Mental Health: Why God?
In Hebrew, the book of Lamentations is entitled, “HOW?!” It’s the cry, the question of the sufferer. That one word is laced with pain. It is the question of the broken, calling out to a God who is supposed to love them and yet has allowed them to suffer.
If you’re one of the more than 40 million adults in the United States suffering from an anxiety disorder, you’re familiar with that cry. If you know the pain of suffering mental health, you know that cry, and you know the journey for answers. Perhaps you’ve found some on that journey, and maybe you’re still searching. My hope for this post today is that it provides a biblical roadmap to you if you’re on the search, crying out to God for answers.
When you open your Bible with an eye toward mental health, you can find the anguish of men and women who suffered all sorts of maladies.
You find Hannah, who suffered a deep depression over her barrenness and the mockery of her rival. You find Elijah, whose depression ran so deep after three years of isolation and having his life threatened by Ahab and Jezebel, that he asked God to take his life. Sometimes, like Hannah and Elijah, we suffer because we live among broken people in a broken world.
Elsewhere, you find Paul, tormented by a messenger from Satan, desperate for relief that never comes. You find Job attacked and afflicted because he was a paragon of virtue. You see even Jesus, so overcome with anguish on the night of His betrayal that He sweat blood and is personally tormented by Satan. Sometimes, like Paul and Christ, we suffer because we are about God’s work, and there are spiritual forces that oppose God, and therefore us. Sometimes, we suffer precisely because we are doing the right thing.
It would be comforting if those were the only reasons we found people suffering with their mental health in the Bible. If those were the only cases, we could simply look outside of ourselves and blame others, but they are not the only cases.
When you keep looking, you find Saul tormented because he rejected God’s kingship. You find Nebuchadnezzar, struck down in his pride to think he was an animal. Sometimes, we suffer because of our sin.
You find Jonah after all God did to move his heart, suffering bitterly at the salvation of Nineveh. Sometimes, our anguish comes because we refuse to align our hearts to God’s will and continue to grasp after what He has said we should not have.
When we cry out, “HOW?!” with the author of Lamentations, it might be a simple answer that God gives back in His timing and grace, but it might not be. Your life may be more like Joseph’s, who suffered at his brother’s hands because of immaturity and pride and their wicked response, suffered at Potiphar’s hands because of the wickedness of Potiphar’s wife, and languished in a jail cell because of the forgetfulness of a man who ought to have remembered him.
When we cry out, “HOW?!”, sometimes we are answered with what feels like silence. This was my story.
When I experienced my first anxiety attack in 2015, I didn’t know what was happening. I just thought I was sick. When it kept happening, I visited doctors, and they kept telling me I was healthy while I kept telling them I wasn’t. As it felt like my body was failing me, I cried out to God in frustration time and again. And then, in 2017, I finally began to understand. I began to understand first that I had anxiety, not a stomach parasite. I began to understand what triggered my attacks and that, in my case, it wasn’t biological. I began to understand that there was brokenness in my faith. I believed God saved people for eternity and acted as if He needed me to save people now (though I would never have claimed that was true). I believed what the world around me needed most was me in control, and failed to walk out what I believed, that what I needed most was Jesus in control.
For me, it took nearly two years to reach the root of pride and disbelief that blossomed into my anxiety. And it took just as long fighting in desperate faith to see God replacing that root. Now anxiety isn’t daily, though I still revert to that pattern occasionally.
I share my story, not to proclaim my victory, but to proclaim God’s sufficient grace and the hope that it might be a point of encouragement if you’re walking this path with me. When we are crying out to God, there is profound hope and grace.
We have hope because we have a perfect high priest who has suffered in every way that we have, yet without sin. Jesus understands, and He advocates for us. He invites us to draw near in pain and find His rest.
We have hope because God’s grace is sufficient, and God’s power is so perfect in weakness that the apostle Paul was not only content in his weakness, but he also boasted in it.
We have hope because even when we suffer because of pride, unbelief, or some other sin, if we are in Christ, we serve a God who forgave Nebuchadnezzar, who has washed us clean of every sin, making us into a new creation.
We have hope because Jesus is in the room, and He can deliver His perfect peace as we take our anxieties to Him in prayer.
If you want me to tell you why you suffer from mental illness, I can’t. God can give answers in His timing, but sometimes that journey is long. If you find yourself on that journey today, do not despair. We have hope because of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself up for us.