Editor’s Note: Last month we looked at the impairment psychotropic meds create to the brain. This month we cover a different “treatment” for emotional needs and why it needs to be viewed differently than physical conditions.
Isn’t it right to treat emotional suffering like physical suffering?
This is a question that is often asked.
When a person breaks a leg or suffers from a deep cut we seek medical assistance. Part of the remedy is to relieve the pain from the wound. Why would we imply there would be cautions in seeking medical help for a broken heart or for fears that seem to rage out of control?
Even closer to emotional pain are physical conditions that influence our emotions. When a blood sugar condition is out of balance, we know it will bring a mental condition with it. When hormones are involved or when there is a thyroid problem, we do not hesitate to seek help, even if it may involve chemical medications. Let’s make it clear here, when some organ of the body is not functioning properly, we believe the Bible supports finding medicinal relief. So why not address emotional pain such as fear, worries, anger, distress, or grief from the same perspective?
God’s Word clearly makes a difference. We all know of Luke, the beloved physician. Paul gave Timothy a medicinal remedy for a stomach infirmity. God’s Word gives place for physical remedies for physical problems. But in these cases the medicine enables or enhances the functions of the body.
Is this the case for the mind? Are minds helped because brains are enhanced or enabled? Do people find their way out of fear or guilt because their brains are sharpened? The words of Scripture would show, and even many professionals agree, this is not the case. The verdict is in, in most cases emotional help is received because the brain is hindered, or impaired.
That’s why we see mind issues are an entirely different matter. The mind uses the brain in this life, but the mind is first and foremost spiritual in nature. God directs us to give care to our minds, but that care is to come from our soul through spirit enhancement. The command to be sober teaches us to establish boundaries on our thinking, in order to experience peace and Christian victory. The direction to speak to ourselves through songs is to establish our mind activity.
Promises in both the Old Testament and New Testament focus on God’s ability to bring peace to hearts that are in turmoil. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Ps 119:165). “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isa 32:17). The activity of worship is a wonderful mind stabilizer.
Jesus has both comforted and commanded us, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Joh 14:27). We know the promise, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Ga 5:22-23). “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Php 4:7).
And so this brings us to the other option for helping us with emotional needs...
Or will we enlarge our hearts? “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged” (2 Co 6:11).
The Apostle Paul is a great encouragement, perhaps most of all because of the tremendous spiritual legacy he left in his writings. We marvel at his example. When he met Christ on the Damascus road and surrendered to Jesus as Lord, he gave his life unreservedly to spreading the Gospel. Because of this choice Paul suffered unbelievable rejection and persecution. Several passages highlight what he endured, but one passage reveals the effects of this suffering, in other words what suffering did to his heart, the affection part of his mind. This is recorded in 2 Corinthians.
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:” (2Co 1:3-8).
In 2 Corinthians 4 and 11 Paul gives us more insights into this account. He was repeatedly traumatized. At least one time the persecutors thought they had solved the problem of Paul once for all. They left him for dead. But Paul believed that his suffering was for a grander purpose. “Our light affliction” he calls it, and tells himself that it is “just for a moment”; happened for the purpose to work “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” In chapter 12 we have his thoughts recorded about a very private time when Paul struggled asking for a weight to be lifted. But through prayer, God said “No.”
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he [God] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2Co 12:7-9).
In short, Paul turned to God for his comfort. To give him comfort, God did not dull or impair Paul’s perception, but rather helped him see the big picture. When Paul embraced the big picture and received comfort from it, his heart and world were enlarged. He was able to connect with hurting people from any walk of life.
When we hurt, when we go through what the flesh does not want, God often does something for our spiritual man that He cannot do any other way. We may be brought to the edge of eternity. We may see God’s purposes more vividly. We may be brought to a fuller grasp of God’s grace and what it does for us. And thus our hearts are enlarged. Through suffering we are brought into a more complete understanding of what others are going through.
In 2Cor 6 Paul again unloads what he went through for the church at Corinth. The list is intimidating - one could almost expect to hear him say at the end, “I am all worn out! I have no more patience for you!” But Paul rather exclaims just the opposite, “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians we are hiding nothing, keeping nothing back, and our heart is expanded wide for you! There is no lack of room for you in our hearts...”
One of the blessed outcomes to us, when our heart is enlarged to care for others, is to our view of self. Isn’t it wonderful when self shrinks to lesser importance, when our needs, our hurts, and our thoughts are not the center of our focus, but rather what God is doing with others?
We all experience suffering
All of us suffer. We live in a fallen world. People betray us. Events disappoint us. We receive wounds both inside and out. Sometimes, after we suffer long enough, the hurts and disappointments seem to add up to a great sense of disillusionment. No one would argue whether or not the suffering is real. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Ro 8:22-23)
At some seasons of life, many of us will struggle so much with pain we wonder whether or not we will lose our ability to reason. It seems like the hurt and wounds are so deep and last so long we can no longer control our thoughts. Everything gets jumbled together until we can’t seem to think straight any longer.
Maybe our struggle is depression. We feel so badly we don’t even want to get out of bed, much less face the public or our church family. The struggles of the mind affect the ability to face life with energy. Job 3 is a good passage to read when we feel badly about life.
It is helpful to remember that it is God who created us for earth living. We did not make ourselves. We did not choose to live in a fallen world. God understood what we would be dealing with, even from the very beginning. The God who made us also assures us we will not face temptations or struggles greater than we can bear. Just like He created us with a controllable sexuality or a controllable anger surge, He created us with controllable suffering levels.
It is also helpful to remember that Jesus understands whatever we face. He went through human struggles. In eternity past He told the Father, “I delight to do thy will.” When He got to earth and actually faced the cross, He cried out in an appeal asking for a different path. “Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me...”
In conclusion, which will we choose?
Impaired? or Enlarged? Which will we choose? There is no doubt but God will have us suffer in our earth journey. And the suffering isn’t only physical; some of the most challenging times we experience are in our emotional journey. We actually need this suffering. It honors Him and it helps us relate to others. But we still have a choice. One option apparently leads to a narrowed view and ability to serve others. The Bible holds that the choice to see life from an eternal perspective and seeing God involved in our lives, helps us reach out and beyond, even to make a difference for eternity. Which will we choose?