Can Jesus Heal Mental Illness? Part 1

Part 1: The Nature of Mental Illness

One of the questions we get asked a lot in the biblical counseling movement concerns whether Jesus can heal those with a mental illness. The question is asked by people who are concerned about Scripture’s sufficiency and Jesus’ relevance to deal with the most difficult problems that people face. Before we can answer the question we need to know what we are talking about. That means we need to know what mental illness is.

Defining Mental Illness

Defining mental illness is harder to do than you might imagine. That is because psychologists don’t really know what it is. There are scores of books on my shelves full of secularly trained professionals debating what mental illness is and whether it exists. Interestingly, even the writers of psychology’s authoritative manual on mental illness, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), cannot agree on what constitutes a mental illness.

There has been a lot of attention in the psychology community over the fact that the most recent edition of the manual, DSM-V, made a substantial change to the definition of mental illness included in its previous edition, DSM-IV. I won’t take the time to quote them here, but you can see the definitions here.

Writing in Psychology Today, psychologist Dr. Eric Maisel points out in fascinating language the difficulty of being able to change a definition so easily.

The very idea that you can radically change the definition of something without anything in the real world changing and with no new increases in knowledge or understanding is remarkable, remarkable until you realize that the thing being defined does not exist. It is completely easy—effortless, really—to change the definition of something that does not exist to suit your current purposes. In fact, there is hardly any better proof of the non-existence of a non-existing thing than that you can define it one way today, another way tomorrow, and a third way on Sunday.

The definition of mental illness can be changed so easily because mental illness does not really exist.

So, What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is not a disease in the way that tuberculosis or hepatitis is. Mental illness is more in the realm of what social scientists call a construct. A construct is not an object like a tractor or table. It is an idea like beauty or relevance. A construct is a relatively abstract idea that gets informed by the shifting opinions of various people. Mental illness is a construct. Psychologists Herb Kutchins and Stuart Kirk have each served on the DSM committees, whose votes decide what is and is not a mental illness. They say,

The category of [mental illness] itself is an invention, a creation. It may be a good and useful invention, or it may be a confusing one. DSM is a compendium of constructs. And like a large and popular mutual fund, DSM’s holdings are constantly changing as the managers’ estimates and beliefs about the value of those holdings change.

Mental illness is not really a thing. It is a shifting idea that different people fill up with different categories at different times. For the most part it is a category that gets used by secular psychologists to describe behaviors that are outside the range of normal. I have described elsewhere that, for Christians, our standard is not normalcy, but righteousness.

Mental Illness and Worldview

Before we can answer whether Jesus can heal mental illness, we need to be sure we know what we are talking about. Understanding that mental illness is a construct means that Believers have a responsibility to fill up that category with their biblical worldview, rather than a secular one.

Psychology informs the construct of mental illness with a secular, materialistic worldview. They do not believe that people are spiritual beings who live all of their life under the authority of a God who made them and holds them accountable. Denying the Divine and the spiritual requires them to see all problems as physical and organic in nature. Worry isn’t sinful; it is an organic mental illness that requires medical intervention. Sorrow isn’t spiritual; it is a medical problem that requires a pharmacological solution.

As Christians we know better.

Jesus teaches that these problems—and thousands more like them—are spiritual problems that grow out of the heart of man (Mark 7:14-23). Certainly they impact the body, and the body can have its own problems as well. But the assigning of spiritual problems like anger, worry, and sorrow to the medical realm is unbiblical, unchristian, and a rejection of the clear statements of Jesus about the problems people have.

Mental Illness and Jesus

Mental illness is a label secular thinkers assign to spiritual problems discussed in the Scriptures. In Part 2 I’ll talk about what Jesus and his healing have to do with all of this.

Heath Lambert
Share your thoughts


  • lee macey
    August 17, 2016

    Yes. Hoping to help people stay out of mental health system!

