Mental health/illness from God’s point of view (pt 4)

Healing the wounds

Unfortunately, by the time we believe the monster of evil really exists, and we’re ready to do something about it, it’s already messed up our minds and done its damage. As Paul wrote in Romans 6:21, precious years of our lives are wasted in selfish pursuits that accomplish nothing. And all during that time we were blissfully unaware of evil’s existence it enjoyed its freedom to do what it liked to us, inflicting all sorts of wounds in our minds that probably still make relating to God and to people a real problem for us.

Paul too was blissfully unaware that “every kind of covetous desire” lurked in his brain just waiting for a commandment like Do not covet to spring those desires to life, Romans 7:7-8. It was a shock for Paul, because instead of the command making him stop coveting it actually made him want to covet. But how was that even possible? What was happening inside his head to make him that way? It was frightening, because instead of God’s good law making him a better person, it was only revealing how awful he was.

We see that in Paul’s attitude to Christians. He hated them. By his own admission Paul was utterly obsessed in doing away with them. “I stormed through their meeting places,” Acts 26:11 (The Message) “bullying them into cursing Jesus, a one-man terror obsessed with obliterating these people.” He had Christians beaten up and thrown in jail (22:19). He voted in favour of them being put to death too (26:10), and when he’d finished causing havoc for the Christians in Jerusalem, “I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”

And Paul did all this, verse 10, “On the authority of the chief priests,” so Paul was highly regarded by the religious leaders as an upstanding citizen, a man admired and looked up to, a man who got things done.

On the surface, therefore, Paul was a good man. He was self-assured, confident and on top of his game. But inside his head it was a different story. In reality Paul was a vicious thug, who took to violence with ease and relish. Given the opportunity to bully people, including women and children, he was off like a shot, rolling up his sleeves and ready for action.

His religious upbringing and strict obedience to God’s law hadn’t done him much good, then, had it? But that’s the startling lesson we learn from Paul’s life, that even obeying God’s law didn’t stem the flow of evil juices squirting hatred and cruelty into his head. And one day it hit Paul, that “in my mind I’m a slave to God’s law” (Romans 7:25) – which he truly thought had made him a good person – but his behaviour and actions revealed quite the opposite, that in fact he was ‘suffering from a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour’ – an exact definition today of a psychopath.

Imagine that: Paul the psychopath, the typical evil person you see in movies feared by all, because he explodes into violent behaviour in a second and he can shoot people dead without a moment’s pause to think. Paul, in other words, was sick in the head. On his own admission he was “a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13), and there was nothing, including God’s law, that could do anything about it.

The law, of course, was supposed to prevent that happening, but instead it only showed Paul where the monster had been hacking away inside his head inflicting its horrible wounds, and making him a deeply damaged man.

On the other hand, Paul could now identify and pinpoint the damage the monster had done. The “Do not covet” law had successfully dredged up from the depths of his mind the awful reality of his craving for power, and how that had turned him into a vicious bully, a hopeless hypocrite and a total sham. The law, in other words, had revealed how sick his mind really was. It had shown him in no uncertain terms that he, the great religious scholar Paul, was in fact mentally ill and certifiably bonkers, and for the sake of public safety he should be locked up in an institution and sedated.

Did that make the law bad? No, but it did make it embarrassing, because it gave Paul no place to hide from what he’d become. But the positive side of that was – it unearthed what was really happening inside Paul’s mind that was making him do such awful things. It got the monster out into the open. Paul could now see he was sick in the head and what was causing it.

The Law, therefore, had been a perfect diagnostic tool for showing Paul he was a pyschopath. And isn’t diagnosis the first step toward healing? You can’t get to grips with what ails you if you have no idea what the problem is and what’s causing it. The first step in all healing is diagnosis.

It’s a great pity, then, that the Mental Health community doesn’t start with God’s law as its main diagnostic tool. Faced with someone like Paul, whose behaviour clearly revealed a deeply disturbing mental illness of some sort, a quick skim through the Ten Commandments could help reveal which areas of the mind the damage has been done.

Paul focused on the tenth commandment in Romans 7:7 as the one that stuck out for him. For someone else it might be the ninth commandment about lying that suddenly shows him how much his whole life has been a lie, creating a false image of himself to get attention and admiration. ‘He’s such a nice person’, people say of him, and he certainly comes across as charming and poised, but it’s all just an act to hide some deep seated fear of being isolated or left out, or not being popular. And it’s that fear that has driven him to be someone he isn’t, a charmer and an extrovert, making his relationships with people shallow and selfish, and it’s driving him crazy, because he knows he’s a fake, but he can’t do anything about it.

With others, perhaps, it’s the eighth commandment that reveals how much they steal from other people’s lives to make their own lives seem better. They love dropping juicy hints about weaknesses in other people’s lives to make their own lives look good by comparison, which in reality is stealing from someone else for personal gain. And suddenly they see how their whole lives have been about using others to enhance their own standing in people’s eyes, and it makes them feel utterly sick.

Good, because in Paul it was only when he saw himself for who he really was that he begged for help. And isn’t that the second step in healing? It’s realizing how wretched and helpless we are. It’s recognizing the monster of evil has got the better of us, and it always has, and it’s been playing with our mind making us think we’re such fine people, when in reality we’re emotional basket cases, and it takes only the slightest provocation to set us off in anger, jealousy, or self pity.

And we’ve still got seven commandments to go yet, each one of which would reveal more embarrassing but very accurate descriptions of the mental illnesses we carry around with us. Or, as Paul phrased it in Romans 7:6, “the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.” God’s ten commandments are brilliant at revealing the mental illnesses that wreck our relationships with God and people, torment our conscience, and make it very difficult for us to face ourselves in the mirror.

So now we have the first two steps in healing mental illness; it’s diagnosis, first of all, aided brilliantly by the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ expansion of them in Matthew 5 to 7; and secondly, that we need help beyond our own resources, and even beyond obedience to God’s commands, because we’ve got mental illnesses so engrained in our personality that there is nothing we can do to dislodge them. It’s like trying to separate the colours in a pot of paint. Once the colours are mixed together there is no getting them out again. And that’s exactly where every human being finds himself after years of living in this world. Mental illness is part of us. We’re all mentally sick in some form or another, and we need help.

And is there ever a day, even after we’ve become Christians, when we’re not flagellating ourselves for some stupid thing we’ve said, or for an emotion that broke loose we really regret? Does a day pass when we haven’t told ourselves off for something we should or shouldn’t have done, to the point, perhaps, we’re even muttering aloud with frustration at our idiocy, with head in hands rocking to and fro like people in mental institutions do?

Good, because when Paul got to that point and cried out for help to deal with the agony in his head he got help. But what a surprise that must have been for Paul, because all his life he’d depended on himself, thinking that’s what he was supposed to do. Wasn’t it up to him to obey the commandments? Wasn’t it on the strength of his own mind and determination to do what was right that pleased God? Wasn’t obedience what life and salvation were all about?

Surely, then, to cry out for help was a sign of weakness. If the nation was in trouble, yes, you cried out for help then, just like the Israelites cried out for help in Egypt. But not for personal help. God didn’t exist to help, Paul thought, he existed to be obeyed, and on that score Paul had done very well. On his own strength he was as close to obeying God as perfectly as any human could (Philippians 3:4-6), and that’s what gave him his confidence and peace of mind.

That’s what gave Job his confidence and peace of mind too. He obeyed God well and life was good. But like Paul he’d never actually known the power of evil until God let evil loose on him. And that’s how Job came to realize how powerless he was. He grimly hung on to his obedience as his only defence until God intervened and showed Job in Job 40:9-14 that Job was dealing with powers that were way beyond him. No way could Job by his “own right hand” save himself (verse 14). And Job suddenly saw that, repented of trusting in his own faith and obedience, and turned to God to help him.

God allows evil to have its way with us to help us realize what we’re up against, and how powerless we are, so we cry out to him for help, just as Paul did in Romans 7:24, and “Thanks be to God,” verse 25, when God answered.

