Healing and Mental Illness

Healing and the goal of Health is one of the reasons this website exists. However, the supernatural aspects of healing have had such a bad press that it is hard to talk about healing without extremes of opinion. This article examines healing from a holistic and Christian point of view - looking at all the main issues, but also giving practical help.

It is quite long, but ends with a section on how healing might apply to mental illness. How does healing for mental illness differ from that for physical illness? In brief, it doesn't - but because of the nature of the problem, even more pastoral sensitivity is needed.

Healing - an introduction

One of the things that keeps me going at work is that I believe that much mental illness is just that - illness. The people I work with seem to be suffering in a way that is different from just problems with personality or character, motivation or even sinful attitudes. This is especially true of more obviously biologically-driven illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

There are of course types of mental distress that are not illness and here getting better can be more to do with personal responsibility - but even then there is often a blurring of issues. It may be someone's 'fault' that they are suffering - but we all have a responsibility to help others. Likewise, it may NOT be a person's 'fault' that they suffer, but only them taking responsibility will lead to a solution. This is why this website is called 'Mind AND Soul'.

This is one of the reasons why I get annoyed when people ONLY do things like try and cast demons out or think that people should pull their socks up, get a grip or stop sinning. If this is an illness, then people may ALSO need some kind of release that is not within their natural power. It seems to me that there are two ways this could happen:

  • by 'medicine' - the scientific application of things known to heal the things wrong with peoples' bodies: antibiotics, operations, antipsychotics, maybe even therapy.
  • by 'healing' - and by this I mean full removal of symptoms not to return and healing of the underlying problem: enacted by the holy spirit.
People get very sceptical when you start to talk about healing - it has been much misused by the church - but this doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Some see healings as merely coincidence and not supernatural at all. Others see them as very rare and that we shouldn't expect them. Still others think that healing should be 'banned' as it is an 'excuse' for people not to take medication or personal responsibility - and whilst this is a valid concern, I'm not sure the argument works both ways.

Here are some things I have noticed recently that first got me thinking - thanks to Ben for pointing some of them out:

  • In the Bible, people either die of old age, martyrdom or are put to death by God. There do not seem to be cases of believers dying young and this being thought of as neutral or unremarkable.
  • In New Testament times (gospels and acts), the expectation was for healing. There were times when there was not healing - eg, Jesus 'couldn't' do any miracles in his home town of nazareth because of their 'unbelief', but this was much less common.
  • For those who would follow him, Jesus promises suffering, trouble, martyrdom, and much more - but never illness.
  • When Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72, they were specifically commissioned to heal and given the authority to do so. Likewise, Jesus own self-commission in Luke 4.
It seems to me that by and large what was the norm then has become the abnormal and unusual today. Is this because the Holy Spirit is less active today or because we are not using the power and authority given to us? This is particularly relevant to me as a doctor.

Healing in the Bible

These are some bible verse that discuss healing. I'm just putting them down here to promote though and will tie them together later in other articles.

  • Gifts of healing are present in 1 Corinthians 12 - unless you have a cessationalist theology, this should still be going on today. People often say that God heals only occasionally, but I don't see a quantitative limit in the Bible.
  • Jesus distinguished between demonic possession and illness: eg, Luke 13v32: "Behold, I cast out demons AND perform cures today and tomorrow". Likewise sin and sickness are not always the same thing: eg, John 9v1-3: "As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." So we should not attribute all illness to specific sins - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't seek divine healing.
  • There is forgiveness for sin at the cross, but is there also a promise of physical healing? People quote 1Peter 2v24: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." (In turn quoting Isaiah 3v5). Some see this 'healing' as being literal and physical, others see it as merely metaphorical for inner healing. If, however, the sacrifice and payment of Christ's death and resurrection is meant to cover physical illness too, then "The sick Christian has either failed to "appropriate" fully the benefits of the atonement, or else he is guilty of some personal sin for which the sickness is sent as a divine judgment." (Was Christ Punished For Our Diseases? Grace Journal, Vol. 31A, p. 3). Is this true?
  • If God is all knowing, how do our prayers influence him? 1 John 5:14-15 tells us that "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him." and Mark 11v24 says "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Taking these two together, it must be that healing will only occur if we are asking for what is God's will. But, if point 3 is correct, then to heal is God's will and therefore our prayers do not challenge the sovereignty of God - merely facilitate his action. So - why is it sometimes that these prayers don't seem to be answered? The Bible tells us that the prayer of a 'righteous man' that brings healing in James 5:13-16 may be suggesting that the 'righteous man' is more able to bring God's healing???

