Do you have family and/or friends who suffer from mental illness? Does your Uncle Billy hear voices? Does your Aunt Martha seem to be staring blankly into space a lot? Does the Bible address mental and emotional dysfunction?
Schizophrenia is mentioned nowhere explicitly in the Bible. Schizophrenia is a psychological disorder characterized most commonly by hearing voices and having hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking, and, at times, paranoia. Often mistaken for what was once called split personality/multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia is not associated with dissociative identity disorder. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and chronic. In most cases it is a debilitating affliction that causes disruption to one’s quality of life and ability to function. It is considered a psychotic disorder by the mental health field and is usually treated with psychotropic medications. The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, as there is no physical test that can determine the source of the problem. The behavioral manifestations are the primary criteria for a diagnosis. Speculation about schizophrenia’s cause has led to a debate over how Christians should view the disorder in light of scriptural truths.
Medical research has theorized there are conditions present in the brain causing schizophrenia. Some research suggests that there are abnormalities similar to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The cause of these problems is still unknown; they could be a result of the disorder rather than a precipitating cause. However, genetics is theorized to play a role. Another variable is drug abuse. Many illicit drugs produce the same symptoms as schizophrenia. It is possible these drugs leave permanent brain dysfunction and lead to problems with thinking and perception.
There are also those who believe schizophrenia is spiritual in nature, as in demon possession. This idea comes from the Bible’s accounts of people whose symptoms appear to mirror schizophrenia. While demon possession is possible in some cases, it is unlikely to be the cause for the majority. Schizophrenics do not have a reaction to the name of Jesus, nor do they possess supernatural knowledge. Also, when the biblical accounts are carefully compared to cases of schizophrenia, the symptoms do not truly look the same (see Luke 4:41).
As with all mental health issues, schizophrenia might have several causes that are unique to each person. Although symptoms may be the same, the causes can differ. That is why it is important not to pigeonhole people with the diagnosis into “spiritual” or “physical” categories.
Believers should be filled with compassion for those suffering from schizophrenia. We can think of it as a prison of the mind. People with schizophrenia and their families typically lack support from both the Christian and medical communities because neither has all the answers.
The church should minister to everyone, including persons with schizophrenia and their families. Those who struggle with mental illness should be considered part of a mission field. They need the gospel to help them understand where God fits into the picture and that there is hope in Jesus.