Ghost in the Machine
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
From the Omega Letter Archive: Vol: 118 Issue: 8, Friday, July 8, 2011
I received an email the other day asking if Christians can suffer mental illnesses, and if so, is it really a sin problem, or should they take prescribed drugs?
In short, how does a ‘mental’ become ‘ill’?
What we understand as the “mind” is almost the same thing as the “soul” – the “soul” being a combination of one’s mind, will, and emotions, together with the eternal element of the spirit.
The mind is what makes you “you” — and the soul is what makes you God’s. When one becomes part of Christ, it requires the full agreement of mind, will, and emotion.
One can believe something with the mind, like “God exists” – but that isn’t salvation.
“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” James 2:19
One believes with the mind, but salvation involves the soul, which includes one’s will (choice) and one’s emotions (faith, or ‘the heart’).
“And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Acts 8:37
“But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” Romans 4:24
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the Name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:13
The mind, will, and emotions, bundled together with the spirit, is also called “the heart” of which God has this to say:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9
So let me quickly summarize before moving forward. Your body is the temporary receptacle where your eternal soul develops into ‘you’ – that is to say, your mind, will and emotions. Your spirit is eternal, but it remains dead in sin until quickened by the Blood of Jesus Christ.
Once quickened, the Bible says, one receives the spirit of power, and love, and a sound mind. Does that mean that the mentally ill are lost?
Can Christians suffer from mental illness? Or is that really just sin in disguise?
Why is seemingly everybody on drugs?
The Bible promises that those who are saved will also receive the blessing of “a sound mind.” But I know lots and lots of Christians that suffer from some form of ‘mental illness’ like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.
Does that mean they really aren’t Christians? Or is the Bible wrong? Should a Christian seek treatment and take drugs prescribed for some form of mental illness? Or does that betray a lack of faithfulness?
What exactly does the Scripture mean by “a sound mind” in the first place? Let’s start there. The Greek word translated in 1611 as a “sound mind” is sophronismos which means self-discipline or self-control.
It is derived from sophronizo, which means “to teach, discipline or correct – to teach to be sober.”
One can be of unsound mind, in the psychiatric sense, and still, practice discipline and self-control. Most of what we consider mental illness refers not to the ghost in the machine, but to defects in the machine itself.
The body supplies input to the mind, which then processes that information the way a computer processes keystrokes on a keyboard. If the keyboard has a sticky key, then the computer will receive the input differently than intended, but it will act on what it received, not what was intended.
The computer is not defective just because the keyboard is not working properly. A Christian’s soul is not defective because his physical brain isn’t receiving input the way it was intended.
The mind, will, and emotions are stuck inside a physical brain that is hard-wired a certain way from birth.
In a sense, all human beings are mentally ill in the sense that sinning against God is a form of spiritual insanity. We are infinite creatures temporarily trapped in finite bodies that are subject to the vagaries of the environment.
We are like computers infected by a virus – salvation is the antivirus that allows us to continue to operate in a virus-filled universe without losing our connection with the Network.
It is easily argued that sin is a form of mental illness, but that is not the same thing as arguing that mental illness is either sin or the result of sin.
Some folks are just not wired correctly from the factory, whereas others have their hard drives scrambled by some external interference. For some people, the cares and troubles of this world in these last days are just too much to handle without medication.
The Book of the Revelation outlines the four main reasons for the judgments being imposed by God on those that dwell upon the earth during the Tribulation.
“Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” Revelation 9:21
The word translated as sorceries in the Book of the Revelation is a different root word than the one translated sorceries elsewhere in Scripture.
The sorceress in the Book of Acts practiced sorcery, (Gk magea) but the sorcery in Revelation is from the Greek pharmakea, meaning, “the use or administration of drugs.”
But Revelation also says that “by thy pharmakea were all men deceived.” (Revelation 18:23)
It is undoubtedly true that many of what we consider to be mental illnesses are really illnesses of the heart, readily curable with a good dose of Jesus.
Does that mean that Christians shouldn’t take prescribed medicine? In a word, no.
In the first place those under judgment are not Christians, but those that rejected Christ, so we’re comparing apples and oranges.
And the sin referenced here is that of failing to repent (metanoia –change one’s mind) – murders, sorceries, fornication, and theft are what they failed to repent from.
Some of us find it harder to maneuver in this sin-sick, miserable, old-world than others do. This old world is filled with fear and hatred and incontinence. Sometimes it is too much to handle – for some, the stress is too much and they crack under the strain.
Not all illness, mental or otherwise, is a consequence of sin. Genetics play a role – some people are born with a propensity for mental illness – the ghost in the machine isn’t defective – the machine itself is.
In such a case, physical defects can often be compensated for by changing the chemical balance by the use of certain chemical drugs.
The Apostle Paul reveals that he himself once went to the Lord, asking Him to cure Paul of an unnamed “thorn in the flesh” that Paul believed was a messenger from Satan.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.”
The Bible doesn’t say what ailed Paul, but it was a very big deal as far as Paul was concerned. He didn’t give up after the first try, or even after the second.
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.”
But instead of the Lord removing whatever that ‘thing’ was that Paul felt damaged his effectiveness as a witness, the Lord instead told Paul why the defect was there in the first place.
“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.."
We are who God made us. There is no sin in that. It is how we handle the challenges that God gives us that matter.
“. . . Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9