Many people in the CRC complain that our denomination tends to favor head knowledge at the expense of the heart or emotional experience in worship, although no one is prevented from getting emotional during a service if it doesn’t cause a pandemonium.
And by head knowledge I don’t mean engaging in arcane and unhelpful discussions that are the Reformed equivalent of how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. People can participate in group Bible studies or study the Bible for themselves with reliable tools like Bible commentaries and questions to guide them of the sort pastors use in preparing their sermons. The last thing someone whose confidence in their salvation is shaky needs is a guilt trip laid on them by some guy living in an intellectual bubble.
But for people who live with mental illnesses, basing our faith on knowledge acts as an anchor against raging emotions that can take us on rollercoaster rides where we feel confident of being saved one minute and doubt it five minutes or an hour later.
Recently, a friend of mine told me about a friend of his who lives in Michigan, and who has a mental illness. I’ll call him Jack for the sake of this discussion. My friend asked me if he could put his friend in touch with me, and I consented. We had an initial contact a few days ago.
Last night Jack texted me a prayer request because he was struggling with assurance. I texted back that I would indeed pray for him. I also wrote about an experience I had decades ago when I was depressed. As I sat on the edge of my bed before going to sleep, I prayed to God that I felt as though he didn’t love me anymore. That was 30 years ago and I still remember it as though it happened yesterday. I immediately got an answer from the Holy Spirit in my heart (I did not hear a voice out of the blue talking to me). The Holy Spirit said, “You know better than that.” To which I replied, “That’s true.” Then I got into bed and went to sleep.
At some point in our faith lives, we are taught that if we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, we are saved. Eventually we also learn that the Lord is not prone to mood swings nor does he change his mind about our status. Once he adopts us as his children, then we are his for the rest of our lives, regardless of what our emotions tell us.
This is why it’s important to get to know the Scriptures and it’s even more important if one has a mental illness that is a mood disorder or comprises emotional instability. The Bible teaches us what it takes to be saved and to be assured of our salvation. For example, although my diagnosis is schizophrenia, my dominant negative symptom is depression, and my mood by default is to feel bad and insecure. Now, thanks to my medication, the depression is controlled, and I’m no more depressed than the average individual, but I used to be. Knowing that my status with God does not depend on how I feel has been crucial to my spiritual growth.