Most of you are aware of Netflix’s new series (Well, I guess it is not new anymore…) named 13 Reasons Why based off of a book of the same name. Both the book and TV series explore the 13 reasons that the main character committed suicide. The reason she committed suicide was a mix of desperation and a desire for revenge. In reality, the reason people commit suicide is because they believe that death is preferable to life. They are going through so much suffering that they can’t even imagine a place of worse suffering. While 13 Reasons Why is wildly inaccurate with the psychology, at least it has gotten people to talk about depression and suicide. While I would never recommend watching the series or reading the book, I do believe that there is a desperate need within society to talk about depression and suicide, especially in the Church.
So, without further ado, the following are “13 Reasons Why” Christians need psychology.
(1) Psychology struggles to understand “why”
Psychology tends to ask two questions: “How?” and “Why?” In much the same way Christianity also asks these same questions, but in a slightly different context. “How did the world get to the state that it is in? How can I gain salvation?” and once the person becomes a Christian, “Why do I keep choosing my way over God’s?” Psychology, like Christianity, struggles to understand the human condition. Many think that everything within psychology is based on the thought that there is no God, but that is simply not the case. Some Psychologists are Christian, while others are not, just like any other branch of science. If anything, psychology allows for a God more than any other science.
(2) Many things in the field of psychology agree with the Bible
One thing that psychology and Christianity agree on is that this world is messed up. Within the lens of Christianity, we know this is because of sin and living in a fallen world. In psychology it is attributed to living in a non perfect world and often due to the wrong behaviors of others. Aka, both Christianity and psychology believe that (in one way or another) both man and the world are flawed. I could go on and on about this topic about the similarities between many treatment methods used in counseling, and how nearly identical methods are described in the Bible, but those are topics for a different time.
Recently I was reading the book Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt. He begins to talk about how many Christian fail to listen to those whom they are trying to convert–or even simply in a relationship. We fail to see others as people rather than projects. Within the Gospels, we see Jesus first listen to people then give advice. We are to follow his example. If Christians would just slow down, shut up and listen, there would be much less need for psychologists. Because at the deepest level, we just long to be listen to and understood by someone else. We all just want to be loved as we are.
(3) The scope of psychology is broad and not all that is under psychology is addressed in the Bible
Let me get straight to the point, the Bible is not sufficient for everything in psychology. The scope of psychology is very broad. From strokes, to learning disorders, to traumatic brain injuries (I will talk about these later on) the Bible only talks about how we should act toward those people. Nowhere in the Bible does it talk about reading strategies for people for dyslexia. What we know about dyslexia, and how to “manage” dyslexia comes from psychology.
The point that I am trying to make is this: the Bible tell us to love our neighbors, but not how to love our neighbors. Loving someone who has had a stroke isn’t always baking casseroles, sometimes it is teaching them how to read again. And what branch of science studies the brain and how it works? Psychology and Neurology (there is quite a bit of overlap). The greatest commandments are to love God and to love others as yourself. That is never in question. But psychology is much more than trying to make people happy. It has much to do with regaining function. Believe it or not the goal is not to make the person happy, but to equip them to deal with their emotions in healthy ways. Depression isn’t cured when the person feels happy, depression has been treated successfully when that person can reintegrate into their life.
A stroke is when part of the brain in damaged, either from bleeding in the brain, or a clot in the blood vessels in the brain. Depending on the severity, strokes can have temporary or permanent damage to the brain. We know what part of the brain controls what because of strokes. By looking at the symptoms of the stroke, we can determine what part of the brain is damaged. It is often (medical) doctors and psychologist that work together and create a plan of care. Perhaps this one goes more into the realm of neurology, but it is still studied by psychologists to understand the brain better.
(5) Traumatic Brain Injury
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is just that, an injury to the brain. It can be from external forces such as a concussion from a sports game or car crash. There are also hypoxic brain injuries that occur when the brain is deprived of oxygen. More recently, there has been more and more media attention to the dangers of TBI’s, specifically from concussions in football. We know that depression is sometimes related to parts of the brain being injured because we can see evidence from the people with TBIs. We know that if certain parts of the brain is injured, the person experiences hallucinations. Meaning that just because someone is seeing things, doesn’t mean they are possessed. Someone can lose sight with a blow to the back of the head, and because of people like Phineas Gage we know that damage of frontal lobe leads to personality changes.