  • Joseph Jerome Simon
    October 25, 2016

    Most mental illnesses are caused at a very young age. Sins of the parents handed down. The first 4 yrs of a child’s life is the most critical time for brain development. If a child is abused verbally, physically and or abandoned and not given the proper attention of love, then behavior problems start to surface. The child will act out desperately to get love. Many problems stem from some form of neglect or abuse.

  • David
    December 17, 2016

    How do you account for real physiological conditions that can have an impact on the brain and mimic the symptoms mental illness? Are you eliminating those from this discussion?

    Let me give you a real life situation: An elder at a nearby church had an pre-teen daughter who had been diagnosed as/with bi-polar (disorder) and with BPD. Come to find out after numerous tests and years of unsuccessful treatments. It was discovered that she suffered from an infectious disease that had passed through the blood/brain barrier. The doctors who had misdiagnosed her (even some, I believe, who had a biblical counseling background) made zero effort to understand what was going on. Eventually it was a compassionate friend and doctor in a Sunday school class who began asking questions, which ultimately lead to a correct diagnosis. The young lady has improved (significantly), but the effects of the illness will continue to have a mental/psychological impact.

    I’m curious as to how you would account for a case like this?

  • mm
    Sean Perron
    December 20, 2016

    David, thank you for your comment! We recommend checking out this short book. We think it will help answer your questions! Many blessings

  • Lucy M DeFaria
    March 31, 2017

    I think you are so wrong. Mental illness is a chemical imbalance. You are only putting a guilt trip on truly wonderful christians who have to live with this illness. I don’t think that you are a doctor and qualified to make this statement. The brain is an organ in your body that can have an imbalance just like any other organs and glands in your body. All you are doing is bring condemnation to those who are sick. Have some compassion will you.

  • Julien A
    April 15, 2017

    Lucy, there is very little scienfitic eviedence to support the “chemical imbalance” for each indevidual paitent. The art of psychaiatry revolves around trying mutliple drugs in order to find one that reduces the symtoms of a paitent while adding a number of terible side effects. Living a balanced life, in the light of chirst. Sureendering to him. Soutions for stress, worry and anxiety will come. Jesus does not point the finger to make your feel gulit. He forgives, and finds way to help you to change. Jesus is a cure, Psychairty is an Art ( has no use but its self)

  • Bruce Allsop
    May 17, 2017

    Dearest Lucy,
    I can understand your reaction to the idea of Scripture’s sufficiency to deal with the troubles of the mind. The “mental disease” model and it’s acceptance has been a common model for over 50 years. Jay Adams addresses this movement taking the activities of thought and placing them into the brain function and organic category in his book The Big Umbrella, at a time when he saw this movement begin to take over the Church in the late 1960’s. He accounted for a small number of organic causes of brain damage that could have an organic origin but appropriately noted that our thinking is to be held captive to the obedience of Christ. There are multitude of Scripture to support want and who brings us peace. James 3:18 is a favorite of mine.
    As a physician of over 30 years I have come to know by faith that the work of the Holy Spirit can cure the “diseases of the mind”. Medicine helps ease suffering but can’t cure them. I hope this helps you in your walk of faith. Dr Bruce Allsop

  • Willie Kingori
    June 27, 2017

    I honestly think this article is more a compassionate response than saying your brain just works that way. I don’t think his aim was condemnation but hope

  • johnty peterson
    August 9, 2017

    this is so unhelpful for a young man suffering from mental health issues, having suffered severe trauma and being abused by an alcoholic, bipolar father. The relationship between religion and mental health is so messed up and damaging that posts like this do nothing but dampen the light and ever dwindling faith that I do have. Especially with Grandparents who are fervent Christians (my Granddad was a Vicar) denied that anything was wrong and did nothing knowing full well what my Dad was doing to myself, mother and siblings.

