Mental Health and the Peace of Christ

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Mental Health and the Peace of Christ




Mental Health and the Peace of Christ


David B. Garner

Why are you here? Not exactly a question for coffee table discussions. But that question may have massive implications for helping people entrenched in the mental health crisis of our time.

       No one needs to look far for signs of the crisis. We have both the numbers and the flesh-and-blood people in our lives to prove it. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 1 in 5 Americans is treated for an anxiety disorder, and nearly 1 in 3 adolescents. The National Institute of Mental health reports that in 2021 an estimated 21 million Americans had “at least one major depressive episode.” And suicide rates in this country are the highest they’ve been since World War II.

       The figures are staggering, and the questions they provoke are dizzying, constantly voiced to those in the throes of anxiety, loneliness, loss, and fear of the future. What are you feeling? Why do you feel this way? What’s causing the pain you experience? What’s on the horizon that scares you most?

       These are all good questions, worth pondering and discussing with pastors, counselors, and loved ones. But the deeper question beneath all of them is the one I opened with: Why are you here? The answer to that question actually governs your entire life, whether you know it or not. It sets up the longings of your heart, the passions you pursue, the goals you set, and the expectations you carry with you throughout the day.

       Christians have a unique answer to that question, a divinely revealed answer. We aren’t here to “eat, drink, and be merry.” We aren’t here to build an identity or reputation. We aren’t even here to “make a mark on the world.” We are here, Paul tells us, to be conformed to the image of the Son of God (Rom. 8:29). We are here for Son-shaping. That’s our divinely endowed purpose in Christ.

We are here for Son-shaping. That’s our divinely endowed purpose in Christ.

       Yet, as God sovereignly stewards that purpose in our lives, we still struggle. We suffer. At times, we feel weak, even crushed, by circumstances that seem to offer doubt and distress instead of ease and affluence. God knows this. He sees us. He is the God who sees (Gen. 16:13). And the thing he has offered us to carry us through is something the Old Testament writers called shalom, the peaceful and personal presence of God himself. God gives himself to us in our mental suffering.

       Our own Dr. Alfred Poirier sat down with Pierce Taylor Hibbs, who has written his own account on battling an anxiety disorder, to discuss the church’s response to mental health, and we’ve captured that for you in this video, as part of the series Christian Answers to Hard Questions.

       Central to their discussion is the deeper mental healing and restoration that only a lifetime walk with Jesus Christ can offer. And because we know the answer to that great why question, we can help our suffering brothers and sisters to ask the how questions, even as we ask them to ourselves. How does God want to shape me to the character of Jesus Christ in this? How will this pain draw me closer to Jesus as I share in his suffering (Rom. 8:17–18), looking for the resurrection life he promises? These are momentous how questions with the potential, by the Spirit, to shape us to Christ Jesus. Could there be anything better than that?

       Mental suffering—as with all kinds of suffering—is either something to excise from our lives at all costs (the world’s approach) or something to walk through purposefully by faith, something that even gives us life. Jesus and the Apostle Paul tell us that the latter is the way for us. As Westminster’s own Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology Emeritus, Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., points out in his article, “The Usefulness of the Cross,” Christ’s resurrection life “is realized just as the fellowship of his sufferings and conformity to his death. . . . the resurrection is a conforming energy, an energy that produces conformity to Christ’s death. The impact, the impress of the resurrection in Paul’s existence is the cross” (Gaffin, Word & Spirit, p. 180).

       That’s a lot to unpack, but think of it this way in the context of the mental health crisis. The suffering we experience—and that of our loved ones in Christ—is evidence of our conforming to Christ in his humiliation and death, our sharing in his sufferings. Our suffering brings us closer to Christ, not further from him. And his resurrection life is coming, both today and in the days ahead, when Christ returns.

       Today, resurrection might sprout from the soil of suffering in the form of profound kindness and generosity, or an attentiveness to another’s needs, or in passionate prayer for the restoration of a relationship. In the days ahead, we look forward to the full and glorious restoration of both our bodies and our minds.

       You and I are here to be shaped to the image of Christ. And our mental suffering can and will be used to that God-governed end. Be encouraged that your suffering is evidence of coming life; the bitter pill of mental turmoil is medicine in the hands of our great Physician. And he knows what we’re going through in every way and sympathizes with us in every facet of our weakness (Heb. 4:15).

       Our mental health rests secure in the hands of Christ, marked with nails that show how deep his love runs for us.


Yours in the Faith,


David B. Garner

Chief Academic Officer, Vice President of Global Ministries, and Charles Krahe Professor of Systematic Theology

Westminster Theological Seminary


P.S. You can now hear Gaffin’s article, “The Usefulness of the Cross,” read to you. Click here to listen!

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