Christ was sent into the world to heal the broken hearted. -D.L. Moody
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ -Mark 2:17
So many we know are hurt, so many ill, so many torn to shreds by the affect of the Fall, by sin, by the work of the Evil One. We are a fractured people, all of us. We are all of us the broken-hearted, in need of healing.
But the modern approach to healing (since the era of “modernity“) is to try to fix only the outer shell. It’s like taking a truck that’s been totaled to an autobody place. They may be able to fix the external body for awhile, but the engine (the heart) and the frame (the soul) may remain a wreck. Eventually, the truck will be back in due to more damage. The bent frame will force it back into the ditch, or the damaged engine may throw a piston through the hood. Or, the outer shell will be unfixable because the frame or engine is protruding out of the truck and it will be deemed “terminal.” “There’s nothing more we can do.” The thought of opening the hood and dealing with core structure of the frame doesn’t even enter their minds.
The church, instead of being “central to the world and the world peripheral to the church,” has taken on this incomplete reality and has largely approached people in the same way in our era, seeing them mostly as body only and not recognized, not really, not in practice, the soul or heart. That is why therapy and psychological sciences have only been around for the past 150 years or so. Before then, the church largely took care of the soul. For all his loony-ness, Freud at least recognized a gaping hole in the culture’s ontology and began dealing with the unseen, deeper reality of the soul (what he termed the “subconscious” and mostly misunderstood and misrepresented, but at least tried to recognize.)
We now have the “medical models” in the healing professions that seek to diagnose a “disorder” and seek to fix it, typically through medication. It’s a product of our culture, really. We are used to television shows that wrap up in an hour, to microwavable meals that are ready to eat in 2 minutes, to quick-drying glue and instant messages and packages that arrive to us expediently. The thought of an involved process is not new, but it is neither desired. And why is that?
To speak of process is really to speak of a journey, and in terms of the healing of our souls, it is a lifelong process. It is a journey, really, of becoming. Becoming whole, becoming holy. Jesus has provided us all we need for this life and all we need to become fully healed and fully whole, just like Jesus is (Philippians 4:19).
That is why the labels we use to identify “disorders” and those with them are so often unhelpful and even harmful. “He is bipolar.” “She has attention deficit disorder.” For one, it implies that the treatment must call for the use of drugs, which implies that the problem is biological. Second, it sets the person with the condition like a post is set is concrete — it solidifies the two together, making it rather hopeless for the one with the problem. Usually their best hope is to find a medication that will “work” for them to “fix the problem.” But the real problem is that the problem is not usually resolved, and the deeper issues of the heart not addressed, brought up, and exposed to the Light of day so that God may bring healing and wholeness to that person. The condition you see is always, always, a symptom of a broken heart due to the fallen world, sin, the work of the Evil One, or a combination of the three, which is usually the case.
I am taking a graduate-level psychopathology class in which we study the various mental disorders that are detailed in the DSM-IV, the psychiatrist’s handbook and bible. I need to know the labels and the disorders listed here simply because it’s the terminology that’s used and so many have been diagnosed with these various illnesses. And make no mistake, these problems are real, for sure. It is what we do with them, how we go about discovering the real problems and treating them that is lacking.
This is why Neil Anderson says*,
Secular psychology makes sense if all you are doing is studying the nature of fallen humanity. Scientific research studies and categorizes flesh patterns and with the intention of helping people cope. The goal of secular counseling is to explain people’s difficulties based on their life experiences, help them make better choices, and learn to live a more responsible life. They would need to relay on their own strengths and resources and the support of others, and take medication when deemed appropriate. The is the best the natural person can do if there is no gospel.
I promise you, attention deficit disorder is not the core issue. It never is. I know of a high school student who has been on Ritalin since he was 5 years old. Why? Because his mom is a single mother, trying her hardest to balance full-time work with being the full-time and only parent for her children. He was an active child, a creative one. The quick fix? Put him on medication that slows him down, keeps him calm, keeps him controlled. A pseudo-parent. He is now 17 years old and has no idea how to be a man, no idea what to do with the manly and creative energy and passion of his heart. Not only is he broken-hearted — no doubt due in part to the absence of a father in his life and now to the reality that there is no man around to lead him into true godly masculinity and manhood — he has doctors and other adults around him telling him that his real problem is that he is too active, too “ornery” and wild. Too wild?! But he is a young man! Wildness is his very nature! That is being medicated out of him, all the while the wounds go unaddressed and untreated.
Psychopathology is another way of talking about psychological abnormalities. But what is “normal,” anyway? Seriously. Conformity to a standard? What standard? What one culture defines as normal is viewed as outside the range of the average acceptable behavior by another. It seems to be culturally defined. Jesus definitely did not fit what the culture of the time viewed as “normal.” For this, he was misunderstood, rejected, thought to be “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21), and of course eventually crucified. In our day, he probably would have been diagnosed with disassociative identity disorder, fancying Himself to be Immanuel and all. He would have been placed in an asylum, given electroshock treatments, and dosed up on high amounts of reality-altering drugs.
But “normal” is not so relative as we would like to think. A friend of mine had a brilliant definition to the term. He said “Normal is the image of God displayed in His people.” The “standard” of conformity is to His image! Jesus, as the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), is the ultimate standard and definition of “normal”! He is the one we are to become like. It is His image we are to bear. It is His image, His heart, His attributes, that we are growing by grace to inherit, to express, to extend even unto “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are on a journey to becoming like God. We are being “fully trained” (Luke 6:40) in righteousness, which is to say, in full living (John 10:10). He is showing us the Way.
Do you see how that definition of normality is so hopeful? It is because all the ways we are abnormal, all the ways in which we miss the mark, are redeemable. The healing and restoration of the broken places of our hearts is the very mission of this Intimate Savior (Luke 19:10; Isaiah 61:1). If I have problems that point toward something like attention deficit, maybe it is because I have lacked a father in my life. Well, let me be introduced to the Father of all fathers! If I have issues that relate to obsessive-compulsive disorder, let the deep waters of my heart be explored, the broken pieces found and set back together, that I may become “whole and holy” by the love of God (Ephesians 1:3, The Message).
I am not trivializing the problems we face or trying to over-simplify them. They can be horrific and quite complicated. I’m actually recognizing them as much deeper and tragic than what we typically believe. But without the gospel, all we can offer is management of the problem, or a “once an addict always an addict” mindset. We will not be able to treat them without the Healer Himself, the One who has come that we might have life to the full. Nor am I saying that medicine is a bad treatment option for some “mental” disorders (are they not “heart” disorders?). I am saying that it is not enough, and it never will be. The deep ministry of Jesus to our hearts is a grace, a gift. The Spirit that we are given is a Counselor, and He has come to stay. God must think that we need a lot of therapy. How great it is He has come (John 16:7). And how great it is God has given us men and women with compassionate insight and godly wisdom (Proverbs 20:5) that through their help as well we might discover and bring to light the lost and broken places of our hearts, that they might be fully healed, made whole, and set free.
Neil Anderson continues,
Without the gospel, the best we can do is help those with mental health problems learn to cope, live more responsibly and try by human effort to abstain from negative thinking and behavior. Secular programs admonish their clients to, “Work the program, the program works.” But the best programs in the world, including Christian ones, can’t set anyone free, and good works can’t either. Only Christ can set us free. The goal in recovery has to be more than abstinence. If that were the goal, then Ephesians 5:18 would read, “Be not drunk with wine, therefore stop drinking.” The answer is to be filled with the Spirit, because where the “Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:18).**