Jesus

Why the gospel is vital to​ your mental health

© February 24, 2018|Schulter Etyang 

In 2014, a Sunday Times article uncovered that one-third of all South Africans have mental illnesses – 75% of them will not get any help… More than 17 million people in South Africa are dealing with depression, substance abuse, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — illnesses that round out the top five mental health diagnoses, according to the Mental Health Federation of South Africa. (Click here to view report)

Debt, broken marriages and families, crime, poverty, gender violence, sexual violence, religion, civil wars and unrest, and fake news are among numerous elements that have contributed monstrously to the mental health problems in our times. The Internet and social media then have amplified the mental health problems. What was a struggle in private has now become a public secret. The rising number of teen suicides is evidence that things have spiralled out of control. We are no longer in control of our lives, algorithms are.

Mind a U.K based organization that deals with mental health problems make an interesting observation; In many cultures, emotional wellbeing is closely associated with religious or spiritual life. (Click here to view article) This notion that emotional well-being is tied to your religious or spiritual life is subjective on many fronts. An incorrect view of God and the practice of faith can negatively impact your mental well-being and vice versa. Many people of faith suffer from mental health problems. The case of suicide bombers and cults are proof.

An incorrect view of God and the practice of faith can negatively impact your emotional well-being and vice versa. Many people of faith suffer from mental health problems. The case of suicide bombers and cults are proof.

Let me show you how the gospel addresses mental health problems

The wise ruler, King Solomon says,

Proverbs 12:25 (NKJV)

Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.

And in Proverbs 15:13 (NKJV)

A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.

Anxiety and sorrow of the heart are things that Solomon says are the reasons for depression and a broken spirit.

Strikingly, the Hebrew word used for sorrow is atstsebeth and it means an idol. Proverbs 15:13 could read like this… but by the idol of the heart, the spirit is broken. Let’s explore the idol. Tim Keller in his book, Shaped by the gospel: Doing balanced, Gospel Centered Ministry in Your City (Center Church) writes;

Luther’s teaching is this: Anything we look to more than we look to Christ for our sense of acceptability, joy, significance, hope, and security is by definition our god — something we adore, serve, and rely on with our whole life and heart. In general, idols can be good things (family, achievement, work and career, romance, talent, etc. — even gospel ministry) that we turn into ultimate things to give us the significance and joy we need. Then they drive us into the ground because we must have them. A sure sign of the presence of idolatry is inordinate anxiety, anger, or discouragement when our idols are thwarted. So if we lose a good thing, it makes us sad, but if we lose an idol, it devastates us.

My observation in Proverbs 12:24 I think reveals this idol that makes us anxious and sorrowful leading to depression and breaks our spirits.

Proverbs 12:24 (NLT)

Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.

Work hard and become

Too many of us are trying too hard to work hard and become leaders. The NKJV says the hand of the diligent will rule. Rule over what? Trying to get ahead in life or ruling over issues plaguing our lives, or even ruling over others. Social media has become an avenue through which all of us try to look like we are ruling. We post images, and tweets that indicate how well we are doing.

Why? We have the Fear of Missing Out aka FOMO. The idol of the heart is consequently that we are working too hard to rule or be in control. What’s more, when we come up short, we become anxious.

Of course, I am not in any way suggesting that everyone who is suffering from depression or sorrow has an idol of the heart. Be that as it may, I’d dare to state that as a rule, we are trying too hard to live up to expectations and outcomes that are way beyond our reach.

Now Solomon again gives us the solution to this anxiety. He says, but a good word makes the heart glad. (Proverbs 12:25)

A good word. Any good word? Just say something good to a depressed or sorrowful person and they will be fine? If it were as simple as just saying a good word, then it would have been easy to help people struggling with mental health problems. Any good word does not make the heart glad.

The good word

What is this good word? The gospel is this good word. Let me explain. The gospel is good news. Yes, good news. The good news about a God who became man and experienced our anxieties, depressions and sorrows. How did he do that?

He became one of us. Lived and walked among us. He was tired, discouraged and angry. His own people betrayed him. In the garden, he became anxious. He wanted to give up. His sweat was like drops of blood. He was whipped to no recognition and then crucified on the cross. He became a man of sorrows. He died on the cross. He was buried and on the third day rose again. 40 days later he ascended to heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the father. He is there for us. He is there as us. This is the good news of the gospel.

C’mon Schulter, yeah right. See I know you will brush this off because you want something more profound. The gospel is deemed foolish, weak and counted as nothing (1 Corinthians 1:27-28) Yet, it has the power to transform your life. 

What is the gospel’s response to anxiety and sorrow? Jesus became a man of sorrows for you so that your heart could be merry. (Isaiah 53:5) You don’t have to bear the sorrows anymore because Jesus bore it for you. Jesus worked hard for you so that you can become a leader – so that you can rule. So, relax and take it easy. Take your feet off the gas. 

As simplistic as it sounds, an answer to mental health problems is the gospel – good word – good message – good news. News that informs us of what Jesus has done for us – in his victory over sin and death. The good word makes your heart merry because it offers joy, peace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, righteousness and eternal life. A good word makes the heart glad and makes your face shine.

That’s what grace looks like

 

 

 

 

 

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Schulter Etyang leads The Life Place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Schulter is one whom Jesus loves: loves his wife, Jenny; enjoys reading, travelling, cooking, running and playing squash; enjoys conversations with friends about Jesus and about life.