But notice HOW the help came: It came “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In answer to our plea for help God directs us to Jesus, because it’s through Jesus he saves us from evil. And he does it in two stages. The first stage already happened before we were born or knew evil existed, when God sent Jesus to “be a sin offering,” Romans 8:3. At that point evil was “condemned.” The lock it held on the human brain was broken, and from that point on any human wishing to be rescued from evil could be freed from it by simply crying out to God for help.

But that was only the first stage. We’re out of evil’s cage, but now what? Well, the reason God freed us from evil’s cage through his Son was “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us,” verse 4. Now, at last, the commandments could be kept without evil twisting them into temptations. Evil had been so clever when IT held sway in our heads, because it would take anything we knew to be wrong and somehow turn it round so we’d want to do it. Paul, for instance, knew the commandment, “Do not kill,” but he found himself signing death warrants for Christians, just like Christians go to war and kill other Christians. It doesn’t make sense (Romans 7:15), but evil somehow justifies such incongruities in our heads, and we’re not even aware of them. We’ll even get angry if someone points them out.

Just because we were freed from evil’s cage, therefore, doesn’t mean we’re automatically freed from the wounds evil caused in our heads as well. They don’t just evaporate and disappear. Instead, they still fester and itch and bother us. Take any of the commandments – and especially Jesus’ expanded version of them in Matthew 5 to 7, where he includes what we’re thinking as well as what we’re doing – and it’s embarrassing to realize our minds are still messed up and susceptible to temptation in obvious areas, like judging others, being jealous and angry and easily offended, and looking at stuff on the internet we shouldn’t.

But God provided for all that through his Son too, in the second stage of saving us from evil. This time it’s not our rescue from evil; it’s our recovery from it. Now the healing begins, that enables us to keep God’s commandments even in our thinking. In other words, the commandments are about mental health too. In fact, they define it. That’s why the law is good and holy: Keep God’s law and we have a thoroughly healthy mind.

Salvation, therefore, is in two stages: Rescue, first of all, and then Recovery. It starts with realizing we are mentally ill and crying out for God’s help, and then God sets about the long term job of healing our wounds, a process Paul calls “living according to the Spirit,” Romans 8:4.

It’s a rather surprising process, though, because it involves a lot of fighting. C.S. Lewis pictured the process in The Chronicles of Narnia, in the many battles fought between the forces of good and evil after Aslan the lion died and came back to life again. Life in Narnia was a constant battle. And so is life for a Christian seeking healing in his mind from the wounds of evil.

Paul spells out the battle in verse 5: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” 

Paul makes it clear that life for a Christian is a battle of the mind. The fighting isn’t with swords and clubs as it was in Narnia, but imagine the battles in Narnia as a picture of the battle going on in our heads. It’s the same as the battle going on every day in our bodies between the good and bad bacteria. God designed our bodies as a constant battle, and now as Christians it’s our minds that are the battlegrounds.

God isn’t against fighting, therefore, but he’d rather we directed it to where it counts, which isn’t fighting against each other, it’s fighting the war in our heads. And it is war, Galatians 5:17, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other…”

And it’s good they’re in conflict, because before we were Christians our minds were filled with covetous desires, most of which we were probably unaware of, and even if we were aware of them we had nothing to fight them with. But when the children entered Narnia they were given weapons. And that’s how God answers our cry for help: He gives us weapons – weapons that enable us to fight the covetous desires in our heads that made us mentally ill in the first place. Now we can set our minds “on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5). The Spirit’s desires versus the covetous desires: It’s the greatest battle raging on this planet at this very moment, and it’s all happening in the minds of Christians, because it’s Christians who are the first to understand what it takes to dislodge evil from human minds, as the first step in healing the whole world.

And what it takes is war, because evil, just like the forces of evil in Narnia, ambushes us at every opportunity. It has all the advantages of location and manpower too. It can call upon all sorts of people and situations any time any day to trip us up and tempt us into thinking wrong thoughts, or reacting badly.

But we have weapons. We’ve got the Lord’s Prayer and that lovely phrase, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil,” meaning God can help us recognize temptation and avoid it. We can see it coming and mentally prepare ourselves in how to deal with it. That’s a powerful weapon in taking away evil’s advantage. We can see the ambush we’re being drawn into. We can see the gun barrels poking through the bushes, and we can take avoiding action.

We also know what weapons evil likes using too. It likes to make us feel resistance is impossible. We’re led to believe we have addictions we cannot conquer. But James says that’s rubbish. Resist evil, James writes (4:7), and evil scampers off in fright, because it’s not used to resistance. It expects an easy fight, because with humans that’s been its experience. A little temptation here, a little blinding there, a fiery dart in a sensitive area – and humans fall like flies. In evil’s experience humans don’t resist; they give in.

But like the children in Narnia, Christians have weapons to fight back with, and they’re not afraid of a good fight. Bring it on, because God issued us with a whole armoury of weapons, for attack and defence, that in the hands of a skilled and determined Christian enable him “to stand up to everything the devil throws his way,” Ephesians 6:11 (The Message). Note the word, ‘Everything’. It was the same in Narnia too, because mere children became ferocious adversaries. After a few setbacks and lessons learned as to how evil works, they became impervious to evil. Nothing evil threw at them could touch them, just as “the evil one” cannot “touch” Christians either (1 John 5:18).

The battle of the mind is easily ours to win, because we have amazing weapons, like the shield with Made by God out of nothing but the best materials written on it, that can actually extinguish flaming arrows fired at us by the devil himself (Ephesians 6:16). Picture ourselves holding that up when someone fires a ridiculous accusation our way. We have a shield that can fizzle it into nothing.

Can we grasp the fact that God is now healing minds, the evidence being the battles we win? We’re in a fight but we can expect a string of victories, because God is strengthening our minds. We are becoming seasoned fighters.

And it’s all thanks to Jesus Christ providing us with his Spirit, the best weapon of all, because we’re up against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12), so we need a spiritual force to fight them with. And we’ve got it in “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9) constantly fuelling our brains with Christ’s brain, Christ’s thoughts, and Christ’s “righteousness” (10). The same Spirit that kept Jesus safe from evil as a human being, Jesus now passes on to us. We’re the next in line to become skilled in its use.

You mean, Christians are supposed to become skilled in the use of weapons? Oh yes, Paul answers in 2 Corinthians 10:3, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” What? Christians are into waging war as well? Too right we are, Paul says in verse 4, “The weapons we fight with…”

Christians are out there swinging weapons? Yes, but they’re “not the weapons of the world,” because you can’t fight evil with worldly weapons. Guns and tanks cannot destroy evil, just as therapy, medication, and mental institutions cannot heal mental illness. We’re up against forces of evil that need “divine power” to “demolish” them (4), but because Jesus equipped us with that power it is now possible for us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (5).

What Jesus is offering us is the chance to take control of our minds. No more being ruled by our emotions, impulses, temptations, and the stupid ideas of our culture. We can eject them out of our brains like owls spitting out the bones of a mouse. And this is what God wants us to grasp, that we’re in that process right now where Jesus is training us in the use of the same weapons he used, just like a master of Kung Fu passes on all his weapon skills to a youngster.

We now belong to Jesus, meaning he’s taken us under his wing as his personal project, his goal being that we develop minds as strong as his. He died to free our minds from the grip of evil, and now he lives to fill us with his mind instead. And through the Holy Spirit he gives us the power to “set” and “reset” our minds every day on the same wavelength as his mind, so that our minds are steadily and relentlessly being transformed more and more in into the likeness of his mind.

So, yes, evil may have the advantage over us right now, but we have weapons that enable us to prevail on any battleground and terrain of evil’s choosing, so that we can stand firm against the devil just as Jesus did. And as we prevail we get the sense that our minds are getting stronger and healthier.

The wounds are being healed.

(Continues in part 5 on May 21/18).

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Mental health/illness from God’s point of view (pt 3)

Defeating the monster in our heads

Paul admits to a monster in his head messing up his mind. But he’d also made an amazing discovery in Romans 8:2, that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

He discovered there are two laws operating in the human brain. The first one, the ‘law of sin and death’, helped explain the cause of his mental problems, but the second law, the ‘law of the Spirit of life’, actually offered him a solution. And this was a revelation for Paul, because it’s clear from his candid comments in Romans 7 that Paul is talking as a man who’d been struggling with some serious mental issues, and he was desperate, because he had no idea how to deal with them.

Fortunately, for anyone else who wonders what on earth is going on inside his or her head, Paul explains in verse 5 what was doing his mind in. It was this ‘law of sin and death’, or “living according to the sinful nature” – or, to be more precise – having his mind fixated “on what the sinful nature desires.”

Inside his head, then, Paul discovered there was this hugely powerful force bending his mind into one way of thinking. And it was always toward evil thoughts, or the opposite of what he knew to be good and right. It was totally crazy, because every time he wanted to do something good, this other law in his head automatically kicked in to make him want to do the opposite. It would send Paul into another suicidal tailspin of guilt and self-loathing, until he was crying out for the pain in his head to end (Romans 7:24).

And isn’t that the cry of anyone with mental illness, that awful, crazy things are going round and round in his (or her) head, and they won’t stop? And it takes so little to trigger them, like the toddler reaching out to the hot saucepan he’s just been told not to touch, because he can’t resist touching it. All it took was telling him not to touch it, and the monster in his head gleefully released its evil juices in response without a moment’s concern for the damage, or even possible lifelong disfigurement, that it might cause the child. And Paul experienced this horror too; and it drove him nuts.

But such is the law of sin and death. It has enormous power over the mind, and it doesn’t care a hoot about the human it inhabits. It will take a beautiful innocent child and scar him or her for life, give reason to a teenager to hate herself so much she’ll inflict even more pain on herself by cutting herself with a knife, and it will twist an adult mind into committing a stupid crime or say something in the heat of the moment that ruins a relationship and a reputation.

So why does such a power exist? No reason really. It just does. But because it does we’re all stuck with having to learn from personal experience what it takes to deal with it – AND come to realize it is so powerful it even twisted the mind of the most beautiful creature God ever created into marshalling a host of hate-filled, eyes-blazing angels into a head-on attack against God to kick and pummel the one who created them and loved them. It was total madness, but somehow, awfully and crazily, it happened.

And what made things even worse for this great and beautiful cherub was the monster releasing its evil juices inside his head actually justifying his insanity, and making it seem right, just like millions of soldiers felt it was right and justified going to war to kill and maim and hate their neighbours, including their fellow Christians.

What we are learning from personal experience, therefore, and from the tragedy of wrecked human lives all around us, including members of our own family, is that we are dealing with powers well outside our ability to control.

At what point in our lives, then, do we finally acknowledge that what Paul said in Romans 8:6 was spot on, that “The mind of sinful man is death”? Without the counteracting antidote of God’s mind, the natural human mind is dedicated to one gigantic ‘selfie’ from cradle to grave. Self is the centre of the universe around which all else revolves. But that spells disaster and death, because what happens if self is denied or thwarted in any way? It spits and fumes, blames God, blames the government, goes to war, and like teenagers it kicks those who can best help them. But guess who gets hurt the most? SELF does. It always backfires on self. But in a suicidal leap over the cliff edge like lemmings, we don’t care. When the law of sin and death is the dominant force in our lives we are numb, we are sick, and we are mad. And Paul readily admits he was all of those too.

He even got it in his head to hound Christians and have them put to death, but fortunately for all of us, Jesus soon had enough of that and confronted Paul with – guess what – what Paul was doing to himself.

This was Jesus’ starting point. He doesn’t beat about the bush, he goes right for the jugular: You’re an idiot, Paul. And why is Paul an idiot? Well, let’s hear it from Jesus in Acts 26:14 – “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” In other words, why on earth are you turning your guns on me, Paul, when the only one getting hurt here is you? It must be a hellishly hard life for you stamping your feet in blazing rage against me and banging your tender ankles like some dumb ox kicking against its owner’s iron-tipped prod. So, come on Paul, wake up, I’ve come to rescue you from all that self-destructive nonsense (17) – SO THAT, verse 18, you can write a Manual for humanity on how others with your mental illness can be rescued.

So that’s what Paul did, he wrote a Manual – and what makes it so real is that he wrote it from personal experience. “I was completely bonkers,” he writes in Romans 7, and then in Romans 8 he explains why, and what changed him.

And Paul doesn’t beat about the bush either. All humans are bonkers, he says, because of the power of “the sinful nature,” Romans 8:3. And it’s so powerful that even God’s perfect law, enforced with penalties of death, banishment, captivity, slavery, disease, invasion by vicious maniacs, and a time-consuming, in-your-face every morning and evening gory sacrificial system, didn’t make the slightest dent in the Israelites’ mental state. They complained, they blamed, they thumbed their noses at God by chasing after other idols, made alliances with pagan nations instead of trusting God, made a mockery of God’s name, and made God so furious he wanted to eradicate them forever. Even Jesus was ready to chop the Jews into little pieces because of their stinking, uncaring, unremorseful, obstinate, hypocritical, totally self-oriented, rebellious attitude (Matthew 24:51).

Adam and Eve were just the same. They somehow got it in their heads that the world existed for them. So if a tree looked good to them, that’s all that counted. And when God faced them with their downright disobedience, they fought back: It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t do anything wrong. You can’t blame us. And look at Cain’s attitude too, just after he’d killed his brother in a jealous rage. When God punished him for it, Cain’s only response was, “My punishment is more than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13). He’d just committed cold-blooded murder and he thinks God’s overdoing the punishment a bit. In Cain’s mind, in other words, God was the one with the mental problems, not him.

“Get the picture?” says Paul in Romans 8. We are dealing with a monster in our heads that is truly insane, and it is impossible to tame.

Forget about taming it, then; the only way of dealing with the monster is to destroy it. Which is exactly what God did, but it took the most drastic action possible on God’s part. He sent his Son, Romans 8:3, “in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” In other words, he would allow Evil (with a capital ‘E’) to unleash all its power and cunning on his own Son. He was, in effect, handing his Son over to the monster to release every bit of evil juice it had into Jesus’ head to destroy him. It was a battle to the death, with only one winner.

And much to Evil’s surprise, I imagine, it won the battle. It twisted the minds of the Jews against Jesus, and they handed him over to the Romans, who killed him. Imagine Evil, like a cackling hyena, savouring its victory, and slobbering foam and spit in its blood-curdling screams of triumph.

What Evil had blissfully ignored, however, was the outcome of the battle that had already been predicted in the Old Testament, pictured by, of all things, the death of a tiny lamb. Well, frankly, evil (with a small ‘e’ from now on) should have known better, especially after Abel had sacrificed some little lambs from his flock and “The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering” (Genesis 4:4).

Evil didn’t get the hint at all in that verse, that the sacrifice of a lamb was the first thing humans ever did that really pleased God. And where did Abel get the idea of sacrificing a lamb in the first place, unless God had explained what a lamb pictured? And do you think evil didn’t know that too?

Evil may have been cunning, then, but it wasn’t very bright. A little Bible study on its part would have saved it a lot of embarrassment. But embarrassed it would be when it gambled all its eternal power and influence over humans in its battle with Jesus, because, horror of horrors, Jesus turned out to be that tiny lamb.

And what happened when tiny lambs were sacrificed in Israel? The law of sin and death was annulled. How? By Israel’s sins being transferred onto the lamb, so when the lamb was killed so were Israel’s sins. And evil didn’t see the significance of that? Well, it certainly found out the significance, because the sacrificial lamb in the Old Testament was, in fact, picturing Jesus all along, and the sacrifice he would make that would destroy the law of sin and death forever.

