Sin, Sickness and Salvation

One of the things Mind and Soul tries to do is walk the line between Christianity and Mental Health. However there is a danger that when you do this, you can end up with an 'average' position that is of no use to anyone. It might not offend people but it is also not likely to help people either. The Bible might call this 'lukewarm'!
 
One good example is with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, where we firmly believe that there is a core biological basis, that medication is needed and that to take a purely spiritual approach is not correct and may even be dangerous and negligent. There is always a spiritual dimension, and the faith community has a huge role to play, but we believe that this is an illness as real as any other. Today is 100 years since Eugene Bleuler gave us the name 'Schizophrenia' and on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Professor Sir Robin Murray from Kings College London reminded us all that it costs the tax payer more than either cancer or heart disease as it starts at a young age and is severely disabled.
 
However, we also at other times have to say that the Christian position must be foundational as well. The 'good news' of the gospel is not just that life is best with God in the picture, but that this has come at a price - necessary to save us from our sins and only accomplished by Jesus. If Mind and Soul does not continue to hold true to this, then it offers no new prosition over and above the other voices in mental health - of good and kind people from other charities and the generic spirituality position.
 
Both positions are likely to get you into hot water. At every conference we run, there is someone who wants to tell me that all you need is 'faith' [as if people had not tried that already], but there are also constant voices that all the church needs to be is kind - and avoid some of the controvertial core. At times, the church can be quite patronising, saying almost that people who are ill cannot cope with ideas like sin and salvation as they will just interpret this as guilt-inducing or implying the person has a weak faith.
 
My model in this is Jesus, who neither shirked the issues nor made people feel worse [unless they needed to]. He managed to shared the truth in love, to get the message across in such a way that it empowered and not disabled. Rather than avoid the hot water, we have to learn from him how such heat should be used - to cleanse, to energise, to heal.
 
There are two stories that help me keen my focus where it needs to be. The first is of O Herbert Mowrer, former president of the American Psychological Association, who accused his discipline of reducing everything to 'sickness' [eg, he did it because he had a bad upbringing..] and that this had led them into moral an ethical boggy ground as they would have been unable to say anything was wrong anymore.

 
Guido Rocha the tortured ChrisThe second is at the World Council of Churches meeting in 1975 when Guido Rocha's sculpture of the Tortured Christ was on display in a central location. People found it brought up too many strong feelings and it was later moved to a quiet basement display. Christ is controvertial because He causes us to confront the reality of sin - otherwise he was just another man.

The poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling contains the famous line, 'if you can keep your head while all around are losing theirs...' I need to keep coming back to Jesus in all that I do. Without this focus, there is a real danger that I will be overwhelmed by the suffering that seems to have no end, the systemic inefficiencies of mental health care that seem to have no hope and the frequent lack of good news when this is what people often desperately want and need to hear.

I am reminded of this most when I have forgotten it for a while and then hear this gospel again. To quote some of the old hymn writers -

"How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believers ear,
And can it be that I should gain an interest in my saviours blood;
Amazing grace how sweet the sound,
Oh - for a thousand tongues to sing..."

 There is sin and there is also sickness, but there is first and foremost a grounding and inspiring Saviour.

Rob Waller, 01/11/2011