The case of Nikolas Cruz, who last month allegedly shot and killed 17 Florida high-school students, renewed focus on critical aspects of mental health.
When someone is physically ill, there are often undeniable outward symptoms. But, when someone is mentally ill, the symptoms may be more difficult to perceive, and doctors may not always agree on the diagnosis or treatment (not that doctors always agree on physical diagnoses and treatments, either, of course).
We might mistakenly think that mental-health problems are limited to the homeless on the street-corner and do not also affect loved ones in our own homes or extended families. We might dismissively think that just because such problems are in the patients’ minds that “it is all in their head,” despite not only conditioned but in some cases also genetic and other physical causes of mental illness. Mental-health issues are real health-issues about which God cares—and we should also—as much as physical-health issues.
Spiritually speaking, physical and mental illnesses are consequences of sin’s presence in the world in general, if not of specific sins in particular. The God-man Jesus Christ died on the cross not only for us and for our sins of mistreating those mentally ill but also for the mentally ill and for their sins, whatever their sins might be. All sins are forgiven through faith in Jesus.
Although not always readily available or affordable, appropriate professional assistance for mental-health patients and their families is encouraged, even if behaviors are “embarrassing”. Pastors should and do provide the comfort of the Gospel that can bring peace to the warring mind, calm to the troubled heart, and rest to the weary. Likewise, individual Christians should and do act toward mental-health patients with Christian kindness and love no matter their circumstances.
Mindful of possible mental-health cases in the Bible, such as Saul (1 Samuel 16:14-23) and Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-37), we remember and remind the afflicted and their families that Jesus invites all to himself for rest (Matthew 11:28-30) and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.