The rise in mental health issues in recent years has become a well-documented point of concern, especially among students on our nation’s university campuses. I would like to think that Christians have been immune from this problem, but that has not been the case. In the past year, we have even seen a few pastors of evangelical churches so overcome by severe depression that they have taken their own lives.
The psalmist declares to the Lord, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Ps. 139:14, ESV). There is a complex and amazing intricacy to a human life. And we need to attend to all aspects of our being — the spiritual, the physical and the psychological — to gain health and stability and to grow as Christians.
Many are carrying the echoes of significant traumas in their lives. It is not an option to forget the past in these cases. We need skillful help to gain healing from these wounds. As much as we may try to forget and move on, the residual impact of these hurts will reemerge in unhealthy ways.
This is where the biblical concept of “wisdom” comes in. Solomon observed many patterns of human behavior over time and inferred what the outcome would be in many of the proverbs he wrote. But he also wrote that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:7). Christian counselors are modern practitioners of this wisdom. They look at the research, they observe patterns of human behavior, and they apply this knowledge to people who are struggling in various ways to help them achieve health. But they do so through a biblically informed and integrated lens.
I am grateful for my colleague, Dr. Kevin Van Lant, who leads our pastoral care and counseling program at Talbot. His life models a wisdom that is built on the fear of the Lord. He addresses “What Every Pastor Needs to Know About Mental Health and the Church” by observing the nature of the problem, some of the possible causes, and outlining some of the steps the church should take in the months and years ahead.
His colleague in our counseling program, Dr. Sunny Song, a clinical psychologist, provides a similarly useful perspective, and also gives us a glimpse into one ethnic community and the unique complexities of the mental health issues faced by Korean Christians.