Not long ago I spent a week in training for our region’s Crisis Intervention Team, focusing upon dealing with people who because of mental illness or disability are unable to respond rationally and calmly to the demands of life. The special emphasis of this training was upon these situations from the perspective of law enforcement. How can you de-escalate a person who is out of control so that they can be either taken into custody, safely transported to a hospital or simply grounded once again in reality?
Along the way during the training, there was much practical and helpful information given: stay calm and alert, quiet firmness in the voice, angles of approach, techniques for verbally bringing a person back in touch with reality, legal requirements, and so on. There was also a bit of arrogant nonsense from one of the psychiatric “experts” that I’d like to share with you, since this kind of nonsense is sadly a part of many church and missionary efforts these days.
The particular course was all about the various kinds of drugs that are prescribed for different categories of mental illness. The presenter was a well-known psychiatrist in our region. Her class was essentially a lesson in pharmacology, which most of us thought was a complete waste of time. After all, it serves no practical use on the field when you are facing an out of control individual who is off his meds, waving a weapon around and threatening to harm either himself or others. You just want him to be brought under control. Anyway, that objection aside, it was her blissful self-assurance that was so irritating. In describing drug after drug, the long list of harmful side effects was trotted out, yet with the strangely irrational assertion that side effects are neither good nor bad, they just are, and the all-wise practitioner can prescribe just what you need to help you feel and be however you want to feel and be. It was a sales pitch for the drug candy counter, because after all, “we can fix you.” In response to my question about the relation of diet to mental health, she assured me that there was no connection whatsoever. I was greatly relieved, because I was attributing my agitation during the class to the excessive amounts of chocolate I was consuming, and was therefore able to continue to gratify my sweet tooth in the comfortable knowledge that it really was just the presenter who was driving me crazy.
The capstone of this mind-numbing presentation was the description of one particular drug (I don’t remember what it was) which had pretty much the sole side effect of high likelihood of death. She declared, all in one sentence, that this drug was extremely dangerous, that it could kill you, that extreme caution had to be observed, and that it was “the safest drug out there, because we control it.” She did not even take a breath between the two parts of this sentence. I’m not making this up.
I hope, dear Reader, that this woman’s complete lack of sound logic is obvious to you. Further, I do hope that you are utterly repelled by it. And yet, I want to bring this into the realm of the Church for a few moments. As believers in the midst of a dark and sinful world, we have no problem seeing this kind of error among those who serve the Adversary. Our evangelistic efforts aim to counter the world’s entirely unjustified confidence that it can fix itself. None of the world’s remedies can do anything more than mask or minimize symptoms. Their remedies can at best provide a brief respite from suffering, but all the drugs, pleasures, mind reprogramming, relationships, therapies, and whatever else combined cannot address the real problem in the human heart: the corruptions that come with the fallen condition. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for some of the behavioral aids available to us from time to time. But depending upon them to “fix” us is vain. Even when it comes to trying to help those who have genuine brain damage or developmental disabilities, therapies and medications still don’t fix anything. They only help people cope with a condition that may never go away in this life. The world acknowledges this fact if it’s honest, and yet still refuses to look any further than its own strength and wisdom for the solution to man’s ultimate need. We get that, or at least I sure hope we do. We therefore address the whole man, including his soul, and present Christ as the ultimate source of hope and healing, and rightly so, even while dealing with the changes in behavior and thinking that are so necessary to properly dealing with life.
And so I come to the more difficult, spiritual application of these thoughts. Whether we are seeking to establish new churches or edify existing ones, we have to remember what we are here on this earth to be and do. Christ did not institute the Church to be place where the designer “drugs” of moral renewal, improved relationships, behavioral change, emotional excitement, or worldly pleasures are applied by “experts” so that people will feel better or behave better. None of that “fixes” the heart problems that people are dying from. It’s not hard to find the stats gleaned from national surveys on the spiritual health of the nation, and they all are dismal. People want a designer god, and too many churches are all too happy to give one to them. I’m not talking about our evangelism programs here: I’m talking about the failure of the Church to preach the whole counsel of God in the beauty of holiness, devoting its energies instead to clever marketing and anemic, elementary teaching that never really challenges God’s people to leave the world behind in their pursuit of the God they say they believe in. It’s the same error expounded by the self-confident psychiatrist, and it’s just as deadly. May God preserve us from such error!