Monday, January 14, 2013

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


  1. Wow, those are some great thoughts, C.J. I liked the way you contrasted Jesus's treatment of the mentally ill/demon possessed with those who were evil by choice. Our church is very small, but for years we supplied rides for a woman who was mentally retarded. And for a time (at a previous church) our cell group went to a home for the mentally retarded once a month and held a service.

    Actual mentall illness is a real challenge. I don't have much personal experience, but I'll share something interesting I just read in "One Second After." The book is about what would happen if terrorists attacked our electonic infrastructure and paralyzed America. One of the steps they had to take was rounding up the mentally ill who couldn't get their meds :( Of course, this was after about ten percent of the population had already died off from not having needed daily medical treatment (diabetics, asthmatics, people on dialysis, heart patients, etc...) It was a good book. We don't realize how dependent and spoiled we are.

  2. powerful video CJ. when i was pregnant (after 40 years of age), you wouldn't believe the "counseling" we got about the potential of having a "special needs" child. if i didn't have Faith, it would've been downright frightening. i didn't take any of their "recommended" tests, because for me, the pregnancy was a gift from God and it didn't matter the condition of my child - he was ours to love and cherish, no matter what.

    my little guy is perfectly normal, but i also knew that if he'd been born with down syndrome - he would still be a blessing to be cherished. our church has a woman over 30 years who is down syndrome and is such a loving inspiration to the whole congregation. she is gung-ho for God and is bold in her testimony, knowing that God made her special - just like everyone else. i didn't realize so many people with mental illness or special needs were so unchurched - probably because our church has ministries or supports ministries for "special needs" people.

    thanks for sharing.

  3. p.s
    i forgot. my husband has a chemical imbalence that causes him to suffer from depression. it bothers him to have to take medication and he feels shame over it. it's a constant battle to remind him that he is a good husband and father to counter how he feels at times. i pray a lot for the Lord to bring healing to him, and patience for me.

  4. Dina, I read a few sad facts/statistics over the weekend while I was working on this.

    (1) It's almost impossible in many places to get a mentally ill person involuntarily committed until he/she has committed violence against himself or others. It's highly unlikely Adam Lanza's family couldn't have gotten him committed to an institution before he went on his rampage even if they had been trying.

    (2) Somewhere around 20% of our prison population has a diagnosed mental illness. (And if that's just those with a diagnosed illness, then who knows what the total number is.)

    (3) Over 20% of the homeless in America have a mental illness.

    It seems we are locking up out mentally ill, but not until after they have run afoul of the law. I understand the reluctance to "imprison" non-violent people, but are prisons and the streets really better places than asylums? Is someone with an untreated (or unresponsive) mental illness really competent to make the choice that he'd rather live on the streets than an asylum?

    I wish I had answers.

  5. DebH -- you're going to make me cry, girl.

    Your husband's case is exactly what I mean about the stigma of mental illness. (I didn't even want to mention my family member by relationship or name without clearing it with the person first.) And yet, no one thinks twice of sending a need through the prayer chain about thyroid problems or diabetes or a host of other ills also caused by chemical imbalances in the body.

  6. Oh CJ, what a powerful post. These recent tragedies have shaken me, reminded me that the Rock I stand on is sure, and also pressed on me the need to pray for the root causes of these tragedies to be addressed and, God willing, healed in people's lives. Mental illness, evil, rage, pain...I have no answers but I can still pray.

    There is such a stigma on mental illness that it can be difficult for people to ask for prayer for it.

  7. It's a huge problem. And I fear getting bigger. I don't have the answers either, but at least it feels like you're asking the right questions, when so many others are focused on the wrong issues, like making more laws.

  8. Wonderful post and video, CJ. I agree with everyone else. There is so much to think about here.

    I will raise my hand here and say I have more than one person in my immediate circle who has depression / anxiety / or paranoia.

    A stigma I've witnessed firsthand is a person being treated differently in the ER once the doctors or nurses find out the meds a person is on. Then they begin to make assumptions on what is wrong with that person rather than doing tests to discover their chest pain isn't due to anxiety after all. I used to work in an ER and saw this every day (not at the hospital I work at now).

  9. I've been thinking of this a lot, also. The Newtown case was so extreme, and then we had the firemen's death on Christmas Eve morning when a man lured them to his house, just to be able to shoot them. He'd killed his grandmother many years earlier, served his time and was then released. I can't imagine being his neighbor

    Chemical imbalance is so powerful in many cases of mental illness and sadly, in some it seems to be the opening for evil to take over.

    It is interesting to hear the debates when someone, such as the Colorado theater shooter, must be judged able to stand trial.

    He intelligently planned and carried out his crime, so they say, no he's not insane. So does that mean he's sane?

    New gun law talk always includes stricter reinforcement and denied access to those with mental illness. Okay, fine, that makes sense? but what is a mental illness?
    pychosis? schizophrenia?

    what about depression? PTSD? alcoholism?
    Will Autism be thrown in there as well?

    Where is the line? Who can understand the human mind? Such a complex bit of mass and chemicals that it could only be by design... by a creator who can see right through it and separate disease from evil.

  10. Thanks everyone for the comments. Tough, tough subject -- hard to discuss, let alone find a solution.

    Suzie, thanks for the information about the stigma associated with mental illness even being a problem at the hospital. I am going to pass that bit of wisdom along so family members can watch for it if they have an emergency.

    Deb, I especially like your comment about the complexity of the human mind could only be by design. A helpful fact to remember when life seems to make no sense to us.

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