It seems that not long ago, people just bottled up their problems inside of themselves – emotional, psychological, mental, relational problems. Perhaps it was because the physical dimension of man had been long the object of scientific research and study, whereas the study of the mental and emotional dimension of man is rather new science, and not immediately accepted as a science.
Psychologists and psychiatrists were regarded as “quacks” or “shrinks.” It might have also been due to the fact that physical ailments are more real, more tangible, whereas emotional and similar problems are rather nebulous. You could go to the doctor with a broken arm, explain the problem, and he could heal set it in a plaster cast. But how could you explain and how could someone heal a wounded heart? Certainly one of the factors inducing people to keep their problems to themselves was the attitude towards those who had such problems. You could talk freely about your physical ailments with your neighbour, and perhaps even elicit some sympathy and understanding. But there was no sympathy and even less understanding for those who suffered emotionally or mentally. The general opinion was that such people needed a good kick up the backside, and told to get on with life. Or if a Christian suffered emotionally or mentally, he was regarded as being spiritually weak. He lacked faith. He needed to repent and believe.
But the study of man's mental dimension has become a full-fledged science, and over the years people have been encouraged to “open up” and seek help when dealing with emotional and psychological problems. All for the better, as far as I am concerned! Just as our bodies bear the curse because of our fall into sin, and can benefit from medical science, so our hearts and minds suffer from the effects of man's fall and can also benefit from medical science. It's nothing to be ashamed about.
But… and there always seems to be a but! …I sense a developing trend where people are immediately turning to the medically qualified “experts” and bypassing the spiritual “amateurs.” That's true for physical ailments, and it's true for emotional or mental ailments. It happens with increasing frequency that the office-bearers are not even informed when people receive medical treatment, whether for body or mind. The words of James are no longer applied in our lives. James wrote: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (5:14).
Why are these words of James neglected? When it comes to physical ailments, the members of the congregation know that officebearers are not qualified to deal with them. They're not doctors! Furthermore, we're not charismatic. We don't believe in faith healing! So what can the office-bearers do to help? The same attitude arises with emotional or mental troubles. Our GP recommends us to see a psychologist or counsellor, recommends a few names of qualified people. And there they go, without seeking help from the office-bearers, or even so much as informing them of their troubles and treatments. I've had it said to me on more than one occasion, “But you're not qualified to be a counsellor!” And if that's true for the minister, then its equally or even more so for most elders or deacons.
I'm reminded of LD 50, however, which teaches us that “[God's] gifts cannot do us any good without [His] blessing.” Doctors and modern medicine are gifts of God. But neither men nor drugs can effect healing alone. Healing comes from God. And those who seek it must seek it from Him. God is pleased to use men and means to work healing, but it is a matter of gross spiritual neglect if we put more confidence in the men and the means, rather than in God who alone has the power to heal.
Furthermore, when dealing with emotional, psychological, mental, relational problems, we should not be overly impressed and dependent upon human wisdom. I have to think here of what Paul wrote concerning the ministry of the gospel. When it comes to the very important matter of regeneration of the inner man, it pleases God to effect this dramatic change, not through human wisdom, but through the simple proclamation of God's Word. Paul wrote,
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
The Spirit of God is not dependent upon the wisdom of men. The Holy Spirit is able to work through what is weak and perhaps in the eyes of the world esteemed lightly if at all. The Spirit is able to work even more powerfully than we think or imagine in the minds and hearts of those who are emotionally or mentally troubled, through the humble reading and application of Scripture by the office-bearers.
In saying this, I don't dismiss the value of qualified counsellors. Neither do I dismiss the contribution that their scientific study can offer to 'patients.' In cases of serious emotional or mental troubles, I have referred members of the congregation to qualified counsellors, simply because I acknowledge their training and experience, and because this branch of medical science is a gift of God and one means that the Holy Spirit can use to effect healing of wounds. But as with physical ailments, neither highly trained doctors or counsellors, nor the drugs they prescribe, can alone provide healing for those who experience emotional or mental troubles. They require God's blessings, and thus the prayers of the office-bearers.
So what's my point? Just this: remember the words of James, as well as the words of Paul quoted above. Don't esteem the wisdom of men too highly, and don't esteem too lightly the power of prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit working through the reading and application of God's Word by the office-bearers.