(6) Learning Disabilities (Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, ADHD, etc.)
I have dyslexia, so let me debunk a few “Christian” myths. Yes, I struggled for years to read my Bible, not because I didn’t love God, or didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but simply because I could not read well enough for comprehension. If someone had stopped pointing their fingers at me saying that I didn’t love God, and read aloud to me the words or the Bible, I could understand the Bible. It wasn’t until middle school that I could read my NIrV Bible and could read the word of God for myself with complete comprehension of the content.
I was diagnosed by a psychologist. It was a psychologist that planned my extra classes to help me catch up to my peers. It is psychology that is making great leaps to understanding the mechanisms with learning disabilities. There were many nights that I prayed I would no longer be dyslexic because I was being bullied at my church and school by adults and children for my reading skills. God said no, and I believe that he has a plan to work through me, even if I can’t see it yet. What if churches reached out to individuals with learning disabilities instead of ostracizing them? How many live would be saved, changed, and rearranged?
(7) Special Needs Children are precious to God too
This topic is one of my passions. Few things make me as angry as a church not caring for special needs children. Are we not commanded to care for “the least of these”? Is not the child with down syndrome the least of these? What about my friend with autism, doesn’t God care about her too? Far too often the church is more concerned with her outward image. We fear to associate with people different from us, as if we could “catch” what they have. But I invite you to watch the Drop Box, or at least read my article (Christianity in Action: The Dropbox). South Korea has more plastic surgery than any other country. The image you present is paramount within the society. But within the city of Seoul (the capital), Pastor Lee cares for children that were abandoned by their parents, often because they had disabilities. It is the authentic love of Christ that enables Pastor Lee to care for those children.
Do not these children deserve love and care? God has not forgotten them, and he has heard their plight. It seems (at least from what I have seen) the only people fighting for them are their parents and psychologists. Perhaps, Church, if you spent a little more time caring for people, and a little less time hating them, you could see how God loves all people.
(8) Mental, Sexual, and Physical abuse signs
As sad as it is, abuse still happens in the Church. In the past few years near where I live, Christian parents were arrested for torturing their children. You read that right: torture. These parent attended a local Church where they were involved with many ministries and even adopted children from a foreign country. Their children were starved, threatened, beaten, etc. While some members of the church suspected something, police and other church member failed to act. It was only after years of torture that the parents were arrested. This is why we need to know the signs of mental and sexual abuse in addition to the signs of physical abuse. Just because a child is in the church does not mean the child is safe. Justice is caring for those people who cannot protect themselves: children who are abused, a battered wife, and anyone going through any kind of abuse. The thought that a church wouldn’t learn these signs because “they are not in the Bible” astounds me–in a bad way. The Bible is sufficient for everything in spiritual life, but not everything in life. And before you stone me, let me explain! The Bible isn’t going to give you driving directions, it is not going to teach me how to properly insert an IV (I’m a nursing student), it doesn’t have recipes. Knowing the signs of abuse is practical and vital in a church that cares about the community.
(9) Depression is more common in the Church than we would like to admit
There are two causes of depression: situational and chemical. I shouldn’t even have to talk about situational, but it seems the church has missed the point. One of my friends was struggling with depression (due to a situation) and began to self-harm. The church rather than coming along side her, gave her a 10 page packet about how she was going to Hell, citing Bible verses out of context. Christianity is a compassionate call. If you don’t know, compassion is “suffering with.” When the church refuses to come alongside its struggling members, it is tantamount to telling them to go to Hell. I don’t know how else to phrase the church’s indifference to depression. It is as if they have pulled the trigger themselves. I believe that God will hold them responsible, and that seems to be the only justice I will get.
Depression is more than just a feeling of sadness, but the lack of any other emotion. “When you listen to people describe their depression, you will hear two extremes. People will report that the pain is so intense that they want to die. Others will describe an emotional numbness in which they are already dead. Sometimes you will hear one person describe living with both extremes simultaneously.” (Source: Blame it on the Brain [book]) Where is your compassion?
And even if the person has caused their situation, you must still come alongside them. Or do you not remember that when we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly….No one wants depression, or any type of suffering for that matter. Pointing fingers and assigning blame will never fix the problem–and keep in mind that the problem might be chemical.
