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What the Bible Says about Cutting

Truth in Love 137

The Bible offers hope for those who self-harm.

Jan 15, 2018

Heath Lambert: One of the problems that people face is the problem of cutting. This is a serious and a dangerous problem and to equip you with some understanding about it, we invited Mark Shaw as our guest this week. Mark Shaw is a certified counselor with ACBC and has a lot of expertise about this issue. The operations director of ACBC, Sean Peron, caught up with Mark to talk to him about this important problem.

Sean Peron: So, we’re talking about the issue of cutting and counseling. Cutting is one of those issues that people wonder if the Bible has anything helpful to say about it. You’ve and your ministry dealt with this a lot, what does the Bible have to say about this issue and how can we help people? 

Mark Shaw: When you go back to the Book of Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourself. I Am Lord”, then in Deuteronomy 14:1-2 it says, “you are the sons of the Lord your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the people who are on the face of the Earth”. So, I think the lesson there is, oftentimes, cutters are very sad, they’re grieving, they’re not getting what they want, they’re displeased. In the Old Testament case, those Scriptures were referring to worship. Those pagans were worshipping in a hopeless way; they were upset about things in their lives, the deaths of loved ones. God’s people were to be different to be called out to be chosen and to handle grief in a way, that’s honest, they grieve, but they also are not to grieve with hopelessness but with hope knowing that their family members were who trusted in the coming sign at that time, they would be with the Lord forever.

So I think cutting today, it’s similar to that, the cutter today is grieving, they are really sad, they’re upset. Maybe it’s not a death, but it’s a form of grieving and it is they’re way of trying to handle it, but it is in a way that is hurtful to themselves and also does not glorify God, he would want them to handle it in a different way. You look at the Old Testament and think, “Wow”, there are some things there that really speak to these issues. 

Sean Peron: Do all people cut for the same reasons and can you give us any insight and as to why people might do this?

Mark Shaw: Yeah, it’s odd to think that even young men, guys are starting to cut. I think a lot of people think about it just being a female issue, but that’s certainly not the case. Young men cut as well. I think a lot of times, cutters see themselves as overpowered by other people. If they’re bullied, they respond in this way, when they’re overwhelmed, unappreciated, degraded, or they strongly dislike themselves, they loath themselves. They’re not trying to commit suicide, they’re just trying to alleviate emotional pain and transfer that pain to something that they understand, which is the actual physical pain of the cut. Then, their body responds in a way that is like a drug addiction. It responds in a way to bring blood and cleansing and some euphoric effect is felt from something that at first injures them. So, I think there’s a lot of reasons why people cut. Sometimes it’s just a way to control that pain, emotional pain that they don’t like and so they think, “well, I’ll control it and I’ll transfer it to this physical pain”.

Sean Peron: If we’ve identified why people do this, and once you are able to see the heart behind it, what instruction does the Bible give us about how to help them?

Mark Shaw: Well, I think there’s hope and as biblical counsellors, that’s what we bring to the table more than anything. We want to encourage them with hope, not to be hopeless in there cutting, but to find a different way to grieve, to be honest about it, but then to use it as an opportunity to glorify God. That’s what the world needs to see. They need to see that as Christians we handle things differently, that we handle things in a way to glorify God, to point to him. In the Scriptures we read about being called out being a chosen people, God wants us to represent him. The cutter needs to learn a different way to deal with it and to be honest with the grief, but also to handle it in a way that that glorifies the Lord, and there are practical ways to do that and I’ll talk about that some at the workshop here at the conference. 

There are a lot of practical ways to help them. They have to renew their mind, think different thoughts about everything around them that’s going on, and find a way to say, “I’m going to choose to be a person who elevates the Lord and helps people to magnify His holy name”. 

Sean Peron: We want to point people to that resource. We’re recording this now in Jacksonville, Florida. Can you give people with maybe one or two of those practical ways? I would be super interested to hear just as a teaser as people want to think about listening to that audio later. What are some practical ways that they can be helped? 

