Of Illness and Evil
|by C.J. Chase|
Tragic shootings have filled the news for the past month. What makes these so inexplicable is that there seems to be no understandable motive. Killing for greed or hate or revenge or even for pleasure we can understand, even though we condemn those actions. Novelists, especially mystery and suspense writers, make use of such motivations every day when our characters solve crimes using logic.
But what if we can find no comprehensible rationale for such horrifying behavior? Who commits mass slaughter for no discernible reason? Is it evil? Is it illness? Like nearly everyone else in America, I’ve pondered these matters, now more than ever.
We know there is real evil in the world. Indeed, most murder falls under this category, whether it is a gang-related shooting or a hate-inspired Holocaust. But what about those times when the perpetrator acts with forethought but seemingly without connection to reality? Is a troubled Adam Lanze (Sandy Hook school shooter) or Andrea Yates (the mother who drowned her children in the bathtub) different from the 9/11 terrorists or serial murderer Ted Bundy? As I considered this dilemma, I naturally turned to the Bible. How did Jesus react to the various people of His day? Are there distinctions we can learn from His example?
The Bible doesn’t mention mental illness, but it does record stories of Jesus confronting people with troubled minds. The exact nature of the causes—whether all were cases of actual demonic possession or whether some were a form of mental illness—I’ll leave for theologians to argue. (Interestingly, extreme religiosity is sometimes a symptom of certain mental illnesses.) What I noticed is that Jesus showed compassion to those people—all of them: the man who ran around naked and cut himself with stones, the boy who had seizures and kept falling into the fire.
And yet, Jesus used harsh words to describe the Pharisees—the religious leaders of His day. In Matthew 12, we find the Pharisees already plotting to kill Jesus. When Jesus healed a demon possessed man, they claimed He used Satanic power. How did Jesus address them?
“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Matthew 12:34 NIV)
It seems counterintuitive. The very idea of demonic possession sounds…well, demonic, and what could be more evil than that? However, Jesus showed compassion to the man possessed by demons and anger to the religious leaders, the “model citizens” of his day, going so far as to call them evil.
Our ancestors of a century and more ago had a solution to mental health and development issues. They just locked up everyone who was "different," often in appalling conditions. I wish I had answers for a parent struggling with a mentally ill child. I wish I could give all those important people in power a perfect solution that would fix all our mental health issues while still preserving individuals’ civil rights. I don’t have any of those things to offer—but I can offer what Jesus did. Compassion.
The sad truth is that church is often a difficult, even unfriendly, place for people with special needs. Estimates of those with special needs who are unchurched range from 85% to 95%. Where does a person/family turn when church feels uncomfortable or unwelcoming?
Many churches will be observing Sanctity of Life this coming Sunday. My husband and I put the following video together for our upcoming service encourage involvement in ministry to the special needs community. (I only put it on Youtube so I could get feedback from a few friends. With the shooting against last week, I felt compelled to address the issue today. But shh. Don’t tell members of my church. They’re not supposed to see this until Sunday.)
If I sound passionate about this, it comes from painful experience. In addition to a son with Down Syndrome, my family has been touched by mental illness. I’ve seen up close the confusion and pain and loneliness mental illness brings to a family. Chemical imbalances can change people's personalities and cause them to lose discernment. Even when successfully treated, the stigma of mental illness keeps many isolated.
We live in a fallen world where sickness and evil both exist. But as Christians, we are to shine God's light in the darkness.
Does your church have a ministry to people with special needs, such as a Sunday School class for people with intellectual disabilities or a respite program for harried parents of special needs children?
After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Her next book, The Reluctant Earl, will be available February 5, 2013. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at www.cjchasebooks.com