It was all there in the Old Testament, and evil missed it. It missed the fact that a lamb’s death putting sin to death actually pictured the day when Jesus’ death “condemned sin in sinful man” (Romans 8:3).

It must have been a huge shock for evil, because instead of a triumphant victory over God and wrecking God’s plan for humans, it found itself flat on its back with a spear in its chest. But again, it should have known better and bowed out of the battle a lot sooner, because it had thrown everything it had at Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime, and pummeled every nook and cranny in Jesus’ brain – which in any other human being would have reduced him to a weepy mush of self-flagellating guilt and self-hatred – but Jesus had stood firm.

Evil couldn’t get a foothold in Jesus’ brain. It was like chucking wooden sticks at a knight in armour, or bottles at a tank. They did a lot of banging and clanging and a great deal of bruising in Jesus’ head, but never, even once, did Jesus succumb to evil’s influence.

Evil was a fool, then, not backing out sooner. Surely it realized, after Jesus resisted the devil’s cleverest temptations in Matthew 4, that Jesus was impervious to evil. But it didn’t. How shocking it must have been, then, when evil realized it had ben nullified, neutralized, and torpedoed at the water line by a mere human being. And that same human being had then, in the most humiliating and triumphant gesture, taken evil’s top weapon in its arsenal – the law of sin and death that had messed up every human mind up to that point – and nailed it to his cross for the entire angelic realm to see. The worst possible thing for evil had happened. The Lamb had taken the sins of the world into himself and killed them.

And that’s when there was a ‘Great Pause’, as the entire heavenly realm, including evil’s first recruit and top henchman, Satan the devil, came to terms with what had just happened. The law of sin and death had just been wiped out and eradicated forever, and there it was thrashing around in its death throes, making awful gurgling sounds, and evil juice soaked the ground under its writhing body. So now evil had nothing left to fight with. It had gambled all and lost.

For three days The Great Pause lasted, as the heavenly realm hovered in anticipation of Jesus’ promise being fulfilled. And then in triumph Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to his Father, taking evil’s power over humans with him, and on arrival in heaven he takes everything that evil has done to humans and like a dangly piece of rotting cabbage he dumps it in the trash. At which point, a new era begins, Romans 8:4, in which human beings would no longer have to “live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit.”

With evil defeated the obstruction messing up the human mind had been removed, and the healing of damaged minds by the Spirit could now begin. It’s not surprising, therefore, that it only took a few years for the Spirit to come up with a Manual on mental health and illness, the first of its kind, in which not only was the cause of mental illness identified, but also, at last, its solution.

The Manual was put together by Paul, and it now exists for any human who comes to the same startling realization Paul did (that got him started on writing the Manual in the first place) – that we are all, in truth, quite bonkers.

But that shouldn’t be the case, surely, because didn’t Jesus chop the head off the law of sin and death? Why, then, do we still have a massive problem with people being mentally unstable, and in many cases completely mad? Shouldn’t there be increasing evidence of minds being healed and people becoming more balanced and sensible?

Yes, there should be, but Satan the devil is still allowed to be “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and he very cleverly blinds people to what Jesus accomplished. He promotes himself as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), by recruiting people from among “those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2), who sound very wise and spiritual, but they’re “masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4), “preaching a Jesus other than the Jesus” Paul preached (11:4).

Paul preached Jesus as the only solution to human ills, but we still live in a world with its own ‘angels of light’ and god-like apostles, that churn out all sorts of impressive and authoritative ways of defining and treating mental illness offering relief for damaged minds, and people look to them instead.

But it’s the blind leading the blind: People who are completely blind to Jesus having already dealt with the cause of damaged human minds, are trying to treat people who are completely blind too. No wonder mental illness continues. It’s like a laboratory discovering the remedy for malaria, but when people find out about it they resist it, and insist that everyone stick to their old, traditional treatments, even though they don’t work. It’s total madness, because it means millions of people will continue to die from malaria, even though the solution has been found.

And likewise, the solution to the monstrous law of sin and death has been found too, in Jesus’ death – but who’s interested, or even knows about it?

But that’s the whole point of the gospel. It’s belting out the message that mental illness has been solved, but what if people don’t believe they are sick in their heads in the first place, and they are deeply offended that anyone – and especially Christians – would dare to imply that they are? It means, then, that mental illness and madness, just like malaria, will continue, until things get so bad in the world, or in a person’s own life, that some people may at last cry out to God – just as Paul did – for relief.

Or that God, as he did with Paul, directly intervenes. And that’s encouraging because Paul was a real mental case. He was “blasphemous, and a persecutor, and a violent man,” 1 Timothy 1:13, until, that is, Jesus said “Enough,” knocked Paul off his high horse, and made an example of him.

Made Paul an example of what, though? In verse 16, Paul was an example of God’s “unlimited patience.” From Paul’s life we learn that God can wait while we thrash around in our blindness and obstinacy, but one day he intervenes, and when the time is right, as it was in Paul’s case, God very gently, or quite forcefully, says, “That’s enough of your nonsense, it’s time you saw what you are really like, and what it took to rescue you from it.” And he introduces, through the preaching of the gospel, the Manual that Paul wrote on mental illness.

And here’s where the gospel can be preached in such practical terms, because what the whole world is suffering from is a severe case of blindness caused by the devil hiding what Jesus accomplished in his death. The clear and obvious result of that can be seen all over the world, as people struggle with mental problems, and madmen rule entire countries wrecking people’s lives. But as things get worse, do people realize, at last, that humanity is a mess and we have no solutions? Is the world gradually having its resistance to God and its snotty, superior, we-are-gods attitude softened?

In other words, are people’s eyes being opened to reality, and in some people there’s a desperate search for help too? If so, do we ourselves as Christians understand the Manual Paul wrote that offers these desperate people exactly what they’re looking for, and in terms they can easily grasp?

In Chapter One of Paul’s Manual, for instance, the title is: “We’re all bonkers, but don’t panic, Jesus dealt with the monster causing it.” It’s blunt, but that’s what desperate people need. It’s what Paul needed when he cried out, “What’s happening to me, and why? Tell me, before I go completely mad.”

And that’s just Chapter One, and yet it’s already explained the cause of mental illness – and that it’s been dealt with. That’s something the entire thumb-their-noses-at-God Mental Health community hasn’t discovered yet. They haven’t even figured out what makes us mad in the first place. They rattle off a list of possible causes, yes, but not the cause behind all those causes. In the meantime, therefore, people struggle on thinking the world has solutions, when it doesn’t. It is tragic, and here we are as Christians holding a Manual that explains everything.

And that’s just Chapter One. Chapter Two is just as blunt and just as practical. The title is: “You don’t use a screwdriver to fix a broken heart.” To heal a broken mind, in other words, you need the right tools.

Paul put it this way, in Romans 8:2, that it was only by “the law of the Spirit of life” that he, personally, was “set free from the law of sin and death.” To free his own mind from evil, there was only one tool for the job – the Spirit. The tools used by the Mental Health establishment, therefore, can never heal mental illness, because the forces affecting and controlling the human mind are made of spirit, not chemicals – or emotions.

The only way, then, that we are not controlled by the spirit influence of the devil, is by the counteracting spirit influence of the Holy Spirit. It’s a spiritual battle in our heads, not a physical or biological one. But the Holy Spirit is amazing, because ever since Jesus’ death neutralized the power of evil, the Spirit that “raised Jesus from the dead is living in you,” verse 11, enabling us to crush evil in our OWN heads. We now have a tool at our disposal we can use at any time to “put to death the misdeeds of the body“ (13). With the Spirit of Christ, or Christ’s own mind, living in us (9), we can become impervious to the evil that makes us do really stupid things with our bodies, in both word or action. Chapter Two, then, reveals the key to mental health: It’s the Holy Spirit.

