression sufferer for almost 50 years, currently enjoying a long spell free of depression, but wise enough to know it can always rear its ugly head. Winston Churchill famously called depression his black dog but I love my dogs so I’ll just call it depression.
I’m grateful for the many avenues of support for people with mental health issues, and I’m also pleased that we live in a time when it’s easier to be open about how we feel. I’m grateful for counsellors, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, doctors, nurses and whoever else has dedicated themselves to helping people who suffer. Theirs is a thankless task, some successes I’m sure but sadly knowing that they will always be employed. People will always need them, or maybe not.
I believe that all mental health issues can be traced back to the Garden of Eden, appreciating that immediately puts me at odds with the majority of counsellors etc., but bear with me. The Garden of Eden provided a blissful environment for its humans, Adam and Eve. They had no reason to be depressed or anxious. They didn’t have to obsess leading to compulsions or suffer post traumatic consequences while they were there. Maybe they did when they had to leave the Garden to face a new, harsher world. Maybe PTSD was the first mental health condition, who knows? While they were there though, having everything provided for them, enjoying a wonderful friendship with God their creator, taking care of his creation and looking after the animals, having a perfect existence, mental health issues were unknown. Then they sinned and everything changed. Outside the Garden of Eden life was so different. Sin had spoiled their friendship with their creator and it was never the same again. The pleasure they had received working in the Garden was replaced by hard toil as if the earth had become their enemy. The wonderful relationship they had with the animal kingdom broke down and also broke down between the animals themselves. Human relationships became tortuous and this world’s first two children grew up with one killing the other as envy gripped him.
That’s the world that sin has left us with. I’ve said before that sin is like a virus that affects everyone and everything, far worse than Covid. It’s ongoing impact is destroying the world, it’s wrecked human relationships and brought us to a state where we can’t cope with life, and many of us suffer its consequences through mental health issues. I’m not saying that my own sin has created my depression, nothing of the sort. I’m saying that sin’s impact on the world has led to this change in the human race where instead of being at peace we are ill at ease, lost, confused, fearful of the future. Its effect seems more apparent in some than others but we all know those feelings.
It will change one day. Sometime in the future, soon I believe, Jesus is coming back to Earth. He came once to save us, this time he’s coming to reign as the Earth’s rightful king. There’s a lovely picture presented to us in the Bible of this future time. “Be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; … The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.” (1)
This is the world that Jesus will create when he returns and it will be a world where we can find real peace, where we have no need to be anxious or depressed. Jesus will deal with all the trauma.
- Isaiah 65:18-25