God and Mental Illness

A few years ago, someone – and unfortunately, I cannot remember for the life of me who this someone was – said something that stuck right in the back of my brain. At the time I just thought “huh, that would be interesting to think about some more” and continued with my run.

But ever since the quote has popped up in my head over and over again.

“Until your concept of the gospel has a way to handle mental illness, you may need to reevaluate how salvation ‘works’ …”

(That’s me paraphrasing … since I can’t actually find the actual quote anymore)

At the outset, I should clarify that I have not “developed” a “theology of the gospel” that I think answers the question of how to fit mental illness in our concept of how salvation “works” yet. What this off-hand comment has done to me over the years is slowly tear down some of the ways I have formerly thought about God and salvation.

For example; I grew up thinking that salvation involved a time in every person’s life where they are given an opportunity to either accept or reject God. If we accept him, we are “saved” but if we reject him we are not. This is the moment of salvation. Sure, we could say we are “being saved” and include the process leading up and leading away from this “moment of decision”, but there still is/was a moment where we must rationally decide to accept or reject what God has done for us.

Enter: Mental Illness

This throws a major wrench in the proverbial wheel.

Now, not all mental illnesses are completely debilitating, but we can all agree that some appear to remove the ability to form rational thoughts and/or to make an educated decision (as we understand it).

So, how can we deal with that? How can salvation “work” the way we have thought it does when a portion of the population is born with a “disability” that prevents them from making such a choice (accept God or reject him) in a “rational” way.

(Note: I am using a lot of “quotation marks” because the science of mental illness is a much disputed field where the boundary of what constitutes an illness and what doesn’t is much-debated. I have no desire to enter that conversation as I am completely unqualified to do so.)

So, I have seen some of my concepts of salvation, the gospel and how it all “works” shattered and rebuilt. I am also starting to try to better understand how our brain’s work and while there is plenty of great information on the power of our brain, I have found something not at all surprising … there seems to be virtually no good information or discussion on the intersection between mental illness and theology.

As I said, this is not surprising given the fact our society, as a whole, tends to want to ignore mental illness and treat it either as if it doesn’t exist or that it is something nothing can really be done about.

So, after all this, I am asking for a favour. If you happen to come across any good resources, please pass them along. I would love to hear of any you may know.



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