If God is so great, why did He give me a mental illness? Is it part of His plan?
|I recently spoke to a fellow Christian about her experience with faith and bipolar disorder, and she said that a lot of people have told her something to the effect of "Well, if you were right with God, you wouldn't have this problem," or "You just haven't surrendered to Jesus." My reaction was rather harsh, but I don't believe it was entirely unjustified: what kind of true Christian is so judgmental, arrogant, and utterly lacking in compassion? They certainly wouldn't tell a person with cancer or cerebral palsy that they're sick because they're not right with God, and if they would, they need to pray very hard.
Now, I use the phrase 'true Christian' to differentiate between those who loudly proclaim their faith as a means of superiority over others, and those who truly embrace the basic Christian values of love, kindness, prayer, and charity. I cannot emphasize enough how important this distinction is: people who use their religious affiliation for political gain, segregation, or worst of all, to feed the Deadly Sin of Pride are far less Christian than someone who serves others with charity and kindness, but doesn't go to church. If Christianity is just a title to you, you cannot be a true Christian.
The truth is that Jesus' followers were fishermen, women, people with diseases, and criminals. Jesus accepted all of them, and loved all of them; He even loved the people who crucified Him and begged his Heavenly Father with his last breath to forgive their sins. So why on earth would Jesus suddenly decide that those of us with mental illnesses are somehow unworthy of His Love? The simple answer is He didn't decide that at all; some person decided it.
There is discrimination enough against those of us with mental illness. Employers aren't interested in us, dating generally ends with the cruel words "you're crazy," and even simple friendship tends to go much the same way. Christianity is about accepting all of God's children, no matter their color, deficiencies, or upbringing. God's Love is endless; human love is finite.
So, to the question that formed the title of this essay, why would God give me (or you, or your loved one) such a terrible mental illness? Why would He afflict our entire lives with suffering, discrimination, and loneliness? I have asked myself this question, even before I met the (very kind) woman who had suffered discrimination even at her own church. The short answer is that suffering leads us closer to God and especially to Jesus.
Jesus died in one of the most horrific ways imaginable. A painful, humiliating and slow death that no decent person could ever wish on another. Yet we Christians have adopted the cross-- not even a symbol, but the actual murder weapon of our Savior-- as the symbol of our faith. It is meant, in case we have forgotten, to remind us that Jesus Saved us through His suffering. So, if we choose to allow it, we who suffer from horrific mental illnesses can allow our own suffering to bring us closer to Jesus through that simple but difficult vehicle known as empathy.
For me, the humiliation, pain, and hate I have encountered as a result of my illness were a source of great bitterness and sorrow for years. I stopped going to church, stopped praying except in my most desperate moments (though when you have bipolar disorder, desperation grows constantly like an uncontrolled tumor in your brain), and worst of all, I believed that I could handle my illness on my own. How utterly arrogant, how Prideful. That is the worst of my sins-- not getting drunk at someone's New Year's party, not fighting with my parents, not letting my illness take over to the point I said mean things to others-- because Pride, as C.S. Lewis pointed out in Mere Christianity, is the sin of believing you are equal to or even better than God.
Letting go of Pride is a difficult and painful experience. Even after my family realized I had a mental illness, I heard so often that I was 'such a smart, pretty, creative girl.' Hearing those things my whole life, having good parents, and having enough money that I didn't want for anything growing up certainly put me in a position of feeling superior to others quite often.
As I got older, I realized that all the beauty, creativity, and intelligence in the world was not going to make a bit of difference in treating my mental illness if I didn't bother to deal with it. Dealing with it involved so much work, so much effort; it meant giving up things like drinking, dating, and staying up late. It meant taking medications that gave me a plethora of side effects, from nausea and sleeplessness to a lack of sexual desire. (How strange and wonderful that my medications prevent me from enjoying or even partaking in those easiest of sins, Lust and Gluttony.) Doing all of these things meant that I had to give up this idea that I could do it alone, that somehow I knew better than every expert out there; it meant that I had to develop a bit of humility.
Humility is not fun. It's not easy. Simple, maybe, but not easy. Humility comes from being humiliated, from suffering, and from finding yourself utterly alone in the world. It doesn't happen overnight, and it requires constant reminding and work. In that regard, I would argue that those of us with mental illnesses, those of us who are constantly suffering within our own heads, constantly humiliated by the actions our disease leads us into, and constantly rejected by friends and lovers, have a really great head start on the rest of the world.
It might be a head start, learning humility, but it is not the only step, and it's also not the only thing you can learn. One of the things my illness has given me, or helped me to develop, is compassion for others. Now, maybe I have a compassionate streak by nature, or maybe I have learned it from my own experiences with my disease. When I see someone crying, I don't feel contempt for them the way so many of my peers do. I feel sorrow, I feel their pain, and I want to try and help them, even if all I can provide is a pat on the shoulder or ears ready to listen.
I cannot fathom how a person can see a fellow human being in a state of pain and mock them, I can't imagine the mind or heart of those former friends who sneered at others' emotional states. I will never understand those people, and I do not want to try, as un-Christian a sentiment as that might be. Yet Christ loves even those people who are cruel to others, and He wants them to return to Him.
Overall, I want to make this clear to everyone who has bipolar disorder, who has a loved one with this disease, or who even knows someone with it: God loves you just as much as He loves the sinners of the world. He loves you just as much as He loves those people who are cruel to you, and He didn't give you this illness out of malice or cruelty because He is Love.
God loves you, Jesus loves you, and it doesn't matter what people have to say on the matter. The only thing that matters is knowing how much God truly cares for you.