Five years ago, a professor on a Christian college campus was asked, "How many cases of schizophrenia do you have at your school?"
"None," he replied, much to the inquirer's amazement.
But recently when the inquirer returned and asked the same question, the answer came, "Five or six each semester."
In a midwestern evangelical church situated in a quiet, respectable community, the pastor points out a half dozen members of his congregation with overwhelming mental and emotional problems.
The pastor of a large southern church is seriously considering the launching of a rest home. His purpose: to provide a place where he may deal with the many mentally distressed persons who come to him for help.
There's no doubt about it; Christians, as well as the rest of the world, must face the reality of mental problems.
Atomic war, TV-salesmanship, fast-moving civilization, city life, frustrations, fears and failures—whatever the cause, Americans have never been so conscious of their mental and emotional conflicts.Commercializing on them are books, magazines and newspapers. It's a wicked whirlpool. The increased concern of America in pseudo-psychology not only makes it more aware of its problems, but also glorifies and multiplies them. Christians, caught in this mad maelstrom, are less willing to admit it. And their problems, plus their belief that as Christians they should be free, suck them deeper.
In America today, more than 730,000 people are in mental institutions. One of every six Americans will be under psychiatric care in his life time. Peak age group for admission to mental hospitals is between 30 and 40 years old.
Pastors are becoming more interested in counseling. Larger churches employ specialists to handle mental problems. New York's Marble Collegiate Church keeps 13 psychiatrists on its staff.
Chicago's Buena Memorial Presbyterian Church says, "We don't have to publicize our counseling service. Those with problems find out about it and search us out."
During the last week in March , two conferences on religion and psychiatry were held—one sponsored by Calvin College in Michigan, the other by the Menninger Foundation in Kansas.
In the past, Christians have shrugged their shoulders about mental problems. "It doesn't affect me," they said. But today, mental and emotional disturbances are invading our fine evangelical churches and schools. It's about time someone asked why.
To get the answer, Christian Life magazine went to Christian psychiatrists and pastors. Almost all agreed to the problem.
Rev. Horace A. Larsen of the East San Diego Presbyterian church, California, said, "Undoubtedly there is an increase of the number of Christians having mental problems."
Dr. Norvell L. Peterson, staff psychiatrist at Baldpate, Inc., Georgetown, Mass., and professor at Gordon Divinity School, replied, "Christians have more mental problems that anyone else. The Christian has greater conflicts and more of them. They are clear cut and more strongly felt."
Reasons for the increase are legion.
A psychiatrist placed the blame on "increased stress and strain of everyday living, threat of atomic war, increase of juvenile and adult delinquency."
A pastor pointed out the possibility of universal military training. Another pastor said, "We have had 40 years of wars and rumors of wars. Our mode of life has changed considerably. Four-fifths of our population reside in urban or suburban areas with no security related to the soil and are burdened by the subconscious feeling of being utterly dependent upon the economy of manufacturing. Many feel they are only 'cogs in a wheel' and have little sense of personal worth."
A pastor mentioned the education theories of Dewey, which pamper children with false security and then fling them into a world for which they are emotionally unprepared.
One mentioned high-pressure salesmanship which makes of major import every decision in life from choosing brands of toothpicks to styles of shoes.
But these tensions confront Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians, as Psychiatrist Peterson pointed out, have more mental problems.
The Christian's tender conscience is hit harder by the crassness of the world. A Christian psychiatrist mentioned that among "believers there is also the problem of the increasing awareness of one's responsibility for missionary enterprises and personal soul-winning, a great awareness of an individual's responsibility to God and to his fellow-man, especially in the spiritual sense."
Rev. Wesley Nelson of Oakland, Calif., believes that some pulpit teaching may also frustrate Christians. Such teaching as "How can you expect the blessing of God when you are unwilling to spend even an hour daily in prayer?" causes Christians to wither under a terrible, devastating frustration. It's a defective concept of grace, he said.
Pastor Larsen thought that this frustration might be caused by a false idea of service among Christians. Some people believe that "it must be successful effort rather than yieldedness. Too many work at being a Christian instead of simply trusting, abiding and obeying."
Dr. Philip Marquart of Wheaton College, Ill., pointed out a moral letdown among Christians today which adds to their mental problems. "It's a sort of 20th century anti-nomianism," he said.
Orville S. Walters, Christian psychiatrist at the Menninger School of Psychiatry in Topeka, Kan., discusses a relatively new concept of neurosis, almost opposite from that of Freud. The newer concept elaborated by Mowrer of the University of Illinois says neurosis may come when "you haven't paid enough attention to your conscience." This, as Walters points out, is "certainly more compatible with Christian philosophy and ethics."
But there is another idea behind increased emotional and mental tensions today. Two Christian psychiatrists put forth the suggestion that "Satan may be having his final fling in the world before the return of Christ."
No Christian denies that somewhere behind all disturbances, physical, mental or spiritual, is the arch-deceiver, Satan. The difference of opinion comes in how close Satan is to believers today.
Psychiatrist Peterson says, "Satan will use any means to reduce the effectiveness of a believer. Satan will use a demoniac force to raise the anxiety level of the Christian about his spiritual life and values."
It is pretty well agreed as Pastor Larsen says, "All mental disturbance can be traced to the insidious working of evil and hence is demonic at its source. As all illness is a result of the rebellion of the heart of man against the will of God, so all healing is the acceptance of the will of God."