So, if healing can happen today and is not just about possession and prayer is merely a way into what God has planned, the key question is whether God has promised healing for all believers and how are we to understand and apply that

Faith and healing

Below is a graph that summarises one set of thoughts I have about miraculous healing. It suggests that as your personal faith grows, so will the healing you see and that there is a relationship between them. This is the red line and we should 'expect' this as a norm.
I am being controversial in suggesting that a common feature of the Christian life should be to see more healing as we have more faith. I need to stress that personal faith is only ONE element of the conditions needed for healing (the full list comes later this week), but I do think it is a key part. I'm not into 'name it and claim it', but I do think that the Bible tells us to ask for things and that the miraculous is possible and that on many occasions healing was related to faith and the extent of that faith. For example, James 5:13-16 where I believe that 'righteous' means more than just anyone who is saved otherwise why else ask the Elders?

You'll also notice that I have marked two other areas on the graph that do not lie on the line. This is because I think that there is more than just faith at play:

  • Sovereignty. There are times when people clearly have faith but are not healed. Excellent examples are some of the most famous faith healers known - John Wimber who died young of cancer, David Watson the same, Smith Wigglesworth who was blind and whose daughter was crippled with heart failure, Dhinakaren (a massive Indian healer - www.jesuscalls.org) who has polio. They had shed-loads of faith - enough to heal others - but could not heal themselves (heard that somewhere before...)
  • Grace. There are times when healing happens when the person has no faith. A good example is the man who lay by the pool of healing in John 5 - he blamed others for his condition, made no attempt to follow Jesus and ratted on him to the authorities. Also, Jesus healed Lazarus when he didn't even have a pulse let alone faith.

However, I want to be quite clear that I think we hide behind these two exceptions as excuses of why we don't see more healing today. The sovereignty and the grace of God remove the guilt and blame often experienced when healing does not happen - and are key to our pastoral understanding and application of healing - but this does not absolve the church of it's role to be praying for and expecting healing among those it touches. I believe in miracles.

Can we heal like Jesus did?

Jesus had a 100% healing record - he never 'failed', though there were some places he was unable to do miracles because of people's lack of faith. We are called to follow him in this like all things - but will we ever reach 100%, or merely approach it? Are there things about Jesus that mean we will never be able to heal in the way he did? Some suggestions below:

  • He was incarnate and had  a virgin birth with no original sin. Our sins have effectively been taken away, but we do still sin. Does this have an effect?
  • When he was on earth, it was said that the bridegroom was present (Matthew 9) - now, the bridegroom is gone and things are not as they were and will not be again until he comes again. What does this mean?
  • He had a full and perfect anointing with the Holy Spirit - though we are spirit-filled, we still need to be 'over-filled' or 're-filled' with the Spirit from time to time. Is our anointing totally the same or different?
  • There are some things Jesus did that we are told we cannot do - remember Peter trying to follow Jesus to the cross. If we can't die for the sins of the whole world, then maybe we can't heal to 100% either.
  • He was totally one with the father - will we ever achieve this and what did that special level of communication bring?
I'm not suggesting for a moment that we can't heal more than we currently do or that we shouldn't aim for 100%. Maybe I'm just trying to make sure that I don't feel guilty when we don't manage that 100% score card like my Lord did.

W-holistic healing

Sometimes it seems that we only want one part of us healed - eg, there has been a tendency to focus in churches on healing the relationship between God and man [some conservative evangelicals], or in healing ministries to focus on the physical healing only [some Pentecostals].

In Genesis 1-3, it was the WHOLE of creation that was perfect and the WHOLE of creation that was affected by the fall. Below is a six-fold list [based on Genesis 1-3) of what I think constitutes holistic healing. Some of you may have additions, but you will see where mental illness fits in: a combination of points 1 and 2.

  • MIND - if we are made in the image of God, we strive towards achieving the mind of Christ. This is something we have in part, but constantly need to work towards.
  • EMOTIONS - we are in need of inner healing as our souls cry out to God and our past continues to have a hold over us.
  • PHYSICAL - this is the most obvious and the most tangible. There are many examples of physical healing in the Bible.
  • SPIRITUAL - there is a link between sin and healing: as we confess our sins we are healed.
  • SOCIAL - when Jesus healed there was always a social element, eg the woman healed of bleeding was not socially healed as well as physically.
  • COSMICALLY - this might seem like an odd one, but there is a sense in which creation groans and longs to be healed. this makes perfect sense if you come from a Hindu background.
I therefore have a dream of holistic healing in which we are restored in our bodies, find healthy emotions, renew our minds, advance spiritually, transform society and restore the cosmic balance.

