Spiritual Ramifications for Biological Causes of Mental Illness (Part II of IV)

mental illnessEverything that we think, do, and feel registers a biological expression in our body and brain. Whether this biological expression is the cause or result of our choice, thought, or emotions can often be difficult to discern – the modern version of the common question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg; the emotion or its neurological expression?” Unfortunately, people tend to be much more confidant of their emotion-neurology answers than they are of their chicken-egg answer.

There is no one answer to this question. There are times when it’s clear that biology triggers emotions – steroids and other drugs can change biology in a way that changes our emotions. There are times when it’s clear that emotions trigger biological changes – trust and affection necessarily result in neurological changes. And often it is simply unclear.

But the biology of emotion also begs the question of habituation. The pattern of our lives trains the neural-pathways of our brains. This is both choice and biology. We can condition ourselves to have strong emotional responses to particular events or triggers (i.e., anxiety, anger, despair, etc…). In these cases, a struggle for mental health is aided by a recognition that our biology is contributing to the “momentum” of our emotions and choices.

Again, many more examples could be given, but we’ve illustrated enough to ask; what are the gospel-implications for biological causes or influences on mental illness?

  • Scripture recognizes the validity of our biology’s influence upon our choices and emotions (Matt. 26:40-43).
  • We are not morally responsible for our biological challenges unless we created them through habituation.[1]
  • Seeking physical aid for biologically-based struggles honors God and is wise (I Tim. 5:23).
  • Scripture places high value on taking care of our bodies because of how much they influence our souls (Exod. 20:8).
  • Our biologically-based struggles may not find their full redemption in this life (Rom. 8:22).
  • Our biologically-based struggles will increase as we age and our bodies weaken (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).
  • God warns us against interpreting un-health as punishment (John 9:3).

 

[1] Christians may disagree about how much responsibility we bear for choices that have taken an addictive quality through habituation – is it a sin when an alcoholic drinks in order to stave off the symptoms of withdrawal? Regardless of the answer one gives to this question, the earlier portions of this blog series allow for an agreed conclusion – continued drinking is destructive and a strong appeal to the will must be made in the pursuit of sobriety.

 

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