“And those who were afflicted with troubled spirits were healed.” – Luke 9:19
Healing was central to Jesus’ ministry, especially the healing of persons with “troubled” or “unclean” spirits—a First Century description of mental illness or emotional anguish. In fact, such healings outnumber all the physical healings (restoration of sight, curing of the lame, healing the deaf) put together. Two thousand years later, the church still has a central role in offering help and hope for people dealing with mental, emotional or spiritual illnesses.
I state that not only as a pastor, but as one concerned with all our service people coming back from war with PTSD. More people have committed suicide than who have lost their lives in combat. I am happy to say that the VA is more proactive about this than ever before… it has taken them a while… but they are very aware of the problems associated with war and that we bring the war home with us.
Throughout childhood and into adult life, I never heard the words “mental illness” or “suicide” spoken in church. It was only spoken in soft tones as people gather in corners of the room with their hands over their mouths. The silence was deafening. Because the church couldn’t talk about such things, it felt like God couldn’t either.
Yet as this story from Luke affirms, Jesus didn’t turn away from people with “troubled spirits.” Instead he listened to their lives, showed God’s care, and offered hope and healing love. How can the church do the same? Perhaps we can start by breaking the silence. Offer adult forums and youth programs on issues like depression screening or suicide prevention. Lift up in prayer those dealing with mental illness, just as we do those whose illnesses are physical. Advocate for mental health care in our community.
Over and again, the Gospels tell of Jesus’ care for those afflicted in mind or spirit. As his followers, we’re called to do the same. Breaking the silence is a place to begin.
Dear God, give us the courage to care and the voice to speak that will help to break the silence, and through Jesus we all may be made whole. Amen.
Grace and Peace