I don't think you can just do one of these six, or if you do then you are likely to run into problems - eg, physically healed now, but go on to become ill again [John 5:1-14, esp v14], selfish desire for healing with no regard for God [John 4:48], emotional/physical healing but no encounter with God [modern medical services] - I could go on

Conditions for healing

I want to look at some conditions that make it MORE likely for healing to happen. Before anyone has a go at me for trying to 'manipulate' God, I would remind people that tons has been written on the best way to do evangelism or preaching (healing our souls and renewing our minds) so why not something on healing physical and mental illness?

  1. Believe healing happens today. This may sound obvious, but some people believe that supernatural signs were merely features of the early church to initially authenticate it, but have now passed from regular use. This is usually called 'cessationalism' - which I don't believe in but now is not the time to debate this. Also, God can certainly heal you without this belief but it makes it more likely that you will ask.
  2. The prayer of faith. James 5v14-16 tells us to pray for the sick and that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. There is quite a bit of debate over whether this righteousness is a fixed quantity we have all received from God and cannot be increased, or whether it is something we can work at and make ourselves more righteous and more holy and more full of faith. I personally [and pragmatically] believe that gifts are effective in proportion to the faith of the person using them and that we should do all we can to increase our faith and holiness in the expectation and hope [not demand] that God use us more. At a more basic level, if we don't have faith that God will heal then we will be unlikely to try it very often for fear that it will 'fail'.
  3. The charisma [gift] of healing. The Bible is clear that some have a special gift of healing in the same way that others have a special gift of teaching or evangelism. This doesn't mean that those who don't have the gift can't heal but it does suggest that there will be those who God has particularly planned to use and will use in this area. Additionally, I think that in working with healing mental illness, this gift is probably accompanied by a good dose of the gift of discerning between spirits to see if the 'illness' in question is an illness, a sin or a possession - and how much responsibility the person themselves needs to take.
  4. The willingness of the person to be healed. We can obviously heal without this - after all Jesus healed some people who didn't even have a pulse - but a common reason for a person not being healed in scripture is their lack of desire to embrace a new level of living. If healing is part of a holistic process of turning towards God and wholeness, for some this is too hard, to new, too painful. For others it is downright too disruptive to a lifestyle of sin they do not wish to leave. We are called to help those who are finding it hard to move to a place of wholeness (see my earlier post on holistic healing) and called to challenge those who a rebelling from God in many areas of their lives.
  5. The community of love. Again, because of the holistic nature of healing, it is seen most often in an authentic community of love. Travelling healers may see some effects on stage but these will often be transient and unless the person journeys into a deeper walk with God they will most likely become ill again. In John 5v14-15, the man healed at the pool had at least made it as far as the temple and Jesus encourages him to get fully involved in the community. One of the underlying themes of my church is that we are called to build God's House and not a Travelling Circus - it is about lasting change in a community of love.
  6. The Grace and specific will of God. Whilst I believe it is the general will of God that all should be healed, this is not always seen. It is the general will of God that all should turn to him and be saved, but this does not happen. Some of the reasons for this this we can explain and they are in factors 1-5 above, but there are undoubtedly factors at work that we cannot understand or grasp, both in salvation and in healing. A good verse is Deuteronomy 29v29: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." ie, God has given us some guidance on how to be saved and how to be healed, but the last word has not been spoken. There are times when a person wants to be healed and the healer is gifted and full of faith, but the healing still does not happen. I will write later about 'wounded healers' - people with a strong healing gift who are still ill themselves! Unless we have point 6 here, then the only other alternative is to berate the healer or the sufferer with accusations about sin in their life or lack of faith and this may not be the case. Grace is ultimately relational - it is a strong relationship like a good marriage and we can ask and expect to receive - but it is never transactional, we cannot demand of God or He will not be God anymore but just a slot-machine made to do our bidding.
  7. Partnership and Participation. God asks us to do what we can - so he can then do what we can't. In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus asks them where he is (He knew), to roll the stone away (He could have done this with his finger) and to unbind him (again, with a word He could have done this). God wants us to seek our own healing as well as seeking him. This may mean medicine or therapy, or it may be a more holistic pursuit of wholeness in our lives. He will not do for us what we are quite capable of doing for ourselves - after all, the Father wants His children to grow up.
Can I repeat my point that these are not a magical list, but just some ideas about how we might see more healing today.