In just two chapters of Paul’s Manual, therefore, we have the whole story of the monster in our minds that made us all mad in the first place, how that monster was then dealt a crushing blow by Jesus’ death, how that same monster tried to resurrect itself by blinding people to what Jesus accomplished for us, how God, though, intervenes in our lives to wake us up to the monster and what Jesus did to deal with it, and how God now supplies the Spirit and mind of Christ to counteract the evil monster and make us impervious to it.

This is the Good News we preach, and in terms, hopefully, that make sense to people in our world as they wake up to how bad mental illness really is.

(continues in part 4 on April 24/18…)

Mental health/illness from God’s point of view (pt 2)

Redesigning our brain

When God designed the human mind he made it like his own. Our minds, therefore, have the same potential as his mind. But to experience that potential, and truly share the mind of God, the human mind has to be faced with the power and influence of evil, because evil is the most formidable enemy of the mind.

God’s mind is not affected by evil at all, of course. It resists evil and wants nothing to do with it. But that wasn’t the case with the archangel Lucifer and one third of the angels, who fell under the spell of evil, despite them being with God, watching him in action, knowing his love, and no evil at all being practiced or even thought of anywhere at any time. But amazingly, evil still managed to creep past all those defenses and sneak into their angelic minds where it spread its infectious nastiness, resulting in outright rebellion against God.

Evil had not been seen like that before, but suddenly it was out in the open, revealing the highly disturbing fact that not only does evil exist, it can also pounce with deadly results on an unwary victim at any time. But from the terrible effects of what evil has done to people ever since, we know now what evil’s purpose is – to inject its venom into the mind to make that mind hostile to God.

And evil could have affected God’s mind like that too, turning God against himself, where Father, Son and Spirit connive against each other and compete, rather than work in total love and cooperation. But God’s mind is impervious and immune to the power and influence of evil, and because he made our minds in the image and likeness of his mind, his ultimate plan is to make our minds just as impervious and immune to evil too.

But HOW can our minds become impervious to evil if we have no idea why evil is so evil, or what damage evil can do to a mind, or how it can slip so easily past our defenses? How do we come to loath its influence and impact on our minds so much that we don’t want anything to do with evil forever either, and we willingly and forcefully resist it, just like God does? The question is “How?” Well, the answer in Scripture is that right from the start God lets evil loose on humans, knowing what evil will do to us, but clearly it’s the only way.

And Scripture’s sad story is that all humans fall under the spell of evil in some form or other, either in evil’s injection of its venom into our own brains, or injecting its venom into the brains of others who mess our minds up. We see that in a good man like Abel being killed by his venomously evil brother Cain, and Eve getting her husband to eat the forbidden fruit when Adam knew he was being tempted but didn’t resist. Evil, in other words, has its ways and means of getting at and into everybody.

And humans seem especially vulnerable, because when evil took aim at the angels to turn their minds against God, it only managed to infect one third of them, whereas with humans evil’s success rate is one hundred per cent. Every human being, in one way or another, has been affected, infected – or infected and affected – by evil.

No wonder mental illness is such a huge problem today. But now that evil has done its damage, with God’s permission, what was the next step in his plan in dealing with evil, since it’s obvious that we can’t deal with it ourselves? And the simple answer from Scripture is: He’s redesigning our brain to resist evil.

And God can do that, because he made our brains redesignable. This is good news for anyone suffering from mental illness, that God can rewire a damaged mind. The brain can even rewire itself naturally, as people who suffer from blindness or brain damage know, that other parts of the brain begin to fill in the gaps, or work round the obstructions, enabling the person to function quite normally. It tells us what God has made possible in our brains, which is good to know, because if God knew what damage evil would do to our brains, he must have a way of repairing our brains too, right?

If our brains couldn’t be repaired, or rewired to work round the damage, what hope would we have? If every time evil managed to control our thoughts and those thoughts became fixed in our brains forever, and there was nothing anyone could do about it, we might as well all commit suicide and get the agony over with. But those working in the mental health community know how the mind responds to the most simple aids – like medication to balance the brain’s chemicals, or therapy to talk a person through their troubles, or mental exercises and training to redesign the brain’s thought patterns. Psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, and the vast army of mental health workers would all have given up their professions long ago if the human mind wasn’t flexible, repairable and responsive to help.

But God made it clear from the beginning that evil is our problem, and there is nothing we humans can do about that. The only solution is for God to redesign our brains so evil can’t get through to them, and that’s the process he put into action through his Son.

And what a challenge that must be for Jesus, because look what he’s been landed with. First of all, it was Israel, who demonstrated beyond all doubt that humans are incapable of resisting evil, even when God was with them personally to guide them, protect them, educate them, take care of all their physical needs, and destroy those who wished to harm them. Even when Israel had a sacrificial system and priesthood to annul the damage done by evil and enable the Israelites to function and continue to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness, they still fell victim to their fears and lack of trust in him. And even when God in his anger and frustration threatened them with dire consequences if they continued in their evil ways, and thousands upon thousands of them died in horrible wars, invasions and diseases, it still didn’t stop them messing their lives up.

Fortunately, the Bible promises that all those helpless Israelites will be raised from the dead, and God never rejected them, but the brutal fact of their lives is that they were nothing but proof of the power of evil. Nothing worked in preventing evil slipping past their defenses and wrecking their lives. And today it’s no different, as many in the mental health community admit, that no matter how well we get to know how the brain works, or what treatments we come up with to aid those seeking help, mental illness continues unabated, causing havoc in the minds of many young people especially, who lose all hope, wonder what the point of life is when it’s so much pain, and they want to end it all.

And here we are now, in what we call a civilized society, when we know all too well that civilization is but a thin veneer covering a savage inner self. Supposedly ‘good’ people do unspeakable acts of evil without warning, and we have no idea why, or what to do about it, other than hit them with medication and therapy, and ship them off to jails and institutions, with little hope of a cure.

When will we humans get the point, therefore, from our own school of hard knocks and brutal experience, that there is something messing up our minds that we have no control or power over? And how much pain and sadness and family tragedies can we take until we turn to God for help, in the hope that since he was the one who made us he’s also the one who knows how to REmake us?

And what if that’s been God’s plan all along, to remake, or redesign, our brains?

That’s not such a strange concept either, because it’s a proven fact that brains can be redesigned. A documentary – actually called Redesigning my brain – demonstrated clearly that our fears and weaknesses can be dramatically improved and adjusted by mental exercises and training. Tolerance of pain can be strengthened, fear of heights almost eradicated, stress and impatience can be calmed, and even the heartbeat can be consciously slowed. The ability of the mind to rewire and adjust is remarkable.

And the good news is, that the maker of our remarkable brain is redesigning it, or retraining it, so it can learn to resist evil too. The huge problem in telling that to the world, though, is that few people believe evil exists, or that it’s our most formidable enemy, or that it’s affecting people’s minds every day in all sorts of nasty ways. We’re also stuck with 2 Corinthians 4:4, that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Paul is not shy about the actual existence of a powerful “god” in our world wielding enormous influence over people’s minds, and how this god has a clear purpose and plan, to blind people to “the glory of Christ.”

But what exactly is this “glory” Christ has? Paul explains in the last part of verse 4, that Jesus “is the image of God.” But why would the god of this age want to blind people to Jesus being the image of God? Because Jesus was – and still is – a human being. Jesus, therefore, is living proof that human beings can be in the image of God, meaning humans really can share the same mind God has, and that means the human mind, like God’s mind, can resist evil too.

Well, no wonder the god of this age wants to hide that little gem, that human minds can, in fact, become impervious to evil, just like God’s mind is. It would not only destroy evil’s power over humans, it would also wreck the entire system the serpent nurtured from day one through Adam and Eve, of humans depending on human wisdom for answers to their problems. And he doesn’t want that to happen because his clever little plan has successfully wasted the potential of the human mind to become like God’s mind, by having humans chasing after solutions that Paul says in verse 6, “come to nothing.” And Paul’s right, because has human wisdom brought us any closer to solving the problem of evil?

