When Job’s life became something less than desirable, was his negative reaction justified? We see in chapters 10 through 13 of the book of Job that he… kind of loses it. He says things like, “I loathe my very life” (Job 10:1, New International Version) and “I wish I had died before any eye saw me” (Job 10:18). It would be easy for an American Christian in 2017 to write this reaction off as Job not praying enough or simply the result of him skipping church a few times. In this digital age in which the totality of scripture can be summed up with a verse image from our You Version Bible app, (probably containing a sunset and an out of context verse from Jeremiah), it would be easy to throw the “let God and let go” rhetoric at the problem and go about sipping on a latte. Job’s friends, Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad, might have done the same thing, had they had a good wifi signal and an espresso machine with intense frothing capabilities.
I don’t negate or dismiss the power of prayer. Or genuine, Christian fellowship. I do, however, dismiss those that would try to fit Job into some kind of “he just didn’t get it” box.
Maybe there was something more to Job. Should the book of Job be considered an actual, historical event, I would maintain that we often misuse the definition of history. We tend to think of history as a totally factual regurgitation of events. History is more accurately defined as story telling from the perspective of the people that were there. Typically, the people reading history weren’t there. They are left to trust that the story teller has the facts straight but must also accept that there will be things that are subject to interpretation. It is pretty clear that Job was a little more than troubled, no matter how you read the story.
Job suffered a trauma. And trauma can trigger anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
At the risk of sounding all new-age and scientific (or heretical, depending on the circles in which you run) we understand much more about the brain and human emotions than Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad did.
If we stuck Job in an MRI machine or sent him to see Dr. Frasier Crane, would he have been diagnosed with something? Would he have been prescribed something? Is there an easy fix to anxiety, depression, or PTSD? After 10 years of working with teenagers in different capacities and the last 5 working with teens with addiction and conduct disorder, I can tell you there is no easy fix.
Joey Svendsen; pastor, author, and co-founder of the Bad Christian Podcast, writes about his own struggles with faith and mental illness in his book, Fundamentalist: Stories of a Mentally Ill, Obsessive Compulsive, Legalistic Youth Group Kid Turned Pastor. He mentions he often thought that the more desperate his prayers were and the more troubled he became, the more likely he thought it would be that God would recognize his troubles.
Pretty Job-like thinking. But let’s ask the experts.
The Mayo Clinic suggests depression can be episodic. Symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Angry outbursts
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Frequent thoughts of death
Sound familiar? Read… pretty much all of the book of Job to reach a plausible diagnosis.
There are no easy answers as to how Christians should handle mental illness, or exactly how a mentally ill person should pray. It’s likely that God doesn’t hear the loud, desperate prayers any better than the quiet, hopeful ones. But understand that mentally ill people can often tell themselves that everything is okay, but their brain won’t allow them to process that fact in order to make the fact a reality. They can’t “snap out of it.” Their brain won’t let them.
If you need help, seek help. And if you are in a position to help, offer some help. Don’t worry about offering answers or solutions. Worry about simply being there for people that need you. If you’ve been hurt by someone suffering from a mental illness, know that they didn’t hurt you on purpose and they likely feel a tremendous amount of guilt because of it. Which often just adds to their illness.
Did Job deserve a guilt trip, or prayer? Maybe a little of both. But one thing is for sure. Christians in 2017 need to get better at navigating through and understanding mental illness.
Or maybe Job just needed some coffee?