Healing and MY faith

A common question asked in healing ministries is "does the amount of faith I have affect whether I am likely to get healed?" This is especially true if healing has seemingly not taken place - you're still depressed, still in the wheel chair. The next step is sadly to assume that you didn't have enough faith and that you must be a sinner, weak-minded or not have put enough cash in the offering bowl. This is the sort of response that may well be more likely in mental illness that physical illness. It is also the sort of thing that brings a bad name to healing. In this post I want to look at three reasons why this faith=result equation is not a good stick to beat yourself over the head with. It's a great place to start, but a real bad place to finish!

1. Faith is a muscle: strengthen it

We do not all have the same amount of faith and it is not always of the same quality. We are told in Ephesians 1 that it is a gift sealed with the holy spirit - all believers have enough of it. We are told in 2 Peter 1 to 'make every effort' to add to and increase our faith my human work (training a muscle down the gym) and we are told in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 14 that whilst we all have enough, this 'enough' is different for us all and enables us to do things 'in proportion' to our faith.
What I am getting at in this is that whilst we all have 'enough' faith for many things, we also have a responsibility to try to increase our faith for 'all things', but this will take time. We cannot 'desire' more faith over-night or find some by getting 'zapped' with the holy spirit at some conference. ie, don't bemoan your current level of faith, but rather WORK the muscle, stretch your faith, nourish it and test it out. My current faith is my current faith - this MIGHT be my fault but is definitely my opportunity.

2. Faith comes in stages: accept it

Two of the verses often used to say that healing should be there for all believers are Matthew 8v17 (quoting Isaiah 53v4 and referring to the cross) "He took up our infirmities, he carried our diseases." and also 1Peter 2v24, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by his wounds you have been healed." The temptation is to equate salvation with healing and to assume that if you are a Christian then you should be healed.
I have suggested that there is a strong link between these to in previous posts in this healing series (the faith graph, holistic healing); but it is not a transactional relationship. Also, there are a number of stages of healing just as there are a number of stages of salvation. You might have heard the old ditty: I HAVE BEEN saved from the penalty of sin by the cross, I AM BEING saved from the power of sin by the Spirit, I WILL BE saved from the presence of sin in heaven one day. These three 'tenses' of salvation are common in the Bible. Likewise there are three stages of healing:
- I have been given HOPE OF HEALING (because of the two verses above and the certainty of Jesus' death and resurrection, I should expect the good news of the kingdom to open up transformation and breakthrough for all who will follow His way)
- I am BEING HEALED holistically, which includes physically, but it is a process as much as an event and if I am not careful any healing I receive could become illness again (remember the man who had been by the pool for 38 years)
- I WILL BE HEALTHY in a perfect resurrection body when I get to heaven, with no illness and no sin and no suffering

3. Faith doesn't always work: read the bible and history!

If you read through the bible, you come across several occurrences where good men and women of God are not healed:
  • 2 Cor 4:16-18 "outwardly wasting away"
  • 2 Cor 12:7-9 Paul's "thorn in the flesh" [though I accept this may well not be physical]
  • Phil 2:25-27 Epaphroditis was ill [but god had mercy and he didn't die]
  • 1 Tim 5:23 "frequent illnesses" [note: timothy's or the churches?]
  • 2 Tim 4:20 Paul "left Trophimus sick in Miletus"
If you read the stories of famous faith-healers down through the ages, they often also have illnesses - the so-called "wounded healer" [another post soon]: people like Smith Wigglesworth (blind), his daughter (rheumatic heart disease), John Wimber (died young of cancer: 63), David Watson (died young of cancer: 50), Dhinakaran [www.jesuscalls.org, a big indian healer] (polio). A friend of mine who has researched over twenty faith healers says that "they are often the most ill people he has seen".

So, if you have looked for healing and haven't found it fully - you are not alone. It requires faith to be strengthened over time, will never be complete till heaven and you are in good company. But (the other side of the coin) please still continue to expect it in faith, lay hold of it in hope and undertake the process of holistic healing in all life areas - be 'content' but don't be 'satisfied' with the way things are at the moment. I'm on this journey too.

All in the trailer

Have you ever had the experience of going to the cinema and seeing a great trailer, only to know that that contained all the action in the film and that the actual viewing of the film would be boring and unexciting? Happened to me with 'Liar, Liar'.

