How Can Christians Have a Better Response to Mental Health Issues?

I’ve known a few people with perpetually sunny dispositions, but my own nature is reflective and, at times, melancholic. I’ve experienced seasons of depression, both before and since coming to faith in Christ—some due to my personality type and emotional makeup (and perhaps genetics), some triggered by my long-term physical illness (insulin-dependent diabetes), and some the result of adverse circumstances.

When I blogged about my depression some years ago (see here and here), a few people expressed shock that someone who had written about subjects such as grace and Heaven could ever be depressed! I had to laugh, since far better people than I have experienced far worse depression, including Martin Luther, John Owen, and William Cowper, to name a few.  I studied the life of Charles Spurgeon who battled depression, and found comfort in the fact that godly men and women had walked the same path I was walking. (There are also medications that help some people, as well as counseling and psychological help, and I’m grateful for them. When used wisely, they can certainly be part of God’s common grace.)

In April, Pastor John MacArthur made some comments about PTSD, OCD, and ADHD that have created a firestorm of discussion among Christians about the subject of mental health. Some believers strongly disagree with him; others agree. I think this is a good opportunity for Christians to think critically about this subject, and have honest conversations about mental health and where our approach needs adjusting.

I also want to state my appreciation for much of what John MacArthur has done and stood for. I met John years ago, spoke with him at a Desiring God conference, enjoyed a lunch with him, and have personally benefited from some of his books. Plus, one of my daughters and sons-in-law graduated from the college where he is the chancellor, the Master’s College, and my other daughter attended there one year. I deeply appreciate John’s dedication to the inspiration and authority of God’s Word, even though I sometimes disagree with his perspectives.

Pastor and author Gavin Ortlund, who runs the YouTube channel Truth Unites, had quite a few concerns with MacArthur’s thoughts on mental health. He writes, “…this way of thinking is sadly common in many churches. It is crucial to develop a better response to mental health, with a more robust doctrine of common grace.”

In this video, Gavin responds to MacArthur. What he has to say is so good, and he also includes the video clip of MacArthur so you can hear those comments first:

As a follow up to his original comments, John MacArthur was on Allie Beth Stuckey’s podcast sharing about his new book, and at the end of the episode, he provided some further explanation:

(Update 6/7/24: Grace to You published this article from John with a more comprehensive response to his recent comments on mental illness.)

If you’d like to read more on this subject, here’s another response to MacArthur, written by a Christian psychologist. And this one, by O. Alan Noble, in which he seeks to see the kernels of truth in MacArthur’s comments. He writes, “I know it’s not popular to talk about ‘nuance,’ but [mental health] is a nuanced issue that must be addressed with grace and humility.”

For biblical counseling-related material, I highly recommend CCEF (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation).

Let me end by saying that if you are dealing with depression or another mental illness, it may be short-term, or it may be long-term, but if you are God’s child, know this—it is temporary, and “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, NASB). For sure, depression, every other mental disorder, and all unhappiness will forever end when we meet Jesus, the one who “will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).

Photo: Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries