It’s no secret that our world is living through a new reality in mental health.
The CDC reports that 1 in 5 Americans will experience the effects of mental illness ranging from seasonal to debilitating disorders. One study showed that children today report more general anxiety than psychiatric patients in the 1950s. The degree of anxiety many live with today would have landed them in the hospital just a few decades ago!
Of course, there are all sorts of questions we find ourselves asking when mental health issues arise. If we’re honest, the main question we often have is “why?” More specifically, “why does God allow mental illness?” Why is this not a new question? It’s a question that followers of Jesus have been asking for thousands of years.
John tells a story in John 9:1-5 about Jesus that goes like this:
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Through this story, we aren’t given clear answers but are given a few helpful truths:
1. "Who sinned"?
At the time, it was a common misconception that physical or mental afflictions were a punishment from God for sinful behavior. While we don’t jump to that conclusion today, we still tend to look for a cause. Or we can blame what we think will help us understand mental illness better or have an easier time accepting it. In reality, it’s only a feeble attempt to find an answer to something that we know isn’t all that clear.
These first followers of Jesus struggled with the same question we often ask today: why did this happen? Keep in mind; these are Jesus’ followers – they aren’t enemies of God, self-righteous religious leaders, or disinterested spectators. Even Jesus’ closest followers had a hard time grasping the existence of suffering and tried to identify a reason for it.
2. "Neither this man nor his parents sinned"
Jesus answers them, “neither this man nor his parents sinned.” In contrast to the common belief of that time, Jesus clarified that the man’s blindness was not a direct result of his parents’ behavior. Don’t be misled: our actions can have very real consequences. That doesn’t mean that mental illness is a punishment from God for something we’re doing wrong. Rather, the existing sin and brokenness in the world often lead to the struggles we face today.
When God created humans, he called us “very good.” He breathed his own life into us, setting us apart from the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8). God’s plan called for humans to flourish as they lived the life they were designed to live. However, the story goes that the first humans ultimately decided they could create for themselves what only God could create for us. At that moment, all of creation was separated from God (Genesis 3:1-7).
We know sin caused lasting damage because we can see it playing out today. There are times when we know deep in our bones that life shouldn’t be this way, and we can sense that God must have had a different plan for the world. The scriptures teach that we groan for the way creation ought to be (Romans 8:22).
God’s plan wasn’t mental illness, but we will see that God doesn’t ignore it either.
3. "God's Power"
Jesus lays out a more hopeful scenario: that man’s blindness happened so God’s power could be displayed. Later on in this passage, Jesus heals the man’s blindness.
It was through man’s illness that God’s power was shown, and in turn, the power of God in Christ was revealed.
This is good news because Jesus does the same work in us when we believe in him. Christ is the power of God at work, restoring all things and saving everyone! (Romans 1:16) Jesus is on a mission to bring hope and healing, starting with you!
One of the first leaders of the church, the Apostle Paul, encourages us in Romans 5:1-6. It’s through our faith in Christ that we can rejoice in any circumstance as we develop endurance, character, and hope. Ultimately, Paul concludes that our hope in Christ will not lead to disappointment – but how?
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. - Romans 5:3-6
Catch that? The hope during the mental health journey is based on knowing that God loves you. And although he didn’t plan for it to be this way, God is in the process of restoring all things (Acts 3:21; Colossians 1:20).
4. "Light of the world"
Jesus ties this encounter back into the reason he came: he is the light of the world. In a sense, he came to open our eyes from blindness, too!.
God’s glory can be on display in and through you during a mental health journey. Whether it’s a family member you love or your own diagnosis, if you allow him, God will work even this together for his good (Romans 8:28). It’s through Jesus that we can confidently look forward to a time when there will be no more tears, sorrow, or pain.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” - Revelation 21:3-4
And in light of this truth, we can live a whole new way of life – the one God ultimately designed us to live – right here in the midst of this one.
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