Then ask yourself, if you were to make a trailer about the process of therapy which could be aired on national TV for ten minutes, what would you put in it? Probably all the success stories, the highlights, the moments of self-actualisation. But in actually fact, all therapists and patients who have found success in therapy know that whilst the events might be important in making key decisions, it is the longer and less exciting process which makes the real difference.

God has a similar problem with Christians who want clear signs that He exists. In Romans 1v20, he tells people that there is enough evidence from the history of the world (process) even though they weren't there for the event of creation. In Luke 11v29, they are after a miraculous sign (event), but the old sign they will get will be the 'sign of Jonah' which symbolises an attitude (process) towards God to believe even when the signs are lacking - read the rest of Luke 11. In churches today, people chase after the latest revival (event) rather than get on with the process of building the local church.

God knows that dependency on events leads to an event-based-mentality where, when the events stop, people say "there is no love in this church" or "there is no skill in this therapy" and move on to another quick fix whereas true healing, release and breakthrough come from a long work and obedience in the same direction.

Next time you see a trailer, remember the type of mindset the advertisers are trying to engage you in - and move above it!

The Healing Cube

This section summarises a lot of the themes discussed more fully in other sections on this page. It's aims are to help us see that there is rarely one factor at play, help us discuss healing more biblically - for both mental and physical illness, and help us raise the issue of healing with people who have a mental illness without making them feel stupid/sinful/weak/etc. All these may apply in part, but are rarely the entire answer.

When I was young I had a Rubix Cube. Each side was made up of three sections. I never managed to do it... Like the cube, there are three key areas of healing (the three sides of a cube you can see) and each of these has three sub aspects. These are listed below. Together they make 27 ways we can think about healing for any given situation - so it will rarely be appropriate to shout at someone that they haven't got enough faith to be healad when it's likely some or even all of the other 26 factors may be at play.

Areas of Healing:
1. Our Relationship with God {includes the Spirit and Soul]
2. Our Relationships with our Bodies [includes the Body and Mind]
3. Our Relationships with things around us [includes each other, the environment, our roles]

Times of Healing:
1. The past - we have been given the ability to be healed
2. The present - we are being healed
3. The future - we will be healthy

Responsibility for Healing:
1. Us and our Faith
2. God and His sovereignty and grace
3. Others - the healing community of the church and those with a special gift of healing

Healing and mental illness

If mental illness is an illness, and not weak-mindedness or a deliberate sin, then healing should be possible. It should be approached in the same way as physical healing, on which so much has been written.

  1. Healing brings hope. Often I have heard people say things like, "it can't be real schizophrenia [or chronic fatigue or ADHD] as the person got better". This is an awful therapeutic stance. There is a place for palliation, but there is also always a place for hope.
  2. Both physical and mental healing are covered under the concept of holistic healing. This is especially true for mental illness, where social and interpersonal factors are so important.
  3. Mental illness is also closely linked to the health of our souls, perhaps more so than physical illness. But the spirit is still 'free' and 'holy'. I think this is one area where the platonic divide is helpful as it allows us to see that people with ill minds and influenced souls do not have a lesser or poorer faith than those who do not. we ALL have a faith as precious as the first apostles (see 2Peter 1v1).
  4. Events have a massive role in mental illness [as past traumas, as triggers for relapse or as moments of revelation and healing], but process is also vital. Ironically, mental health services, especially psychological and social interventions, have always been set up to deliver process and have always been wary of the quick fix. We should embrace this where we can. Even medication can be seen as part of process as something that protects and aids other recoveries.
  5. Non-healings carry special significance, as they feed into the feelings of helplessness and despair already being experienced by someone who is depressed. Hence the importance of God's sovereignty in healing and the role of process in healing must be communicated as well, rather than them feeling it is their fault that they have not been healed.
  6. Participation in a healing community will bless people at many levels, especially in understanding healing as process and aiding reintegration of a broken mind and soul into society. Salvation is not personal - it comes with the church and the body - so too healing and hope of healing.
  7. Healing Praxis - all this theorising is very good, but a key thing must be to meet people who have been healed of mental illness. I am beginning to do this, maybe as I begin to talk about it. I can assure you that it is as real as physical healing, but is also accompanied by the same dangers and traps.
  8. There are wounded healers in the arena of physical healing - people who heal others yet are not healed themselves. I also know this to be true in mental illness - many people with great skills in counselling or therapy may at times be depressed, anxious or even psychotic. yet, they manifest great kindness, creativity and love. They know in truth that "His name is Jesus, He understands"
What are your thoughts on the special place of mental illness in healing? Please comment below.
Rob Waller, 12/01/2011
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