In my previous blog I started to talk about how knowing and trusting Jesus forms a strong defense against the onset of mental health problems. In this article, I would like to complete this thought.
Guilt, both deserved and undeserved, can be a powerful root cause of mental health issues, especially depression. Of itself, guilt is not a bad thing. We should feel bad when we do wrong. In fact, God has put a conscience in us to somewhat constrain our sinful tendencies. So the absence of guilt can be as problematic as the lingering of guilt.
Guilt should lead us to repentance and then move on, but in some cases it does not move on. Sometimes this is because the impact of our sin is permanent (i.e. an accidental death because we were not paying attention while driving). It feels wrong to move on, when those affected cannot move on. But to be fair, continued self-punishment does not improve the situation either.
God is the ultimate judge in determining both guilt and consequence. He is rigorous, knows all facts including hidden ones, and can see what repentance is genuine or ingenuous. As a Christian, we rightly stand subject to God’s judgment. We acknowledge His right to judge us. A non-Christian may not believe this, but they are under God’s judgment anyway. As Christians, though, we leave consequence in God’s hands. Our sin will be punished, but at least the eternal consequence falls on Jesus, not us.
Working through guilt starts with accepting that the eternal consequence of sin has been dealt with by grace. Unnecessary psychological suffering is further allayed by the discipline of confession. Naming our sins to God has a cleansing affect. This is further pronounced when we confess to another person and receive from them a verbal absolution on behalf of God and/or on behalf of themselves (if they were the wronged party). Confessing our sins to the people we have wronged can also aid the healing of the wronged person. The culture of repentance and forgiveness is commanded and enabled by God and it is powerfully healing.
Living forgiven is also connected closely to self-worth and self-love. As with guilt, there are two ways to go astray with our self-image. We can have an inflated view of self which ignores all fault, and we can have a depressed view of self which ignores our value to God. God commands humility, and understanding God’s law gives us plenty of reason to be humble. That said, we need not hate ourselves nor despair of our worth. God’s Word declares that we are loved by God. Loved enough to give His Son to save us. We are also His workmanship. He is shaping us to do good things in the world. He also desires us to know Him and to relate to Him in prayer.
We may not rate highly in the value system of the world, but God’s evaluation of us transcends the world. Our worth is first based on God’s choice to love us. Then is built up by what God can accomplish through us. And finally, takes into consideration what we will be like in eternity. We are extremely valuable in light of our connection to Jesus. Knowing this helps to fend off the maladaptive responses that lead to mental illness.
Finally, there is hope when we are connected to Christ. We don’t do well without hope that there is something good in the future. Mental illness pushes toward being suicidal without hope. God’s promises in Christ give a bright hope for eternal life in Heaven and then ultimately in the New Earth. (See my other blog for many details about this here) Even if our prospects for the near future or for the rest of our foreseeable life seem grim, all our troubles are but temporary when we are connected to Christ. We can do all things with God’s help, especially if they are temporary. The enduring hope of eternal life grows stronger as we hear God’s Word affirming its reality.
Forgiveness, self-love and hope are gifts of God to us because of Jesus. They are of huge value by themselves. They also have many positive side benefits including prevention and healing of mental illness.