  • Linnea Baker
    December 29, 2017

    I am a licensed Mental Health Professional. I am also a Theology Major and Christian. I work in both the secular and Christian field as a Counselor.
    I have to strongly disagree with your view on mental illness. Mental Illness is a physical disease like Diabetes, Heart Problems or even broken bones. You are dangerously leading Christian leaders and clients down the wrong path that I have seen manifested eventually through suicide, sadly. Science and Creation go hand in hand and God uses modern medicine and professional Mental Health Providers to help heal. It are articles like yours that only add to the stigma of Mental Illness. Your view is based purely on opinions and not scientific facts that mental illness is a brain disease…a physical disease that shows symptoms both physically and emotionally. Mental Illness is NOT a spiritual deficit or character flaw but a physical illness that affects the brain organ.

  • Kelli Owen
    February 26, 2018

    I get that anger, sorrow, anxiety, etc. can be rooted in a spiritual distance from Jesus but than what do you tell those whose loved ones are dealing with auditory hallucinations and delusional beliefs? I’m a social worker who provides counseling to inmates at a prison and at some point there has to be acceptance and/or some sort of bridge that links the two areas of belief regarding mental illness….that coming from a Christian perspective and that coming from a secular or medical perspective. I believe that sometimes our bodies are genetically predisposed to certain mental illness and they can be triggered by drug use, stressful situations and even spiritual warfare, but I do not think it’s a sin or wrong in any way to treat the mental illness with psychiatric medications, even if it is on a temporary basis until one feels stable again. Our good Lord provided us with the right ingredients to avoid and/or heal us from many of these ailments of the mind as well, such as vitamin D from sunshine, the endorphins that are released through exercise, eating nutritious foods and, yes, having a relationship with Jesus through prayer, fellowship and reading the bible. But I do not judge anyone harshly who feels the need to seek help through psych meds as well.

  • D.D.M
    September 15, 2018

    This topic is so extremely debatable, and there are people on both sides of this debate with some good and valid points. However, the biggest point I would like to make for any of these threads, including the opposing view for this thread, is maybe you all ought to stop leaning on your own understanding and try to not put God in a box of your own understanding. Proverbs 3 5 & 6
    The brain is not going to be completely figured out. The Bible teaches us who can know the mind of man only God can. Just as we cannot know the mind of God. At the root of these discussions seems to be a lot of arrogance and pride, which is the ultimate sin! If you take the Bible in context you will see that there is some truth in each opposing view. You will also see that God is a god of balance. I believe there is truth on both ends. I believe the brain is an organism just like any other organ in your body that can have malfunction and things wrong with it. I believe the brain is separate from the mind and I think that’s where some of the confusion is coming from. I think that there is spiritual warfare and the enemy does wage war against us in all areas of Our Lives. I also believe what the Bible says about our flesh. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. All flesh is weak, including our bodies. Illnesses and diseases are part of the fall of mankind I don’t understand why people can’t see that, why Christians can’t get that. And it doesn’t matter if those illnesses are organic in nature or because of something that occurred and Life to cause these things to happen. I believe illnesses can be a direct consequence of sin, and I believe illnesses are not always a direct consequence of an individual’s sins. As I said, we are under the fall. All creation is waiting for its Redemption. At the same time, that does not mean that God has not given man knowledge and wisdom to help and heal the body other than spiritual healing. I think the problem with us Christians is were also busy debating, and putting God in our own little box of our own understanding, that we lose sight of the fact that we are not God, God is God and we are not given the ability to figure it all out and figure him out! What pride and arrogance! And as I said, that is the ultimate sin, but yet we continue! It is often all of these debates among Christians that causes the world to look at us as though we are crazy rather than a new creation in Christ, holy and righteous in Christ! Let’s start trusting God instead of our own understanding. We don’t want to trust Mankind and man’s medications, but we will trust in our own understanding! It’s the same thing can you not see that?

  • Lori Garcia
    October 7, 2018

    I feel a mental illness cant be healed from jesus ive been mentally ill for years i think its hereditary