No, it hasn’t. What the world desperately needs, then, as it stumbles around in the darkness, blinded by the god of this age, is “the light of the gospel,” the “light” being the glory of Christ, who as a human in the image of God provides us with clear proof and hope that the human potential to solve the problem of evil by sharing the mind of God is possible.

The world, meanwhile, thinks the problem of evil in the human mind is within its own power to control, and by its own tools it can make minds good and not evil, despite the overwhelming evidence worldwide to the contrary.

You can see, then, why Paul objects so strongly to the whole idea that human wisdom has anything to offer when it comes to the mind. And he’s living at a time when Greek philosophy and wisdom is at its height too, that we still hold in the highest regard today as well, but Paul summarizes the lot of it in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that “No one’s ever seen or heard, or even so much as imagined, what God has arranged for those who love him.”

That’s quite a statement, that none of the great minds in the past ever came up with any understanding or grasp of what God has in mind for humans, for the simple reason that they didn’t want anything to do with God, or include anything he said in their ideas. And the proof of their resulting ignorance is their conflicting ideas on how the human mind works, and what we’re here as humans for.

And Paul isn’t done yet with knocking the world’s wisdom, either. He exposes exactly why the world’s great leaders of thought, the great philosophers, authors and shapers of society through the ages can never get to the heart of what makes humans tick, what the human brain’s true potential is, and why evil persists.

He explains why it’s all a great fog, reducing humans to going through the motions of living and eating, and at the end of life being no wiser than we are as babies as to what God is doing for us humans. All those years in school and university, all that climbing the ladder at work, all that reading of books and learning from scholars, all that observing in laboratories, all that struggle to make a living and become experts in a trade, all that living and having families and travelling to far off lands – and for what, pray tell, if there’s no understanding of what “God destined for our glory before time began” (7)?

Well, Paul says, the reason it’s all a dense fog is because “no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God,” 1 Corinthians 2:11.

In other words, we have no way of knowing what is going on in the mind of God, nor do we take any interest in it, without the Spirit. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned,” verse 14.

That’s another challenging statement to anyone considering a career in mental health and mental illness, that the natural human brain isn’t even able, let alone ready, to accept anything from God or God’s point of view. So here we are talking about mental health and mental illness from God’s point of view, and the only people likely to take any interest or get any meaning out of it are those who accept that God is real. And how many people in the mental health establishment believe that? Who, then, one has to ask, has any real insight into what’s going on inside the human brain?

Well, here’s this chap called Paul who claims he does, because he tells us from his own experience in Romans 8:2 that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” And what he means by “the law of sin and death” in Romans 7:21 is this force that kicks in automatically like the law of gravity, so that every time “I want to do good, EVIL is right there with me,” creating a constant battle between good and evil inside Paul’s head.

Evil was like an unstoppable heartbeat pumping out a constant stream of selfish thoughts and motives, but when Paul suddenly became aware that this was what evil was doing inside his head, he discovered to his horror he couldn’t turn the tap off. It was frozen open, and nothing in his power, not even perfect obedience to God’s commandments, could get that wretched tap to stop flowing.

But then he discovered that the tap had actually already been turned off by Christ’s death, meaning he was free at last from the constant drip, drip of evil leaking its venom into his brain. But it didn’t stop there. There was a reason for the tap being turned off. It was “in order that,” Romans 8:4, ”the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us.” The reason for the tap of evil being turned off in his head was to enable him to turn another tap on that would fill his brain with “the righteous requirements of the law” instead. One tap off and one tap on: The process of redesigning Paul’s brain had begun.

Paul describes that process too, in Romans 8:9, as no longer being “controlled by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.”

Paul makes it absolutely clear that the deciding factor in the redesigning of our brains is the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit Jesus’ sacrifice is wasted. All it accomplished was turning off the tap pouring evil into our heads. That’s amazing in itself, yes, because we couldn’t turn the evil tap off ourselves, no matter how hard we hit it with our efforts to obey God, but is that it? The tap’s been turned off, but now what? Do we just sit in the bath in silence, no water running, and sort of slosh around in rapidly cooling water waiting to see what happens next?

We don’t have to wait, though, because “if the Spirit of God is living in us” another tap has been turned on, and what it does is equally amazing, because it starts pouring Christ’s mind into us. Where the old tap of evil was pouring its venom into our heads, this new tap of the Spirit is pouring in the perfectly healthy mind of Christ, which explains why Paul calls it “the Spirit of Christ” in verse 9. The Spirit’s purpose is to start flooding our brains with the mind and thoughts of Christ, taking us back to 1 Corinthians 2:16 when Paul says “we have the mind of Christ.” Well, of course we do, because the Holy Spirit now has the tap full on pouring the mind of Christ into our brains.

And then Paul hits us with Romans 8:10, as the most brilliant description of what is now happening inside our heads as a result of Christ’s sacrifice turning off the old tap and the Holy Spirit turning on the new tap. Here it is, verse 10: “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

Or put in tap terms, if Christ is being poured into our heads, thanks to the Holy Spirit opening up that tap to full pressure, then first of all, take note, it won’t make any difference to our bodies. Don’t expect our bodies to suddenly fill up with vibrant new health. That’s not what the tap is for, to inject new life into our bodies, because our bodies in this life are still subject to death as the irreversible consequence of sin.

Evil still gets its way when it comes to our bodies, therefore, even after we become Christians, because the priority isn’t bodies yet, it’s brains. Immortal bodies come later. What God’s interested in most for now is the redesigning of our brains, because what’s the point of an immortal body if it’s carrying around a brain for eternity that’s only half cooked?

But evil doesn’t get its way in the second part of verse 10….

Now we get to what’s happening in our heads because of the Holy Spirit tap. “If Christ is in you,” verse 10, which he is, thanks to “the law of the Spirit of life” (verse 2) pouring the mind of Christ into us, “your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

For the first time in our lives our spirit comes alive. It’s like our eyes are suddenly opened to what’s going on. We’re in a bath with two taps, one with the letter E on it for Evil, and the other with the letter S on it for Spirit. Tap E has a sign over it saying, “Frozen shut by Christ’s death. Try other tap.” Well, why not, when tap S has a sign over it saying, “For mental health, turn tap full on.”

And why does this tap create mental health? Paul’s answer in verse 10 is, “because of righteousness.” It’s because our brain is filling up with righteousness instead. It’s righteous, just like the mind of God and the mind of Christ. The actual Greek word for “righteousness” in that verse means “correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting.” Because of the Spirit tap, therefore, our brains are being filled with Christ’s way of thinking, feeling and acting. Our brains, in other words, are being redesigned, rewired, and retrained by the Holy Spirit into new thinking patterns, new ways of acting, and new ways of reacting too. Our emotions aren’t running away with us. We aren’t loose cannons when sensitive buttons are pushed. Our minds, we discover, are gradually becoming impervious to evil.

Well, doesn’t that become the most exciting thing possible? It means we’ve discovered the key to defending our brains against evil. Evil doesn’t slip past our defenses so easily. It can still shoot a fiery dart or two that maybe burns a hole in our peace of mind on occasion, but the wounds don’t fester or do any permanent damage. Evil is now shooting arrows at a tank. And wouldn’t you then love to tell the world from your own experience that you’ve discovered the key to mental health, and the antidote to mental illness? The key is becoming impervious to evil, the most formidable enemy of the mind, and it’s now possible for that to happen because the Holy Spirit has been redesigning and retraining human minds to think like Christ’s mind instead.

Do we have a conscious part in this process too, though? Oh yes, says Paul in verse 12. “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation.”

And in tap terms that obligation is simple: Keep the E tap shut off, and in verse 13, keep the S tap full on. And ever since Christ’s death and the gift of the Spirit, mental health for us humans is really just as simple as that.

Paul includes the simplicity of both taps in Ephesians 2:22-24.

Here’s the first tap: “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts.” In other words, keep the E tap shut.

And the second tap: “and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” In other words, keep the S tap full on.

