Many people are suffering from mental and behavioural disorders. To mitigate troublesome behaviours, beliefs, compulsions, and emotions, the use of psychological therapy has been common. Psychotherapy aims to improve the patient’s well-being and mental health with various analyses, frameworks, methods and techniques.
Some are considered evidence-based, while others have been criticised as pseudoscience at best.
Then how should a professing Christian with mental or behavioural issues approach the situation? Isn’t faith in God not enough to heal without external help? Why is that all the religious activities do not bring about life transforming changes?
Out of desperation, Christians also turn to psychotherapy for help. It is certainly something to be considered, not to be avoided outright as ‘secular method’. But over-reliance on analytical frameworks and methods can often fail to consider the true complexity of human beings. Everyone is uniquely different.
We cannot simply put people into pre-defined boxes with a label and apply a set of techniques for treatment. Is there a better or another way?
Danger of Pharisees
In the days of Jesus, Pharisees were a group of people obsessed with the exact and precise study and keeping the external Law. Despite their good intention to live for God, it led them to be overly critical of others and easily offended in small matters. They lived by rules and did not mingle with whom they considered ‘sinners’. Despite practicing all the religious rituals, they were hard-hearted and spiritually blind.
The Pharisees had a performance-based relationship with God. Their pursuit of righteousness became ‘self-righteousness’ which gave rise to treating others with contempt.
How many modern day Christians are like these Pharisees? Before putting Bob and Jane from your previous church into this category, what about YOU? Have you ever acted like Pharisees? Have you ever approached holy living from outside-in, rather than inside-out? Are non-Christians inspired by what they see and hear from you?
Most of us have acted like a Pharisee at least once in our lives. Recognising and acknowledging our blind spot has a tremendous healing power because conviction of sin is one the rarest things that ever strike human beings.
When a professing Christian becomes a true Christian, something remarkable happens in one’s heart. It is something far beyond Sunday activities and conformity to external codes of dos and don’ts.
Grace trumps pain
A lot of mental and behavioural disorders are rooted in relationship breakdowns and all the hurts and heartaches that come with them. Overcoming unresolved pain is not easy, even with the help of psychotherapy.
The notion of grace is one of the core tenets of Christian faith. It refers to an unmerited favour or kindness. However, extending grace to other people is something that has not been very well practiced by professing Christians. It requires much more than knowing about grace intellectually in a religious setting.
When we feel we are wronged, disrespected or mistreated, we normally demand an apology or compensation as an entitlement before we can soften our stance, let alone extend forgiveness. But the true Christian spirit abounds in grace. It does not demand an apology as a precondition to giving or receiving forgiveness. It just gives. It just receives. Those who have truly received grace can give grace. It’s radical.
This does not mean all the pain and hurt would simply go away. Some things will still take time to heal. But grace trumps pain. It soothes and heals quicker than applying other man-made methods or techniques. It is of divine origin.
Walking the high road
Anyone can return an eye for an eye. But Jesus instructed to love our enemies and return good for evil. Nothing pricks the conscience of a person who did wrong like a gentle and forgiving spirit. “Heaping burning coals on their head” is a metaphor that refers to the vivid awakening of mistakes made. When people become utterly convinced of their wrongdoings, apologies come naturally in some shape or form even if we do not ask.
Instead of focusing on our own desires or what others did or didn’t, we reflect on God’s grace over our lives. Instead of blaming others, we take responsibility for our own contribution to the breakdown, no matter how small it might be.
Instead of simply disengaging from others, we overlook minor offenses or talk to them personally and graciously if possible. Instead of allowing relationships to wither, we actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation when we can.
Why do we do it? Because grace trumps pain.
Daniel Jang is a senior advisor with Ministry of Health New Zealand. He is an experienced writer, speaker and mentor to Press Service International (PSI) community. Daniel holds an MA in Applied Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and GradDip in Theology from Laidlaw College.
Daniel Jang's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html