When Christians Need Help
By James D. Mallory, Jr., M.D. Atlanta Counseling Center Director Emeritus
Christians who come for counseling or therapy often suffer doubly. First, there is the discomfort of situational conflicts, the distress of anxiety or depression. Second, there is the feeling of defeat that they, as Christians, should even need help. They may have been told that good Christians should not need professional help or should not need any special medications. Avoiding these helps is presented as if the person is then relying exclusively on the Lord. “Explanations” may be given for the person’s problems that suggest he or she simply has some unconfessed sin, lacks some Christian experience, or at least is an inadequate Christian otherwise he or she would not be experiencing such problems. Now such a person not only has the distress of the original problems, but also has the extra guilt and defeat in feeling terribly inferior as a Christian.
Teachings that suggest Christians should always experience health, wealth and wisdom do a terrible disservice to the cause of Christ. For when problems inevitably do come, people who have believed such a conflict-free doctrine are likely to come to one or two conclusions: God won’t help them because they are so unworthy or there is no personal God to care for them. As a result of such conclusions, people often remain silent about their problems until an explosion or breakdown occurs – in any case the results are destructive.
The scriptures clearly reveal that in the world we will have tribulation (John 16:33), persecution (II Timothy 3:12), and chastisement (Hebrews 12:6). Three of Paul’s beloved followers suffered from illnesses which were not miraculously healed: Tromphimus (II Timothy 4:20), Epaphroditus (Phillipians 2:25) and Timothy (I Timothy 5:23). In the last case, Paul even prescribed wine as medicine to help Timothy’s “stomach and often infirmaties.” Paul suggests in Romans 8:17 and Phillipians 3:10 that suffering is part of our experience and identification with Christ.Paul himself had a thorn in the flesh (II Corinthians 12:7) for which he did not receive healing. Paul was certainly honest about his feelings which were not always on a victorious plane: “For we do not want you to be unaware brethren of our affliction which came to us in Asia that we were burdened excessively beyond our strength so that we despaired even of life” (II Corinthians 1:8).
All of this is not to deny God’s miraculous healing power. God bestows it upon us through many different channels: friends, professionals, medicines, surgery, the body’s own healing tendencies and sometimes through direct healing.Those who deny the reality of Christian struggle, suffering and conflict actually block the very victory and conquest scripture promises.Suffering often gives us the momentum to seek help and become stronger, healthier Christians. In the very process of counseling, one is able to ventilate all the hurts locked up inside without receiving rejection. One is able to identify and clarify all the ins and outs of conflicts so one can pray more intelligently and specifically, as well as develop a plan of action to bring change. All this helps a person get out from under the sense of being overwhelmed and promotes the process of healing.
There is also a proper place for medications. Some emotional and mental suffering is brought out by disordered chemicals in the brain that need proper medication, just as a diabetic needs insulin. Medications that relieve overwhelming distressful symptoms make it possible for a person to deal more effectively with problems and then, as confidence increases, medication may no longer be needed.A person who has experienced suffering, faced it, sought and received help has discovered the mystery and paradox of the plan of God. From Genesis to Revelations the relentless love of God is always present to bring victory out of defeat, salvation out of sin, strength out of weakness. Christians need not deny or ignore their problems until they are overwhelmed by them. They can deal with them honestly and seek help early in the secure knowledge of God’s providing love.