Or, as The Message phrases it: “Everything – and I do mean everything – connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it. And then take on an entirely new way of life – a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”

In other words, God is redesigning our brains, and our part in that is to keep the E tap shut, and the S tap wide open

(c0ntinues in part 3 on March 26/18…)

Part 1 was on Jan 29/18

Mental health/illness from God’s point of view (pt 1)

Having a Sound Mind

Does Scripture offer any positive, practical help in the massive problem of mental illness that’s plaguing so many people today? Is God concerned about mental health and mental illness too?

Yes, he is. In the old King James Version of 2 Timothy 1:7, mental health is top priority on the Holy Spirit’s agenda, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” It is God’s clear desire that we humans have healthy, sound minds.

For ‘sound mind’ Paul uses the Greek word that means curbing one’s desires and impulses, doing all things in moderation, and being modest and discreet. It’s a mind, in other words, that’s under control. Other Bible translations use the English words ‘sensible’ and ‘self-disciplined’.

An example would be 1 Timothy 3:2, in the qualities looked for in a church leader. Taking words and phrases from several Bible translations for this verse it sounds like this: “A leader must have impeccable character, a blameless reputation, and be well thought of. He must be fair, wise, dignified, skillful in judgment, cool-calm-and-collected, shrewd in the management of his affairs, respectful, courteous and welcoming. He’s kind and thoughtful, not hurtful, hot-tempered or quarrelsome, and he never acts rashly, hastily, or foolishly.” And in verse 11, “No exceptions are made for women either – same qualifications, serious, dependable, worthy of respect, and not malicious gossips. They are discreet and can be thoroughly trusted” (The Message).

That’s a lot to consider, but Paul boils it down in Titus 1:8 to “having a good grip on oneself” (The Message). A healthy mind, simply put, isn’t ruled by, or even motivated by, emotion. Runaway emotions, by comparison, are a classic sign of a mind that’s jumped the rails.

Does that mean, then, that Christians should be totally sane at all times, and be totally free from nervous breakdowns or any other mental illnesses?

That’s not what Paul is saying, because all sorts of mental illnesses can be traced back to physical causes, like inherited weaknesses, prenatal damage, brain injuries, infections, accidents, impaired brain chemistry, alcohol and drug abuse, poor nutrition, exposure to environmental toxins (like mercury and lead), and physical abuse and injury caused by other people (like sexual abuse during childhood), all of which can affect a person’s mental state for life, and cause all sorts of mental problems, no matter how ‘Christian’ a person is.

But in answer to all that, Paul says, “Don’t panic, help is available,” and it’s help from a very powerful source too, the Holy Spirit. And what the Spirit has to offer is self-mastery, no matter how handicapped we are by our weaknesses.

Self-mastery is a marvelous gift, because, as one quote states: “God-given discipline (or self-mastery, or having a good grip on oneself) allows people to control every element of their lives, whether positive or negative. It allows them to experience success without becoming proud, and to suffer failure without becoming bitter or hopeless.” Our emotions, in other words, including the dreadful ogre of discouragement, don’t have to blow us to pieces, or lead us around by the nose.

But in saying the Holy Spirit is the source of such control, Paul is also saying that self-mastery over our emotions does not come naturally. We’re not born with self-mastery. It can’t be inherited, or learned in a classroom, or honed by experience. But not to worry, Paul says, we’ve all got access to the God-given gift of a sound mind to stop us becoming loose cannons emotionally, no matter what our circumstances or personality. It’s all part of the Father “blessing us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

But if it’s all Spirit-given, does that mean we cannot help ourselves?

Paul touched on that in Romans 7 and 8. In Romans 7 he talks very candidly about his own state of mind. He wanted to be a good person, like so many people today who have high morals, work hard, raise funds for needy causes, pay fair wages, sacrifice dearly for their families, help neighbours, and win Civic Awards for outstanding service to the community.

But Paul also admitted in Romans 7:21, that “When I want to good, evil is right there with me…waging war against the law of my mind” – and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He couldn’t help himself, in other words.

So, if meditation, therapy, medication, and endless sessions with a psychiatrist were available in Paul’s day, none of them would have worked, because in Paul’s experience what was happening to him was beyond human control. How could mere humans and human aids combat the ever-present and overwhelming power of evil? Even the heartiest believer in God’s law (like Paul) had no control over the evil thoughts in his head. It was Paul’s conclusion, therefore, that we live in a body of death, and only God can rescue us from it (verses 24-25).

Modern-day mental health experts would roll their eyes at Paul’s diagnosis, of course, because they believe the mind and emotions are within the realm of human help, and can be corrected and balanced by medication and techniques for self-control. And the idea that evil is involved in mental illness is just typical, they say, of nutty religion trying to scare people.

But if these experts are right and there’s nothing spiritual at the root of mental illness, or anything spiritual needed to cure it, and we can all have our minds kept under control by pills and therapy, etc., why is there so much incurable mental illness still? Why are jails full of people with mental problems, that no counseling or medication can cure? And why are so many young people self-injuring and committing suicide if it’s within our expert control to stop them?

Paul has answered that already in Romans 7, but how many mental health experts today would accept Paul’s diagnosis that evil was messing up people’s minds? They’d more likely conclude that Paul himself was suffering from a mix of one or more diagnosable mental imbalances like Split Personality Disorder, or Schizoid Personality Disorder. Maybe Paul was even schizophrenic. They might even admit to Paul suffering from Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, but that would be very brave because no one yet knows the cause or treatment for it. It would also be admitting that maybe Paul had a point, that there really are things going on in the human mind beyond our human control, that includes (dare we say it) the powerful influence of evil.

But that’s a scary thought because it means delving into realms we have no understanding of, and no means of dealing with, either. On the other hand, it we can’t find ways of dealing with the likes of Hitler, or serial killers, or madmen who coldly blow up innocent people, or bullies addicted to inflicting injury for pleasure and power, and psychopaths who have no remorse or empathy for their victims, how much more suffering must we endure while we wait for the mental health experts to come up with new understanding and new solutions?

But who wants to admit that maybe we don’t have the answers, and God does? Or that Paul was right after all, that the reason we cannot come up with solutions is because “the sinful mind is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7)?

Oops. Now we’re really treading on sensitive ground, because Paul is stating bluntly that we’ll never come up with solutions to mental illness while our attitude to God stinks. “But what’s God got to do with anything?” today’s experts ask. “God’s more likely the cause of mental illness, not the solution,” they say, “because look at all the weird ideas that God-nuts in religion come up with, like messing people’s minds up with visions of hell and burning forever. Religious people and Christians have simply disqualified themselves from any contribution to mental health, therefore, because they’re probably the most mentally sick people on the planet.”

And sadly that criticism has merit, but putting aside religion and its silliness for a minute, does Paul actually have a point? He’s definitely right about our natural hostility to God, because we prove it every time we reject or resist any hint of God’s involvement in our world, either in its creation or its problems. But surely it raises the obvious question as to why we’re so hostile to God, when the only thing he seems to have done wrong is not let us do what we want without consequences. Other than that he’s given us amazing minds that get enormous pleasure out of life and learning, and discovering the wonders of creation.

But not all creation is wonderful. Some of it is horrible, like disease, accidents and natural disasters that remain a constant worry for us. Our minds are never free of anxiety about the future, the economy, or the inability of governments to meet all our needs. The planet is under stress, our kids are being bullied in deeply worrying ways, and their future doesn’t look bright as house prices soar, and secure, satisfying full-time jobs for life are under threat. On the surface people seem to be functioning, but there’s a growing undercurrent of helplessness that suddenly opens up in conversations when someone admits to problems in their family. Then the flood gates open as to what’s really going on, and we discover that all sorts of people aren’t coping at all well in this world.

Can we give Paul a chance, then, to explain what he came up with as the cause and solution to mental illness? And he’s not talking as some superior, look-down-your-nose, “I’ve got all the answers,” head-in-the-clouds religious nut, either. He’s talking our language. He admits to having mental problems himself, and how frustrated he is too at his helplessness.

