“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9.
I agree with Dr. Jay Adams, barring an injury to the brain or some disease process that interferes with brain function there is no such thing as mental illness. If there is no physiological issue there is no psychological issue. In that regard, mental illness is a misnomer. Before you allow how you feel about that statement to affect what you think about it, read the next paragraph.
We assume people who commit suicide are suffering from some sort of mental illness and that is why they take their own lives, but that is a visceral perspective. I think we can say with certitude that the one who commits suicide, whether their pain is spiritual, emotional or physical, believes there is no hope for relief in life, and hopes there will be relief from their suffering in death. For the one who believes those two things, suicide is not a mental lapse but a very rational response.
Despite what you believe about suicide it is driven by a loss of hope for relief in life, and a hope of relief in death. I am not making any moral judgments here, just making an observation and giving an explanation. The traditional religious view of suicide teaches it is a damnable act. As I have written before, I do not believe that, and only God can judge the motives and intents of the one who takes his or her own life. I am very content to leave the issue of suicide in the hands of a very capable Judge.
But to address the problem of suicide we need to get to the root cause and modern medical science has been unable to do that. Typically, psychological therapy consists of trying to give the suicidal person a reason to live, but that is the best modern therapy can do and has proven in many cases to be inadequate. People who are suffering need hope to live, not a reason.
Secular counseling may be augmented with medication, but some of them carry warnings that the medication itself could contribute to suicidal ideations. That is not a clarion declaration that modern medical science knows how to treat suicidal people.
The late Orval Hobart Mowrer was an atheistic, secular psychologist, a former president of the American Psychological Association, and taught at Harvard and Yale. He wrote in his book Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion in chapter four titled, “Sin,” The Lesser of Two Evils, “For several decades we psychologists looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and acclaimed our liberation from it as epoch making. But at length we have discovered that to be free in this sense, that is, to have the excuse of being sick rather than sinful, is to court the danger of also becoming lost… In becoming amoral, ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity, and with neurotics, themselves, we find ourselves asking: Who am I, what is my deepest destiny, what does living mean?”
Here is an atheistic, secular psychologist admitting that all modern psychology has accomplished is to give those suffering “an excuse of being sick rather than sinful.” This is because most people have accepted the Freudian presupposition of non-responsibility for psychological problems. This Freudian perspective of non-responsibility for mental and emotional problems has infiltrated the church and its counsel causing Mowrer to ask, “Has Evangelical religion sold its birthright for a mess of psychological pottage?”
Have we? Has the church accepted the idea that biblical counseling is insufficient to address supposed mental illness issues and sold its counseling birthright by accepting humanistic theories about man’s emotional and mental problems?
We live in a sin-cursed world and in our natural state we are completely fallen. The root of all our problems is spiritual, the sin nature. Modern psychological science either does not recognize or chooses to ignore the spiritual root of our problems and does not therefore have any ultimate answers for suicide. The root of the problem is sin; sins committed against us, and our sinful reaction to the sins committed against us often compounding the problem.
Jeremiah gets to the essence of the issue when he addresses man’s spiritual condition. Jeremiah writes that the “heart,” our fallen nature, is “desperately [sin]sick.” The only remedy for sin is the counsel of God’s Word. A biblical counselor trained in the application of God’s Word to the sinful problems of this life is competent to counsel any mental or emotional problem, and if that counsel is received and applied by the counselee, it will always alleviate the problem.
Sheryl H. Boldt says
Wow!! This is a very thought provoking article, Gary.
It took me a few read-throughs to grasp what you were saying. I love your conclusions.