Mental Illness and Sin?

Let’s take one more about suffering and sin for this week.  Here’s a particularly cruel one that is popular in some legalist circles: Mental illness is the result of sin.

One group of which I was a part taught that depression came from sin.  Counselors were told that they should look for “root causes” and current activities that might be responsible for the depression.  Things like schizophrenia, autism, borderline, and even physical struggles like fibromyalgia were said to be “sin problems.”  Not only was this incorrect, it was just plain mean.

Now I want to be careful here.  Sin does cause problems.  The inconsistency of sin in the life of the believer and the related distress can cause all kinds of mental, emotional, and physical problems.  It is not at all inappropriate for a counselor or friend to ask if there is any sin issue that should be discussed.

But it is just wrong to suggest that the only cause of these problems is sin.  We know that chemical imbalances, brain injuries, genetic factors, and other things can affect us in these ways.  While I have many reservations about current depression medications, I also know people who have been greatly helped by using them.  There are times when a person needs something more than just a good word.

Honestly, we don’t know what the chemicals in our diet, in the air, and in the water are doing to us.  We don’t know how the unusual stresses of our day will affect us.  The loss of the extended family and of the close supportive community, the regret that usually follows the world’s solutions to our personal problems, the bombardment of fast moving images and ideas from the television or the internet—these things are new to our culture and certainly have some effect.

I suppose you could call these societal sins, but I don’t think I would necessarily agree.  They are simply life as we know it, the result of discoveries in technology.  We may have cause to regret the powerlines, the fracking, the additives, the immunizations, etc. in the future, but using them isn’t sin.

When we add guilt to pain by telling the depressed person that he or she must be sinning, we are being unkind.  I remember someone saying that Job’s friends were great friends until they opened their mouths.  According to Job 2:13, they sat with him for an entire week just as supportive friends.  Then they ruined it all by bringing their perspectives on his trouble.  They said it must be sin.  That was the only answer they had.  No matter how much Job protested, they stuck to their theories.  We are not left with the impression that Job was comforted by them.

And sin was not the cause of Job’s suffering.  He was wrong to rail against God or accuse God of being unfair, but it is clear that the trouble was not the result of Job’s sin.

Please – let’s remember that the troubles of this world sometimes just happen.  We can be so much help when we love and care.  We can be so hurtful when we accuse the sufferer or the Lord of responsibility for the pain.

Your thoughts?


Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism

9 responses to “Mental Illness and Sin?

  1. Thanks. I am one who has chosen medication to deal with my depression. I think that we do a horrible disservice to people when we tell them that if they jusst had enough faith they would not have to deal with depression. I know God could deliver me. He chooses not to. I know he has a purpose.

    • I really am more of the opinion that we have done things to mess up the chemicals in our brains and one of the results is depression. Medication helps. Obviously, those who use the meds have to be careful of the temptation to leave them when they work, but we know that now and the danger is addressed. To stigmatize someone for taking medication is stupid and hurtful

      How is taking depression medication any different from other medication? Every woman should be alert to problems resulting from thyroid, for example. We don’t chastise or criticize them for taking supplements. We don’t accuse diabetics of sin or migraine sufferers. (Well, of course, some do accuse everyone who suffers anything of sin, but they are just mean.)

      Yes, God could deliver you. Perhaps He loves you enough to go through this with you for your good. When we come to the place in our faith that we trust Him with our good more than we trust ourselves, we can find the rest He offers.

      Thanks for the note!

  2. joni24

    how are suppose to handle injustice, suffering and when life just doesnt seem fair to us? i grappled with this these week. I chose try to understand but become angry because not everyone courses in life is fair. Some people i viewed as receiving this things literally dropped into their laps and others not how hard they did right things just had to work hard to get the same. I know this is mystery but what is not suppose a mystery how do i deal with sense unfairness. For once i tried not blame the recipient but tried to focus on the giver of all things but found myself mad. I was jealous of the other person or wanted what they had. I guess i was trying see how a person lives within a family and all the children’s life was raised similar yet they had different journey’s and outcomes. one could live life relatively free of trouble and another live life struggling to have a good life. how struggler try not to compare but still live for God? if God loves us all the same how some people not feel God’s love and other’s view it on a regular basis?

