We’re a society that affirms the prevalence and struggles associated with mental illness; yet we’re also a society that says, “Do whatever feels right; listen to your heart”. These two values contradict one another, and their contradiction exposes deeper problems underlying a purely secular take on the world.
The worst advice you can give a depressed, postpartum mom is, “Just listen to your heart; do what feels right”. In her case, that which feels right may be smothering her infant to suppress his unrelenting colic.
When we tell someone to “follow their heart”, we’re generally encouraging them to trust their most basic, visceral sense of what is best. We’re telling them to trust themselves, to look inward for inspiration and guidance.
The problem for clinically depressed, anxious, anorexic, or otherwise mentally ill people is that they can’t trust themselves. When they look inward, they don’t see truth. They see lies.
What a world swimming in mental illness needs is not more admonitions to follow your heart. Rather, we need an objective, external, immovable point of reference to provide an anchor for our wayward hearts. What we need is the presence of God and the hope of Jesus Christ.
Note that this hope is not rooted in just any “god”. It’s not the “god of your own making”. It’s not the god you censored and selected for out of the panoply of religious options because your sentiments preferred this or that attribute in the divine. For again, in this scenario, your fickle heart created the object of your hope. If your heart erected him, your heart can tear him down.
What you need is a God who remains despite your best efforts to depose him. A God who was before you, and a God who endures after. You need a God who is stronger than you, wiser than you, and better than you. Only this kind of God can comfort the broken-hearted, pacify the vengeful, sober the addicted, and calm the traumatized. Only this kind of God has the authority to tell your heart what it should do.
Ultimately, this is what a person battling mental illness needs: a clear, external affirmation of what is good, right and true. God is the only transcendent, indisputable source of these affirmations.
Let’s offer suffering people real hope. Let’s offer them something beyond themselves.