(10) Suicide and suicidal ideation
I can’t phrase it any better than the article “Healing comes from Christ,” so I won’t try. “…As I write, it is the 32nd day after my son, in a split second, put to death the precious life that my husband and I created from our own flesh and blood over 22 years ago….” I did not know him well, but I knew him. I remember talking to him during my study hall about how bullying should never happen in the church. It was something we were both passionate about, and something we had both experienced. But with grace and poise, his mother continues to address the church.
“Does this mean that we keep mum about such things as suicide and sweep it under the rug? Avoid Discussing it? Refuse to acknowledge that it happens? Fail to address the why? Not at all. Undoubtedly we all need to be aware, but especially as parents, of behaviors and activities and mental states of the ones we love and care about. But this awareness needs to come in the form of proper education, proper research, proper counselling, and proper understanding based on medical, spiritual, physiological factual information, not theatrical and fictitious dramatizations[13 Reasons Why]….I know that the true healing will come with Christ’s return.”
Do you know how bad someone’s life has to be where they believe that death is a better than life? Really, think about that for a moment. Do you know what it is like to have so much suffering that the thought of drawing another breath fills you with trepidation? The world is incredibly broken, and some people get more than their fair share of sorrow. But, Church, you are to be so loving that people will feel comfortable telling you about suicidal thoughts because they know you will still love and care for them. “Perfect love casts out fear.” Church, your call is to the lonely, the broken-hearted, the lost, the poor, the least of these….Do I need to go on? If you cannot love someone who is suicidal, is Christ’s love really in your life? Because I know that He deeply loves those who think life may not be worth living.
(11) Eating Disorders
A few year back I had the honor of hearing the testimonies from the people in my small group at church. About a third of the people that I saw once or twice a week had/were struggling with an eating disorder–and I had no clue. Perhaps it is because I have never had an eating disorder, but I didn’t understand the impact it had on these people’s lives. It was through many tears and prayer, and coming alongside these people, that they were healed. It make me think, how many more people in this church secretly struggle with an eating disorder? Again, the fear of judgement keeps many people from admitting they need help. Thankfully not at my church, but I have heard from some other churches, that the people who admit they have eating disorders are shunned. This is quite simply not the way of Christ.
Yes, it may reflect that you do not see that your value comes from Christ alone, but the way to deal with that is not secrecy. As a Church we are to build each other up! Perhaps we don’t know that Christ loves us as we are because we were never told! Far from punishment or judgement, we are to come alongside and love those brave enough to share their most inner struggles with us.
(12) Mental Illness does not care if you are a Christian
Dyslexia, TBI, stroke, schizophrenia–none of these things care if you are a Christian. They affect you anyway. They are just as likely to occur in Christians as in non-Christians. So, why is it then, that mental health is almost exclusively talked about outside the church? Why is it that members of a community that was modeled after Jesus, get told that they are not wanted? I have watched friends walk away from Christianity–I almost did myself. And the reason why had to do with Christians telling them they were not good enough. “Oh, you have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. We don’t want you here.” “Don’t talk to that girl, I hear she has autism.” “Did you see the state of her clothes? I can’t believe she wore a sweatshirt to Church.” “They started to self-harm? Tell them to get the hell out.” All of these statements have been made to people I know. Some of them have walked away from Christianity, some have not. If you are not angry at what was said, how dare you call yourself a Christian! In Jesus’ own words, “I came for those who are not good enough, not the ones who think they are already ‘in’ with God. A hospital is for the sick, not those who are well.”
Perhaps what is not understood is that when you become a Christian, Christ Himself has declared you righteous before God. You have been made worthy, but so has everyone else. Christ was willing to lay down his life. Are you? Caring for someone who has a mental illness or learning disorder or stroke is not easy. It is hard. Some days it will seem like it is not worth it. But it is.
(13) If the church won’t talk about psychology, Christians are going to continue to get their information from books/TV shows like “13 Reasons Why”
I have admittedly, not watched “13 Reasons Why.” And I don’t really plan to. For all its flaws (and there are many) at least people have began to talk about mental health. If Christians don’t step up and love people with mental illnesses, then who will? If Christians are going to sit in a corner and put our hands over our ears, who will share the gospel? We cannot any longer stand in indifference to the great suffering all around us. Church, step up!