5 years ago I was healed from multiple mental illnesses. Then, I had to rethink some things.
Last week was Mental Health Awareness week. I have such mixed feelings about Christian advocacy related to mental illness. On the one hand, there is a lot more conversation happening in churches today about mental illness. And I think that's a really good thing. Publications like Christianity Today, and leaders like Sheila Walsh and Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, have made an incredibly valuable contribution to bringing increased awareness to the reality that Christians experience mental illness. I want to personally thank all of them for what they have done to raise awareness about this issue in evangelical Christian culture. I think that these discussions have greatly reduced a lot of shame and encouraged more people to seek treatment.
But I also want to share a little about my own journey through mental illness and highlight an aspect to this conversation that I think is often missing.
30 Years of Mental Illness
I began experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder in 1985, when I was only 15 years old. Only I didn’t know that’s what it was. We didn’t talk about things like depression and mental illness much back then.
Fast forward a couple decades. I was 35 years old and my life was in a lot of turmoil. Even though I had been in therapy for about a year, and even started taking anti-depressants, my life was not improving. I continued to struggle with intense suicidal thoughts almost daily.
In 2005, I entered the psychiatric hospital because the self-harm thoughts became unbearable. I ended up being treated in-patient and out-patient for 3 months and was eventually diagnosed as being type 2 bipolar. I also suffered from various kinds of anxiety. I was very faithful in complying with taking various psychiatric medication and I benefited from 10 years of weekly therapy. Life became more stable.
I discussed aspects of my journey through mental illness in this video.
But even though I made great progress through these treatments, I was still only barely coping with my life. And I would still have periods of not being able to function.
5 Years of Freedom
After starting treatment, I continued to make my way through the haze of mental illness for another 9 years. But 5 years ago something miraculous happened.
A co-worker bravely suggested that maybe my problems with all of these mental illnesses was more than merely a brain disorder. Maybe they were a demonically caused brain disorder.
As a theologian, and a mental health advocate, I had a very hard time in the beginning with considering the plausibility of this idea. It seemed pretty “out there” to me.
But this drove me to study the Scriptures more deeply. Perhaps there was something I had missed. I noticed that sometimes Jesus healed people by commanding their sickness to be gone, like Peter’s mother in Luke 4. Other times, He healed people by commanding demons to leave their bodies, like the woman with a bent back in Luke 13. And sometimes, an illness looked on the outside like a physical problem, such as blindness, but it was actually demonically caused.
For more about issues related to the demonic, I recommend Karl Payne's book, Spiritual Warfare, as a good place to start.
These Scriptural insights prompted me to reflect more deeply on the potential causes of mental illness. What if mental illness is a brain disorder as modern science tells us, but what if it’s also more than that? What if, at least some cases of mental illness are the result of demonic harassment?
On November 7, 2014, I went through a prayer of deliverance. As a result of that process, the Lord revealed that my struggles with mental illness were 100% demonically caused. Once I was free from the demonic, I was instantly healed from bipolar disorder and anxiety. Since that day, I have not taken any medication nor have I experienced thoughts of wanting to kill myself. This truly was a miracle after 30 years of suffering.
A Distinctly Christian Approach to Mental Illness
I want you to know that I see great value in the medical establishment. I am not against doctors or medicine or therapists. I benefited greatly from mental health treatments. They kept me alive. And if you are suffering from mental illness, please GO SEE A PROFESSIONAL. Get some therapy. Get stabilized on medication. Those can be life-saving and necessary steps to get people to a better place.
However, at the same time, we have to be cognizant of the fact nothing that medical professionals can offer could be considered a cure for mental illness. They offered measures to help me cope with living. But I was also constantly exhausted. Only Jesus can provide the ultimate cure.
It should also be noted that mental illnesses can consist of a complicated web of causes, symptoms and treatments. In no way do I want to minimize that reality. Some mental illnesses are the result of childhood trauma or abuse. Sometimes people develop mental illness alongside their struggle with addictions. Some mental illnesses seem to run in families. Some symptoms can be reduced through medication or various kinds of therapy. Others cannot. Mental illness is complicated.
All of that being said, I would argue that in order for evangelicals to have a distinctly Christian approach to mental illness, I think we must include also some kind of conversation about the possibility that at least in some cases (again, some, not all), mental illness has a demonically caused component and begin to teach people how to deal with it in a responsible way.
Now, I’ll grant you that there is a lot of weird stuff out there on the internet calling itself “deliverance.” And that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about weird stuff. I am talking about an orderly, Holy Spirit-controlled approach to resolving a very real problem and bringing real relief to those who are suffering.
I am a theologian. I have been trained to ask very tough questions and be skeptical about new ideas. But really, the idea of demonically caused illness is a very old idea. Jesus revealed this to his disciples in His earthly ministry. He can be seen casting out demons on nearly every page of the Gospels. And we, as His disciples, need to stand in our deputized power and authority and do the same. As we bring the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, we want to not just say the things Jesus said, but also do the things Jesus did. Including, in some cases, setting people free from demons.