What is a black hole? If you have watched movies like Interstellar or TV programmes about space, perhaps you have got a picture of what it looks like. Black hole is a space in the galaxy where gravitational pull is so extreme that stars are swallowed up in it and are torn apart, not even light can escape it. It is said that everything changes there—space, time and matter. To be in a black hole means ‘the end of everything’ and it’s really a scary picture to even think of.
Have you felt recently—after the outbreak of COVID-19—that our life is also being sucked into a ‘black hole’? The pandemic, far from over, has already claimed millions of lives around the world while affecting many more in unimaginable ways. It will still have far-reaching effects.
From massive slowdown of the economy to heart-wrenching migrant workers’ crisis; from closure of educational and religious institutions indefinitely to heightened tension on borders; from social isolation to political mayhem; from unemployment to overburdened public health system, our country is also faced with multiple challenges in the wake of the pandemic.
But another side effect of a pandemic–which often goes unnoticed–is emotional pandemonium—while there’s so much happening around us, there’s also a far stronger war raging inside us. The world is witnessing an unprecedented rise in the cases of anxiety, fear, depression and stress among people during this time and Christians are no exception to that.
Remarkably, we can endure it all but only if our mental health is intact. However, if we are not in a sound mental health, we will fall apart at slightest crisis. Our emotional health controls all spheres of our life and we, Christians, need to accept that humans are a sum total of their physical, emotional, relational, moral, spiritual and existential being.
Therefore, I have realised that reducing every matter to spiritual dimension is a flawed approach. There is a famous quote by Richard Baxter, “Preaching a man a sermon with a broken head and telling him to be right with God is equal to telling a man with a broken leg to get up and run a race.”
When the pandemic has put focus on mental health like never before, let us go back to the Word and learn how the gospel helps in handling negative emotions.
Suffering from mental health issues is not an un-Christian experience
It’s sad to see that mental health is very little talked about in the Christian faith and there is stigma attached to it even today. There are people who would say that any depression, anxiety or stress in life is associated only with the unsaved people but they have no place in a genuine follower of Christ. If that proves to be true, then perhaps, we have to blot out the names of many servants of God from the Bible and church history. Do we not find examples of godly people who have suffered mental issues?
The characters in the Bible were not superheroes who could change their life at the snap of a finger; nowhere are they portrayed as impeccable and flawless people. All had their set of struggles and weaknesses, and the scripture neither hides nor sugarcoats the weaknesses of godly people. Elijah, the prophet, wished to die under the broom tree even after a triumphant victory on Mount Carmel against the priests of Baal because he had run out of ideas to change the queen and people of Israel (1 Kings 19:5). Job is known to be a person of whom God himself testified that he was a blameless and upright man, who feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:8), yet he was on an emotional roller coaster and was almost losing his mind because of the immense suffering. David, the king who is known to be the man after God’s own heart, writes many psalms of anguish, loneliness and fear. Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, was repeatedly rejected by his own people and was oppressed for speaking the truth. He was gripped with depression and loneliness (Jeremiah 20:14).
Godly people like Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon throughout history have suffered the dark and crushing emotions to some degree or the other. Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, went through a torrent of setbacks in his life—physical illness, overwork, politics, trauma, and critics. These pushed him into depression so intensely that he once said, “I could say with Job, ‘My soul chooseth strangling rather than life’ (Job 7:15). I could readily enough have laid violent hands upon myself, to escape from my misery of spirit.” If you are suffering from any type of emotional issue, take comfort from the lives of godly people because you are not alone in this journey.
God understands our emotional issues
The incarnated Jesus has undergone all sorts of pain—physical, relational, emotional and spiritual. Isaiah, the prophet, mentions of Christ as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus broke down emotionally; in fact, his agony was so deep that he was sweating drops of blood while praying to the Father. On His way to the cross, his body was mercilessly bruised, he was deserted by his disciples, and his loud cry of anguish was “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” The good news is we have a Saviour who understands our pain, loneliness, depression, weakness, rejection, shame and hurt, and reaches out to us with compassion.
Unlike in any other faith, Jesus is not just a healer but a wounded healer who has undergone far more suffering any human can think of and therefore, he can understand each of us in our own weaknesses and provide us strength and hope. God allows the seasons of suffering in our lives to work together for good and to make His sovereign plans come to pass. Jesus has suffered on our behalf so not that we might not suffer but when we suffer, we might become like Him, conforming to the image of His son (Romans 8:29). That’s His purpose for us.
The Gospel is at work in Paul’s crisis
Apostle Paul was obsessed with the gospel of Christ and that is evident in the letters that he writes. For Paul, this gospel is not just the door or the entrance point into God’s family, but the path and journey that one is to walk every day in his Christian life. The gospel is not just some rudimentary spiritual matter about how to become a believer in Jesus but it has larger implications for it shapes our Christian living. Like many other saints, Apostle Paul had nervous breakdowns to the extent that he felt it was better to die (2 Corinthians 1:8). But he did not choose an escape route as people do it today by swapping to Netflix, alcohol, porn, social network or online gaming.
Philippians is one of the prison letters where one would expect to see the depressed Paul but he bursts with joy despite his struggle. The reason of his joy and sound mental health in the midst of crisis is grounded in ‘the gospel’ for he knows that the joy of the world cannot replace depression or anxiety. The source of his joy in his predicament lies in the understanding of ‘the gospel’ and its furtherance (Philippians 1:18). We need to imitate Paul by saturating our numb mind with ‘the gospel of Christ’ even when we can’t see or feel the presence of God because it’s ‘the gospel’ that imparts a glorious hope, a fresh understanding about life and it corrects our misplaced priorities. Depression and anxiety do not go away overnight—sometimes, they will always stalk a person’s life but God is committed to our wellbeing in all aspects. ‘The gospel of Christ’ is able to provide us with the perspective to handle negative emotions and therefore, let the gospel permeate and shape all spheres of our lives—identity, values, thoughts, relationships, behaviour, work, culture and society.