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.