Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Schizophrenia & The People of God

If you know and love someone who suffers from schizophrenia, you know what heartbreak is.

A dear child of God who lives in the epicenter of that heartbreak recently let me read this book, by Stephen Waterhouse:  Strength for his People: A Ministry for Families of the Mentally Ill.

I highly recommend it to anyone who may even remotely be in a position to offer ministry and encouragement to families who find themselves dealing with the unthinkable.

Chapter titles:

  1. The Trouble I've Seen: At Home and in the Church
  2. Schizophrenia: Causes and Theological Classifications
  3. Emotional Response in the Family
  4. "My God, My God, Why...?"
  5. The Source of Human Value
  6. Differentiation of Schizophrenia from Demon Influence
This book is also very useful in ministry to the homeless, by the way -- since one third of the entire homeless population suffers from schizophrenia.

By and large the Christian church has not responded to mental illness with anything like the full power of the gospel.  We just don't know what we're dealing with.  We don't understand it, so we fear it.  And fearing it, we don't bother with it much.  That must change.  

Schizophrenia is first of all a medical problem, not a moral problem.  There's a genetic predisposition involved -- a built-in weakness that responds poorly to stress, triggering schizophrenic symptoms.  We need to approach ministry to this human infirmity with the same compassion that leads us to minister to sufferers of any other chronic medical condition.  

As you can imagine, mental illness in the family causes great confusion.  There are spiritual questions, medical questions, practical questions... none of which have simple answers.  Families in the midst of this pain are tempted to be swallowed up by guilt, shame, anger, loneliness, stress, fear, depression, & denial.  Dr. Waterhouse's book is a faithful guide, pointing the way to life and light.  

There is also a chapter on suffering.  What are God's purposes in our suffering?  Dr. Waterhouse works through eight.  Very helpful.

And the final two chapters speak of the inescapable dignity of the human being -- a dignity not based on "achievement" in any way -- and a fascinating explanation of the differences between schizophrenia and demonic influence.  

If the church does learn how to minister to these hurting people and their hurting families with greater sensitivity and wisdom, it will be thanks to teachers of the faith like Dr. Waterhouse.  

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34.18 

1 comment:

  1. Tommy, Thanks so much for the wonderful recommendation of not only this book, but that God's people look on mental illness with a more enlightened and compassionate perspective. I'm sure there are other brothers and sisters in Christ that need the encouragement and healing hope as they struggle with the deceptive devastation of this debilitating illness. As always, in His grip, Marilyn Davies