In seeking for a book that integrated a biblical worldview with the current realities of mental illness, I hoped to find one that highlighted the importance of Christians supporting one another in love and mercy and grace. Grace for the Afflicted, by Matthew S. Stanford, is such a book, and it goes beyond this to provide readers with an overview mental illnesses and their treatments. This book states that although people with mental illnesses can be difficult, and have strange thinking, and require a lot of support and resources, they are nonetheless loved by God, and they are conduits for us to love God by loving and supporting them. Churches should be spaces of safety, support, love, and kindness for people experiencing mental illness. And although churches are not necessarily the best places for people to receive treatment, they may find some resources, referrals, and relationships that should support their treatments.
However, this book is not necessarily intended for everyone, nor do I think everyone should read it in its entirety. It is split into three sections. The first section establishes a biblical understanding of mental illness, and in my opinion, is the section of highest value; especially for individuals who are unsure how to think about mental illness from a Christian perspective. The author writes about the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual attributes of mental illness, and connects those concepts to Scripture. This book is heavily cited by scripture references.
The second section looks at each of the categories any mental illness may fit into, relates them to biblical characters, and then touches on specific treatments and medications relevant to those illnesses. This section includes a lot of neuroanatomy and neurochemistry, that I do not believe will be of much value for most people, unless these illnesses are directly relevant for a person. Even so, I expect there is more useful and detailed information elsewhere—this book is more of a broad overview and basic reference. Furthermore, the author seeks to find biblical characters who exhibit specific mental illnesses by referencing diagnostic criteria to various scripture references. This is not an example of how an individual may self-diagnose and would be likely to have a false result. The point of this authors’ exercise, I believe, is not to model diagnosis, but rather is to show that although mental illness is rarely explicitly discussed in the Bible, there are actually many instances where mental illnesses were likely significantly involved. Mental illness has existed since pre-history. It is only relatively recently that we have robust data and a consensus of language with which we can share information and create effective treatments.
The third section is focused on the response of the Church; of churches, and of Christians. I found this to be an excellent way of finishing the book, despite being relatively short.
And now a bit about myself. I am currently undergoing training in the mental health field, and I chose that field because it seemed to so easily align with my Christian worldview. Of course fallen humans struggle, of course things will go wrong with our minds, just as they do with our bodies, of course the church and Christians have an important role to play in being kind, gracious, merciful, and safe places for people to seek connection and to find Christ. I sought this field because my Christian upbringing primed me for it. However, I have learned that many people have terrible experiences of struggling with mental illness and being harmed by church and by Christians. They have been disbelieved, or simply mistaken for purely demonic activity, or minimized by stating prayer will fix everything, or blamed by being told their sins mean they deserve their illness. Grace for the Afflicted addresses these issues in ways that, to me, seem obvious, but are in fact incredibly important that they are addressed. Although it is not a perfect book or a panacea, sections of it are a necessary resource for moving towards a culture of grace for the afflicted. For those experiencing difficulties with their mind or emotions, we pray for them, and we support and care for them, and help them find the right treatments, and we continue to pray for them.