In recent years, mental health and mental illness have become more widely recognized and discussed in our society. This is a good thing. The stigma of mental illness needs to be removed so that individuals who need help can have the confidence to seek it, and those that love them can receive the support they need as well. Eradicating ignorance while empowering with information is something that I fully support. You certainly wouldn’t feel ashamed to take insulin as a diabetic, or wear glasses if your eyesight were poor. So also should individuals with neurobiological issues receive the health care they need to live productive and balanced lives. I am thankful for the medical advancements in the area of mental health and neuroscience, and that we live in the time we do where there is help.
That being said, there is a common response that I have noticed. As awareness of mental health issues increases, so also does the propensity to have a knee jerk reaction to any reports of heinous crime with “Obviously, this person is mentally ill! We need to do more for the mentally ill in our country!” My issue isn’t with advocating for the mentally ill. My issue is with presuming that mental illness is always the source behind heinous crime. I believe that there is a pretty straight forward spiritual answer for this phenomena: sin nature and the denial of its personal application.
Being confronted with the fact that each and every one of us has a sin nature, and therefore are sinners, is offensive. There is no getting around it. That is why the message of the gospel is offensive. People have to come to the understanding and agreement that they are sinners in order for the gospel to be good news. If they aren’t sinners who deserve to go to hell, why should they care about the good news? The Bible is clear that we are all sinners: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The Bible also makes clear that in our natural, sinful state we will suppress the truth in unrighteousness, which means that we know the truth that there is a God, but we refuse to acknowledge it because we do not want to be accountable.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, (Romans 1:18-22)
That my friends, is the root of the issue. People want any explanation for evil that excuses them personally. If people acknowledge that the source of most evil actions is the sin nature of the individual committing the crime, then they have to acknowledge that they too are sinners who are capable of evil. Not every person will act as evil as is possible, certainly. But the motivating source behind criminal behavior is the sin nature that resides in each and every one of us. It is much easier to quiet one’s troubled mind with, “well, they certainly are mentally ill and they can’t really help it. It’s wrong, but sort of out of their control.” Rather than recognize that the same darkened and evil heart of a mass shooter or child murderer dwells within their own soul.
I believe that the default explanation of mental illness for evil actions is a visible manifestation of “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness”. Maybe this seems to be an obvious or redundant point to you. To me, it is verification that what the Bible says is true. It is also a great reminder of the incomprehensible gift of grace, mercy and forgiveness that we have received as sinners. If not for the electing and regenerative power of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, along with the perfect sacrifice of the Son, I too would still be trying to find any excuse to ignore my own sin and remain in rebellion. I am so thankful that God had mercy on me, enabling me to recognize that I was a sinner, in need of a Savior, and providing that Savior for me! To God be the glory!!
Soli Deo Gloria!