Well, the first revealing thing Paul says in Romans 8, is that the human mind is governed by two laws, the “law of the Spirit of life,” verse 2, and “the law of sin and death.” Putting aside the religious-sounding language, it’s good to know, at least, that there are laws involved, which is something we can understand. Paul also explains in less religious terms in verse 5, what each of these laws does in our minds. The law of sin and death, or “the sinful nature” as Paul calls it, kicks our minds into doing what our “(sinful) nature desires,” while the second law of the Spirit of life kicks our minds into doing what the “Spirit desires,” each with its own visible consequences (verses 6-7).

This can only be observed in humans too, because humans are the only creatures on earth with what Paul calls a “spirit” (verse 10). The Greek word for spirit means the power we humans have to feel, think, decide and make choices, and what Paul then shows in Romans 8 is what happens to that spirit inside us with and without the Holy Spirit.

What happens to our human spirit without the Holy Spirit is slightly unnerving, though, because Paul says it’s dead. In verse 6 he says “The mind of sinful man is death,” and in verse 10, “your body is dead because of sin.” In other words, if we’re simply operating by the first law of what our nature desires, our entire being, body and mind, is floating like a dead fish downstream. It has no control over the evil impulses banging away in our heads that make us (like Paul) do things we don’t want to do, or not do the sensible things we know we should do.

When a person is diagnosed in the secular world as having Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, therefore, what it really means is the poor chap is operating by the first law alone, and there is nothing in the whole wide world that can stop the injury to his mind and body.

No wonder so many promising young people suddenly begin to fall apart emotionally and start cutting themselves and attempting suicide, as they too discover there is nothing they can do about their volatile emotions and the damage they’re doing to themselves and to others. And they feel utterly helpless, because no one, it seems, can help them.

They may receive therapy and medication that enables them to function, yes, just as Paul was able to function in Romans 7, and thousands of people today without the Holy Spirit are able to function as well – but functioning isn’t “life and peace” – as Paul calls it in Romans 8:6.

Functioning doesn’t stop the rage that wells up inside us when somebody doesn’t live up to our expectations, or life isn’t treating us the way we think it ought to. Functioning isn’t enough to stop people wondering, “What’s the point?” after years of struggle and not much to show for it.

Functioning helps, but it doesn’t equip a person to deal with the stresses, pressures and the horrors of a selfish world bent on its own destruction. It doesn’t stop the madness lurking inside our heads that can spill out any second when sensitive buttons are pushed and our emotions explode. But functioning is all that the world of psychiatry and experts in mental illness can offer, leaving a person open and susceptible to emotional collapse and self-disgust, just like Paul who wailed at how wretched and helpless he was in Romans 7:24.

The tragedy of functioning is that it never gives a person the pleasure of being independent. He is always dependent on others to keep his mind from blowing to pieces, whether it be therapists or friends or the endless patting on the back by parents, spouses, teachers, coaches, employers, minions and mentors telling him he’s such a fine chap and doing great. But one let down by any of those people can send a dependent person into a spiral of depression and self-hate again.

What a tragedy that he can never experience the pleasure of being in control of his life, of having mastery over his weaknesses and phobias, or having mastery over the negative and deceptive influences of others, mastery over his reactions when horrible things happen, and mastery over getting a big head and wanting to be admired and noticed. Wouldn’t it be great if none of those things bothered him anymore, and like Paul he could be content in whatever situation he found himself in (Philippians 4:12)?

But such is the power of the second law, “the Spirit of life.” It offers contentment, an inner peace and life that carries us through the ups and downs, that keeps us on a steady course as the storm rages all around us, that enables us to be independent of all the gods and idols of society selling their empty but highly attractive wares as the means to happiness and self-mastery.

God would love us to be independent of all that stuff, and have dominion over this world as he phrased it in Genesis, not be sucked in by it as Adam and Eve were with the promise of “wisdom” from a tree. Wisdom can’t combat evil, any more than a pill or therapy can enable people today to win the war against their rotten thoughts and runaway emotions.

But where does that leave us if all the “wisdom” of the mental health community cannot win this war against our “sinful nature”? Are psychiatrists and psychotherapists stuck forever with a box full of blunt tools, condemning them to hours and hours of listening to people’s problems with no clear remedies for self-centredness, self-pity, and self-justification? I imagine some counselors must also wonder, “What’s the point?” as patient after patient leaves their counseling room still baffled as to how they can break free of what troubles them.

What troubles people is simple, according to Paul; it’s not knowing that the driving force in human brains that makes people think the world revolves around them and their feelings, their needs, and their wants, has actually been done away with. It no longer rules us, or better put, we no longer need to be ruled by it. It is actually possible, therefore, to break free of what troubles us, because in Romans 8:3, Jesus “condemned sin in sinful man.”

Jesus took the law that constantly injects evil thoughts into our heads, and condemned it. He did it by becoming “a sin offering” (3), meaning he took all that evil into himself on the cross – just like an animal sacrificed for an Israelite’s sin in the Old Testament took that person’s sin into itself. And the law of sin and death could never retaliate with a viable defence. It had killed an innocent man, for heaven’s sake. Never again, therefore, would it be allowed to rule people’s minds, just like a Judge who condemned an innocent man to death would never be allowed to preside over people’s lives in the dock again.

So the first law ruling our human spirits had its back broken by Jesus. It looks like it still has control over people, and we have a massive mental health community acting as if the first law still controls people too, as it constantly pumps out its own solutions to mental illness, rather than telling people that what’s troubling them has actually already been dealt with by Jesus.

And the evidence that it’s been dealt with by Jesus is the number of people in the world who are functioning really rather well. They go through a typical childhood in reasonably stable families, they get good careers, have their own families, become well-known and liked in the community, do lots of fun things with their children and grandchildren and friends, and their funerals are well attended.

And the amazing thing is, they manage to do it all without ever understanding or taking any interest in why Jesus was crucified.

How can that be? Well, they’re simply reaping the results and living in the afterglow of Jesus destroying the power of the first law, allowing the world to at least keep functioning without us all going mad and totally wrecking the planet. But it’s still only functioning. It’s a far cry from the “life and peace” that only the second law can supply. It’s all well and good that Jesus’ death freed us from the ravages of the first law, but to be truly free from it personally requires “the law of the Spirit of life” too, verse 2, because, verse 13, it’s only “by the Spirit that we put to death the misdeeds of the body.”

It’s only by the Spirit’s desires influencing our spirit INSTEAD, therefore, that we have self-mastery over the emotions that cause our misdeeds in the first place, and we have total independence from evil and the influences of the world.

We’re living in a world that thinks that’s all nonsense, however. But where do these happily functioning people turn when things go terribly wrong in their own lives, when their emotions spin out of control, nasty thoughts fill their minds, they say and do things that cause damage they can’t repair, they’re plagued by guilt and self-disgust, and they’re tempted to do something really stupid to themselves and to others? Where do they turn to stop the self-loathing and rage in their heads that threatens to destroy them in both mind and body? And what if their mental health deteriorates to the point they admit to needing counseling? What help can these people who have no interest in God then expect?

Well, let’s hear it from Dr. Allen Frances, who served as the chairman of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the most influential guidebook on mental illness in the world. He’s also had years of experience as a leading psychiatrist, and he said this: “I have reviewed dozens of definitions of mental disorder and find none of them the slightest bit helpful either in determining which conditions should be considered mental disorders and which not, or in deciding who is sick and who is not.”

In other words, the mental health establishment can’t even determine if what’s going on inside your head even IS a mental illness, or not. But that’s the tragic situation this world finds itself in for not being interested in mental health and mental illness from God’s point of view. It is left with no understanding of the laws governing the human mind, no understanding of what opened up to the human mind because of Jesus’ death, and no clue as to what treatment God made available through the Holy Spirit.

So, what is God doing about this awful mess, if anything?….(continues in part 2 on February 26/18)