Silent no longer: Mental health and the church

June 15, 2016

In a whisper she says, “Oh, he’s been dealing with depression for many years.”

In a telephone call, a teenager reports that a friend took his own life last night.

A few weeks ago, our neighbor was in the news. He was arrested for driving under the influence. It was just another episode in his long battle with addiction.

Last month she came out of the closet as a lesbian. This month, she has a new boyfriend. She really doesn’t know who she is.

The American evangelical church spent the last generation telling church attenders how to manage their money, raise their kids, build a happy marriage and win political elections. All the while, those church attenders were in dark places, grappling with issues that we seldom discussed. We pretended that people with mental or emotional health issues were on the fringe, that they were the exception. We created counseling ministries for them, often in off-site locations to avoid embarrassment—for them or for us, no one knows. We asked them to come out of their closet and into ours.

While we believe and teach the Bible, while we affirm the powerful work of the indwelling Spirit of God, we often assume the church has little to say or few ways to really help those who are suffering with mental illness. So, while we build, baptize and budget, many of our people (and even our leaders) are dying on the inside. They attend church and join the church, but they never fully engage in the life of the church because they just cannot seem to fit in.

They say with the psalmist, “My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long people say to me, ‘Where is your God?’ Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. I am deeply depressed; therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar” (Ps. 42:3, 5-6).

Church leaders regularly lament the lack of commitment from church members. And while the root of that lack of commitment is often a poor understanding of the church or just good ol’ fashioned sin that requires repentance, the reality is that we have reached, baptized and included in the body of Christ people who are broken by sin. Actually, that is the only kind of people Jesus saves and the only kind of people in his church. So, struggle is inevitable and necessary.

Just as God calls us to participate with him in his work of saving souls through personal evangelism and gospel proclamation, so he calls the church to participate with him in the sanctifying of those same souls through Christ-centered friendship, biblical teaching, skilled care and ongoing, Spirit-filled, gospel ministry. Our church members are not soldiers in our army; they are souls in our care. God has entrusted the church with the souls of his people. We should be safest place in the world for those who suffer with depression, anxiety, addiction, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, gender dysphoria and sexual orientation confusion.

The origin of these struggles is unique with each individual, but as Ed Stetzer recently wrote, “All suffering is the result of sin.” If that is true, then the church can be silent no longer. If anyone gets the overwhelming nature and effects of sin, we do. And if anyone gets the boundless grace of God, we do. We do not offer pat answers or coffee mug clichés, telling fellow sufferers to read the Bible more or pray harder. We know that suffering hurts, that it is hard to explain, and that it often endures much longer than we expect. Even our hero, the apostle Paul testified, “For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength —so that we even despaired of life” (2 Cor. 1:8).

Suffering is a common human experience, and sometimes it overwhelms us and blinds us to the love and power of God to rescue. We do not always see the good purposes of God, but our lack of clarity is not the measure of his love for us. Just as believers get sin and grace, we also get hope. “Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24-25).In his life, death, burial and resurrection, Jesus defeated sin, death and the grave. So while we suffer, while we groan, while we wait for our adoption and the redemption of our bodies, we can suffer with real hope.

There is light in the darkest places, and the church can flip on the switch. We can hold the light steady while fellow sufferers learn to trust God, experience his grace and walk by faith. Here are five ways we can begin to do just that:

1. Talk about mental health. Humans are complex. The physical, emotional, mental and spiritual components of our lives are interrelated, and sin affects it all. Yet, Jesus redeems it all in us. Grace and compassion should determine our tone and our approach to the subject of mental health, but we must talk about it. It is not taboo. It is, instead, a common experience in a fallen world.

2. Depend on the Holy Spirit. We may be overwhelmed, but the Holy Spirit is not. He is our comfort, our teacher and our guide. He literally and practically dwells within every believer. Answers are hard to find. Healing is slow in coming. But we pray, we trust and we walk in the Spirit. We ask him for help in understanding the Bible, and we lean on him as we apply it to our lives.

3. Reach out for help. Just as we rely on physicians to repair a hole in our heart due to a physical defect, we can turn to professionals to help us with mental illness. Qualified doctors and biblical counselors, as well as appropriate medication when needed, are valuable resources to individuals and to the church.

4. Learn to comfort others. Criticism comes easy, but Jesus followers learn to “rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Jesus is our healer, but many times, the solutions come later rather than sooner. Sometimes suffering is excruciating. So we wait together. We suffer together. We cry together. We walk together. And while we wait, the church becomes a community of comfort, a greenhouse where believers grow to trust God and love each other. And sometimes that is the healing we need the most.

5. Don’t quit on God. Suffering lies to us and tries to convince us that God is aloof, that he either does not care or is powerless to act. It tells us that the Bible is not relevant, and that Jesus is nice but that our particular problem is over his head. It tells us we are freaks at church, and that whatever the church is, it is not a place for people with mental or emotional issues. We give God a nod, but after prolonged or unexplained suffering, we just do not trust him anymore. But even when the darkness closes in, even when we cannot see God, we can still trust him. We can trust his Word. The gospel, not our suffering, tells the truth, and Jesus proves it.

So let the end of the silence begin. There is nothing else to hide. Our brokenness is out of the closet, but so is the power of God over our brokenness. “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7). Let us talk of our suffering in whatever form it may come so that we may also talk of the greatness of our God and the power of the cross of his Son.

This post originally appeared here.

Daryl Crouch

Following 28 years in pastoral ministry, Daryl Crouch now leads Everyone’s Wilson, a community transformation initiative that helps churches bring the whole community around every school so that every student, educator, and family can live whole. He’s married to Deborah, and they have four children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24