From Doubt to Faith
Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ John 20:27
Fearing for their lives, they assembled together and locked the door. “How could Jesus have permitted himself to be captured, sentenced, and crucified like a criminal?” Outside the door, alone he sat, crouched in a small corner, with tears in his eyes. Like a sudden flash of lightning, his dreams of tomorrow had disappeared as quickly as they had come. For a moment in time, he beheld the purpose to his life’s existence. In a tidal wave of grief, doubt had swept over him and he was drowning in faith. Suddenly, the door opened and voices from inside the room burst into the air proclaiming – “We have seen the Lord! We have seen the Lord!” In a moment of courage and boldness, Thomas arose from the depths of despair, stood on his feet, and embarked on a personal quest to reclaim his faith in the Christ who had been crucified. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” While the world may describe the behavior of Thomas as a mental and emotional breakdown, Jesus Christ saw Thomas’ challenge as a spiritual breakthrough. Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27).
After a lifelong battle with mental illness, the youngest son of Pastor Rick Warren, head pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, committed suicide. Matthew Warren, 27, died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound Friday, April 5, 2013. Matthew struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America's best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Approach after approach had failed to give relief, and Rick Warren recalls his son Matthew saying “Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?”
What attitudes and beliefs do those who suffer encounter when they seek counsel from the church? While some members of the church may embrace those with mental illness, there are many in the church that react to mental illness in a harmful and abusive way. Such treatment may include abandonment by the church, equating mental illness with the work of demons, and suggesting that the mental disorder was the result of personal sin. Unfortunately, women are significantly more likely than men to have their mental illness dismissed by the church. Given that a religious support system can play a vital role in recovery from serious mental disorders, continued education is needed in order to provide healthy Church environments for the mentally ill.
Amy Simpon, in her book, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission, writes about the experiences her family and others have had with mental illness in the church. “My family has always been in the church. Dad was a pastor for 10 years. When schizophrenia came knocking, we were steeped in church life, yet the church was mostly silent on the reality of mental illness—and we got the message that we should be silent as well. This silence was isolating and cruel.”She states that - “These are stories every Christian should know because the people affected by this system failure need our help. The church is equipped to advocate for and walk alongside people with mental illness. Our shame and abandonment are the last things people affected by such illness need.”
Like Thomas, the church must be bold enough to ask the tough questions. We acquiesce our responsibility to be the church, when we fail to “clothe (the church) with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” Colossians 3:12. When we treat the despair of others as a spiritual problem, prescribing more faith or prayer, we suggest suffering people aren’t eligible for God’s grace. We behave like the Pharisees, whom Jesus said “don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” Matthew 23:3-4. When all seems lost and we feel alone and isolated from the world, faith helps us to see what is not visible, to hear when our soul can only whisper and to feel that which is beyond our reach. The church must embrace those who suffer, empower them not to breakdown, but rather encourage them to break through the barriers and obstacles that the world places before them.
Prayer: Gracious Lord give us the courage to honor you when we go through our struggles and doubts. Give us your strength and presence to follow you amidst of our difficulties. Amen
Thought for the day: Difficulties and troubles are realities but He transcends everything.
Rev. Roy A. Thomas, Youth Chaplain, Houston