In the twenty-first century, it’s becoming increasingly common to talk about and accept mental health issues as relevant and important. For a number of reasons I love this. It means people are able to talk about not only physical ailments, but also speak about ailments of the soul. In a very real way, I would suggest these ailments are as serious if not more serious than many physical ailments.
C.S. Lewis aptly stated, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “my tooth is aching” than to say “my heart is broken.” How true! We reduce the validity of non-physical illness simply because it’s not palpable. As Lewis noted, a rotten tooth is very much so identifiable and palpable, while a “broken heart,” or any other non-physical illness or ailment can seem illusory.
On the other hand, non-physical illness is often framed through the lens of 21st century psychology. This isn’t inherently bad, but it does neglect an important spiritual component. How do we fix our mind when it has suffered injury? I can very much so head to the doctor to set a broken bone, but it’s another task entirely to heal the mind.
Paul made it sound rather easy. He simply said, “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). Easy enough. Just don’t be anxious. As someone who has struggled with anxiety, I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s not always that easy. But Paul says more. He relates how we should make petitions to God, thank him, and be at peace. Not only peace, but a peace beyond understanding.
I’ve thought a lot about those words, as peace has sometimes eluded me. Peace beyond understanding could mean several things, and may mean both. One, it could simply mean a peace that saturates us so thoroughly it’s difficult to understand. I would also suggest Paul is referring to having peace when we shouldn’t necessarily have peace. I think he is saying we can have peace during difficult moments or periods of hardship. Perhaps another way to frame this is irrational peace. We are banking on the fact that God is God, that Jesus won, and everything will be alright.
We are banking on the fact that God is God, that Jesus won, and everything will be alright.
Anxiety, depression and other ailments of the mind are becoming epidemic. People are experiencing these terrible, crippling maladies at alarming rates. As a believer in Jesus, and as someone who has experienced anxiety, I think I can pinpoint the nature of these devilish devices.
First of all, it’s spiritual. Sorry Freud, but I’m sticking to my guns. It’s not purely physiological. There are spiritual matters and a devil out there who is bent on lying, deceiving and drowning people in despair and hopelessness (1 Peter 5:8). There is also victory in Christ. Jesus spent the entirety of his ministry setting people free from sin and despair and continues to do so today.
There are spiritual matters and a devil out there who is bent on lying, deceiving and drowning people in despair and hopelessness.
The fact of the matter is anxiety and depression are derived from doubt and fear. The author of Hebrews relates this: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” Hebrews 11:6 (emphasis added).
Whoever would draw near to him must believe that he exists. Let’s unpack this a bit. Doubt, faithlessness and fear draw us away from God. This is where anxiety, fear and depression are rooted. But how can we ever draw nearer if we have doubt and fear? Isn’t that a bit of a conundrum? It seems like God should reveal himself in order to draw us near to him rather than the other way around.
Sometimes God does choose to reveal himself in particular ways. Whether it’s a burning bush or through the revelation of scripture, he’s there. If you want to check out my blog on why God does and doesn’t reveal himself, take a look here. Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to see God working in the midst of our circumstances. In the midst of anxiety or depression it’s really tough to see or feel God. This is because we are full of fear and doubt rather than hope. But sometimes all we can do is place our trust in him while weathering the storm, knowing he is in fact there, and that he does desire good things for his children.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Even in this statement you can see the tension of the already but not yet. Jesus has won, but sin still exists. Christ will return but the fullness of the Gospel has yet to be actualized. Yet, believers may have peace in Christ despite circumstances, because we do in fact have victory.
More than ever, contemporary believers must put their faith and trust in Jesus. So much of contemporary thought is at odds with the Gospel. I sincerely believe this is why the 21st century West is drowning in depression and anxiety. We have it better than any other demographic in history as it pertains to quality of life, yet it seems people are struggling more than ever to find meaning.
Happiness is achieved through faith and trust in Christ, regardless of circumstances. I’m not diminishing the struggles people face, as I have stared down anxiety and know how difficult it can be. Yet, there is always hope and perseverance in Christ. In Romans chapter eight Paul relates how suffering we currently endure isn’t worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed (Romans 8:18). Anxiety and depression cannot co-exist in an environment where faith is present.
If you are struggling I know it’s the real deal. It’s tough. My advice is to get around good people who will stand and pray with you. Get plugged in to a solid church. Spend a little more time in scripture or reading great Christian authors and a little less time on social media. Spend a little more time with your spouse and kids or your dog or whoever makes you happy. Be encouraged and know you are not alone!
As Paul said, grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ!