“… St. Paul speaks of his thorn in the flesh, but we don’t really know what he was talking about. In any case, there Satan gave the thorn. And there, even there, God did not allow it to be removed but intended to use it for good. Can anything good really ever come out of any illness, even mental illness – a medical disease that can cripple the brain, mind, and even body? “Take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Could Paul have known of my condition, which itself is the captor, which wrings my mind dry of thoughts of Christ and wants to hand my soul over to hell?
Plenty of Christians before me must have had this difficulty, and many Christians surely will after me. Mental illness is not an indication of the weakness of one’s faith. It may be, however, a test and should be met like all other tests: with prayer that God will see us through it faithfully, that we may be seen faithful, and that we should be found at the last without reproach, that God will use it to our benefit and us to his glory.
After all, as I have said, faith is not primarily a feeling. It is an act. Sometimes the most pleasing thing to God is our obedience and rendering of thanks even when we don’t feel at all thankful. Jesus said that even the hypocrites love those who love them. They love when it is easy. But the most valuable thing in God’s sight is loving the unlovely, loving when no return is expected, when one has no love, hoping when hope is not seen. Then we really have to admit that all our loves and all our hopes are ultimately borrowed from God anyway.
Now the great thing is this: we are consecrated and dedicated to God in order that we may thereafter think, speak, meditate and do, nothing except to his glory. … We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.
– John Calvin (1509-64)
(cf. Rom. 14:7-9, 1 Cor 6:19-20)
From a theological perspective, the most dangerous thing about mental illness is that it can lock us in ourselves, convincing us that we are indeed our own, and completely on our own, isolated in our distress. Darkness is my only companion. Mental illness can be to us a veil that shrouds our consecration to God, blocking out the glory of the Holy One. Our wounds fester. Our remoteness from the source of our healing increases. Mental illness shuts all windows and doors to the soul so that we cannot speak, meditate, or do anything to the glory of God, or so it seems. All is experienced as pain. We locked in ourselves, unable to forget our pain. How does the Christian endure such remoteness from the source of life?
O Lord, calm the waves of this heart; calm its tempests. Calm yourself, O my soul, so that the divine can act in you. Calm yourself, O my soul, so that God is able to repose in you, so that his peace may cover you. Yes, Father in heaven, often have we found that the world cannot give us peace, O but make us feel that you are able to give peace; let us know the truth of your promise: that the whole world may not be able to take away your peace.
– Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 55)
– An extract from “Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness” by Kathryn Greene-McCreight which is the best book I’ve read on the intersection of mental illness and faith and would highly recommend.