Christians admit that behind evil powers such as Communism is Satan. They also believe that Satan is at the root of heresy and false teaching.
Some go as far as Merrill F. Unger of Dallas Theological Seminary, "In instances where the human will is overwhelmed and overborne by an irresistible power, as in the case of the alcoholic, the libertine or the suicide, who can say that this is not due to demon agency."
But Unger in his book, Biblical Demonology, goes further. "In any case in which the evil does not lie in the body but in the mind, to say that it is only a disease or insanity is merely to state the fact of the disorder and make no attempt to name the cause. Insanity may, of course, arise from physical injury or derangement of those physical organs through which the mind expresses its powers, but far more often it seems clearly attributable to supernatural agencies acting directly upon and disordering the mind itself. . . . The burden of proof rests upon the skeptics that invisible personalities have not a share in almost every crime that men commit." Recently a mission leader was speaking to the students of a West Coast Bible school on the subject of demons.
He mentioned that while demonic strategy may be different in the United States than in China, demons are just as real.
Suddenly a shrill scream interrupted him. The girl continued screaming as she was carried out of the auditorium.
After the missionary had finished speaking, the school president told him that the girl was still uncontrollable.
The missionary went to the girl and diagnosed the case as demon possession. He placed his hands on the girl and commanded the demon to come out in the name of Jesus.
Suddenly the girl quieted. Then she told a strange story of how she had been yielding to the devil.
As Unger points out, "It is only reasonable that they (demons) are adapting their strategems to the enlightenment of the age and the locality."
Where many Christians get confused is in the difference between demon possession and demon oppression.
Unger states: "To demon possession, only unbelievers are exposed; to demon influence, both believers and unbelievers. In the one case, the personality is actually invaded, the body inhabited and a dominating control is gained; while in the other instance, attack is made from without, through pressure, suggestion or temptation.
"In ordinary temptation and the usual assaults of Satan, the human will yields consciously and by yielding, gradually assumes. without forfeiture of its evident freedom of action, the characteristics of the satanic nature. . . . But in demon possession . . . the victim seems to undergo a complete or incomplete deprivation of reason or the power of choice. with his personality so eclipsed or overwhelmed as to produce the consciousness of a two-fold will in him."
That demons are at work there can be no doubt. The whole of the Bible attests to it.
The armor of the Christian in Ephesians 6 is for a purpose: "that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Some pastors believe that with increased knowledge, evangelicals are ruling out the possibility of Satan's existence. Though holding a belief in Satan's being and power, they deny his working today, and live as though he doesn't exist.
Popular psychology supports this notion that man's sole enemy is himself.
This attitude disregards II Car. 2:11, "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices."
Few things are as needful for 20th century evangelicals as the ability to recognize the devices of Satan. Satan's best strategy is to oppress believers through the tearing down of their mental capacities. If Satan can impair the clear reasoning power of a Christian by tensions, anxieties, and stresses, he is accomplishing his designs. If Satan can confuse a Christian, he can frustrate him.
No doubt, Satan is working today as ever. But Christians must not think that Satan's work is dissociated from their own daily perplexities. Demons—though the world laughs at the idea—beset the Christian on every side. Demons work, not in the abstract, but in the personal. They delight, not in crimes of passion or greed which they evoke, but in the frustration of God's will among Christians.
Against this intense problem of mental disturbances, provoked by satanic power, some hold high a simple I as a cure-all.
Norman Vincent Peale answers: "The solution to every human personal problem is right up here in the skull. If you want to conquer tension and anxiety, you must apply the science of faith."
This, as one Chicago pastor put it, "is too easy. Life isn't that simple."
Ralph Heynen, hospital pastor of the Pine Rest Christian Association, (Mich.), said, "It is an oversimplification of an involved and complicated situation. Actually such advice does more harm than good. When a person is tied up in knots within himself, will power alone will not get him out of it. Faith is a function of the entire personality."
Other evangelical leaders say that the present craze of mental problems among Christians is brought about by a lack of spiritual teaching. Christians, they say, need to be taught of their assets in Christ. They need to be instructed on how to be victorious as Christians.
Psychiatrist Peterson says: "Once a believer accepts God as the Lord of his life and truly surrenders to Him, he is greatly relieved of fears, tensions, anxieties and frustrations. He is no longer responsible for his life investment. The attacks he feels are directed at him are now God's responsibility. He is no longer in the middle."
Unger points out, "Realizing we are what we are 'in Christ' and reckoning upon our wondrous position of union is the ground and the source of our power over the devil and his hosts."
The world's problems are frustrating. The tensions of life are overwhelming.
It is impossible to fight the world's anxieties. But the battle is not ours, it is God's. Paul's advice in Philippians 4:4-13 is as applicable to mentally distressed Christians today as it was in the first century.
To the unbeliever amid the tensions of life, there are two alternatives. (1) To evade reality, to shield himself from the facts of life, to deny and disbelieve, or (2) to come to Christ, Who has already conquered the world, the flesh and the devil.
To the Christian, amid the tensions of life, there is only one choice: to consider himself in the hand of God, to put on "the whole armour of God," and, "having done all, to stand."
For the Christian to act in his own strength is to court disaster; the anxieties and tensions of life are never as great as they are to the Christian who chooses not to abide in Christ.