    • Joni,

      This is a very challenging theological question. Why does evil happen to some and not others? Why do the innocent, or the less guilty, suffer? Why are some blessed and others struggle so much? We can understand why people come up with strange answers, I suppose. Some blame God. Some blame the victims. Some blame other people. We try to sort out the problem of evil, but we really don’t have good human answers. These are hard questions!

      I would offer two thoughts. First, because sin is such a part of our life and our thinking, even as Christians, I am no longer confident that we know what good and evil are. Is it good to have a television? Is it good to be able to buy gas at such inflated prices? We tend to think that financial abundance is good while a lack of money is bad. Is that right? Is it bad for a person to have a disease? Is the disease evil while health is good? We tend to think of suffering as evil and comfort as good, but I wonder if there are times when we have that mixed up. My point is that we are not as able as we think to discern what is good and what is evil. So how do I know who is being blessed and who is not? Perhaps the sufferer is more blessed by the hand of God than the one who remains comfortable.

      The second thing, I think, is the only answer for us in the midst of these questions. Our focus must never be on the problems or what we think of as evil or blessing, our focus must be on the Lord who loves us. As we look to Him and remember Who He is, the struggles of life do fade. If there is any hope in finding purpose and joy in the midst of suffering, it is in the love of Jesus.

      So, when I get troubled by these questions, I remind myself that “the Judge of all the earth” will “do right.” I can trust Him. That’s what I want to give others. My goal is to relieve suffering in the ways I can, and one of the primary ways is to encourage the sufferer to look to Jesus and find His peace. He is the Healer. He is the Comforter.

  3. Hey, I just wanted to share that I am Bipolar. This is a state of highs and lows. It is something that one is born with and mine showed up when I was 36 years old. I have to take medicine for it. It gives one mood swings and it also makes me dizzy and weak if I forget to take the medicine. I have prayed to God and asked for a miracle to heal me and I feel that he wants me to keep it for a reason. Suffering can come in many different ways and can bless us if we let it. I do think though that medicine is needed for me and perhaps others too. I feel that it no different than taking medicine for a cold or an infection. I wish I was a healer. No one would be sick. I am sure I have a lot to learn about God’s perfect will. I do feel that is my course. I hope my sharing can help and may we all be one in Christ.

  4. ronnievanzant717

    I am bi-polar, and know that I was born with this hereditary disease, as my mother had it as well. I struggle with trying to understand how one can say this was a result of sin, as if I somehow sinned as soon as I was conceived and have been given this mental illness as a result. That or the sin was given to me by my mother. I am trying to find supporting scriptures or reasoning behind both sides of this so I can better understand it. I know that God can deliver you from anything, but I also think we are just born a certain way and He has no plans to change that. (of course that speculates that we know His plans). I’m sorry, it sounds rambling, but it is something I am really trying to understand so I can be a better Christian and also deal with this mental illness. I see posts by people saying that they were healed of their bi-polar disorder by praying. I have a hard time believing this because its simply a physiological makeup of who we are. Any guidance or commentary is appreciated. Thank you.

    • AES

      Sorry you are struggling with this. In regard to this being as a result of sin, while some things that happen to us are a consequence of our own actions but that is not the case with everything. Take a look at Job for instance in the bible as his friend thought that what happen to him was a result of sin but when you read the first two chapters of Job it’s discussing how Satan spoke to God about bringing these things onto him thinking that Job would stop serving God and God wanted to prove to Satan that Job would not do this cause God knows Jobs heart and look how Job handled it and trusted God and in the end God restored Job and then some. We don’t always know why we go through things maybe to try our faith or maybe God just want us to grow and learn and to just trust Him completely and know that all things work together for our good meaning what was meant for evil can turn around into something good (see Romans 5:3-5, Romans 8:28). God can also use are weaknesses we have for his glory for when we are weak then are we strong through God and also we can help others going through same thing (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We can pray to God to help, give us courage and strength and peace and pray for healing. We must trust in God fully tho thru it all. There is nothing too hard for God! (see Isaiah 41:10, Jeremiah 32:27, Proverbs 3:5, Psalms chapter 40).

  5. Dorothee Dube Marchildon

    Yes I very much agree. Thank you for your insight, the Church in general must be taught on mental health. God is working. Dorothee

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