By Max Jeganathan
The onset of COVID-19 has shaken us to our core. Everything humankind sought as foundations for identity—whether our jobs, our financial security, our physical freedom or something else—have been revealed to be what they always were: false, weak, fallible. While the physical impact of the virus rightly occupies the minds of our governments and the tireless work of our health services, the mental-health impact of the pandemic is likely to linger for years.
In the midst of this medical and economic turmoil, many are losing their jobs, their loved ones, or simply feeling helpless and sinking into depression. There has never been a more important time to talk about the destructive scourge of mental ill-health, both inside and outside the Church.
The question often asked of the Christian is: If God exists and is really who you say He is—all-loving, all-powerful, and all-good—why do Christians commit suicide?
It’s a bold and a fair question, but somewhat misinformed in its assumptions. It seems to assume that being a Christian somehow exempts a person from their own brokenness and the world’s brokenness. It doesn’t.
The short answer to the question is that Christians are not exempt from these two realities. Christians are broken and the world is broken. That is why Christians act immorally, get cancer, get COVID-19, lose their temper, lose their jobs, and yes, sometimes suffer from mental ill-health.
The message of Jesus is not about becoming emotionally invincible, it is about accepting the reality that our moral and emotional capacities are both insufficient and inadequate. We need rescue, not improvement; and that rescue comes only through the person of Jesus Christ.
While this rescue—manifested through an ongoing relationship with Jesus and an alignment between our character and His heart—is real, it is ontological, not medical. That is to say, through a relationship with God, we are transformed into new living beings. This transformation changes the way we relate to God and the way God relates to us, but it doesn’t necessarily change how smart, strong, physically healthy, or rich we are. As a result, Christians are subject to the same biochemical and neurological vulnerabilities as all people are. This is why there are sometimes Christians among the tragic instances of those who see no other option but to take their own life.
Much of mental ill-health (including anxiety and depression) is medical, not emotional. That’s why Christians who are experiencing anxiety, depression, loneliness or similar maladies should always see their doctor as well as their pastor. Prayer is central to our spiritual health, but God has given us modern medicine to cater to our physical and mental health needs too. Being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from mental ill-health. However, it does offer a source of comfort, strength and hope through the struggles of it—a relationship with God Himself, and the love and support of a community of fellow-followers of Jesus.
Mental ill-health is most accurately and sensibly thought of as any other medical condition. We rarely question God when a Christian gets the flu or a sprained ankle. Nor should we when followers of Jesus struggle with mental or psychological conditions.
The world is broken. I am broken. The enemy is at work. Life is not always easy. These are the hard realities of the age in which we live—and one that we’ve been made even more aware of amidst this pandemic. However, there are more important realities that accompany these: God is sovereign. God made you. God knows and loves you. You are his masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). He has an amazing purpose for your life that He’s not done with yet (Jeremiah 29:11).
The Cross of Jesus Christ demonstrates in human history, a God who is not removed from suffering. Rather, it shows us a God who loves us so much that He literally stepped down into our suffering, whether it is anxiety, depression, COVID-19, academic pressure, or suicidal thoughts. He suffered for you and He made a way for you to be in relationship with Him and free from brokenness and suffering in eternity.
In the meantime, He promises to take your hand (if you are willing to give it to Him) and to give you the strength to go through the temporary struggles of our broken world (1 Peter 1:3-7, Romans 8:37-39). He has blessings to give you, adventures to take you on, and things for you to do in this life. He’s not done with you yet.
Currently, the scourge of COVID-19 is wreaking havoc globally. However, in the midst of the turbulence, it has warmed my heart to see Christians loving, praying, helping, and standing shoulder to shoulder with those affected, pouring out the love of Jesus.
It is this same heart posture with which we must come alongside our Christian brothers and sisters when they struggle with issues of mental ill-health. I am very encouraged with the way that my home church supports people experiencing mental ill-health—through social support, pastoral care, counselling and when needed, medical referrals.
Suicidal thoughts remind us that we need a Savior. In Jesus, God has provided one. No matter how bad things seem, suicide need never be an option. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental ill-health: Seek help. Seek medical help. Seek help from your family. If you are plugged into a church, seek help from your church. And while you’re doing that, draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).