Mark Shaw: One of the homework assignments I give in the notes on this topic is to for them to renew their mind in a way that they attack the self-reliant attitude and the lies they are believing and replace it with Scripture memorization. I also use Joni Eareckson Tada, she has a book, Which God is in your Sufferings? and help them to see that she wasn’t trying to get out of our suffering, rather, she was trying to walk through it, to be someone who glorify the Lord. Then I give them Romans 8:18, Romans, 8:28-29, 2 Corinthians 9:8, 2 Corinthians 2:9, which point to God Himself, who says that the discomfort we’re experiencing right now, it’s not comparable to the glory we gain from working through the suffering and discomfort. I think if they can see purpose in what is going wrong around them, that maybe they could use this to help other people, maybe reach the lost, someone else who’s going through it and they can point them to Christ for eternal life. Those kinds of practical things.

Its understanding that God is a God of comfort and that they are to be his ambassadors and to bring that comfort to other people. So, we talked about some of those things and just some other practical ways to handle such a tough issue that to them, seems hopeless.  I think to the world, they think it’s a mental health issue, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s something that there is often planning, it’s not as impulsive as people think and there is a way for them to glorify God in this. 

Sean Peron: What would you say to a parent who has discovered that their daughter or their son, as you mentioned, has been doing this in secret? What would be the first thing you would say to them? 

Mark Shaw: I think you got to support them. You got to meet them where they are and love them and not condemn them as though they’re mentally ill and there’s no hope for change. You have got to help them to see, “okay, you’re choosing to respond to a hard situation in a wrong way, but we can help you to think about this differently and to respond in a different way”. I mean, the cutter really enjoys the anticipation, the excitement of it, and then their body responds physiologically to this in a way that euphoric. Parents have to meet them there and give them support and encouragement and love. You can’t “okay it”, it’s wrong, but they need to support them and help them and then give them biblical counseling to change the way they think good. 

Sean Peron: We were just talking before we started recording about what the Lord is doing in your life and the new opportunity that you have. I’d love for you to share with our listeners about what’s taking place here in the next couple of weeks about your ministry and what that looks like.

Mark Shaw: Well, yeah, thank you. This is a neat change for me. I’m working now at a place called the New Day Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. that will in just a few months have detox component to it for any kind of drug addiction. We are hoping to be the first place that people send folks, all around the country, to us will be able to take insurance, get reimbursed in that way, but we’ll help people who are needing help and want a Christian place, a thoroughly biblical program, but one that also takes insurance and is set up in that way. We are really excited about the detox and then the addiction counseling that will be able to offer people in house, both men and women.

Right now we have supportive housing for men, hopefully in a few months we’ll have supportive housing for women. We have a staff team were putting together slowly, we’re going to have an attorney on staff who’s going to help us with some of the legal issues that people face with addictions, and we want to do it in a way that it’s faith-based, but it’s also licensed by the state of Indiana and something that’s recognized around the world for help for the problem that seems to be hopeless with addiction.Addiction issues are just growing all over, just wiping out whole community, so we want to be a solution for that.

Sean Peron: What is the best way for people to get involved and maybe there’s a parent that’s listening and they’re like, “okay, my daughter, my son needs to get connected with that kind of help”? Where can they go?

Mark Shaw: At the New Day Center, we are hoping to start October 16th with our program, so they can certainly call us in time. We’re going to have an online presence for help for parents and teens, I’m really excited about that program because that will be something that really help parents do that. But we’re hoping to have some video production and resources for parents to watch right away that they could access right away to begin help for their kids; teenagers are so susceptible this and we want to reach them. We want to reach those kids because it can ruin your life; some things are worse things than dying and sometimes when you use drugs, you lose your mental capacity, you can do permanent damage to your body. That is so sad to see. We want to help kids. We want to help them avoid that and help parents. We are hoping to be kind of a hub for all things addiction counseling, that people could turn to for help and send their 18 and over adults to us. But we also want to have a parent teen program for people in Indianapolis.

Sean Peron: Well, thank you for helping us think, biblically about cutting. If you’re interested in how to think biblically about Alcoholics Anonymous, that’s our previous podcast. You can search for that on our Web page at Truth and Love.