I was in a Sunday school class where I was taught that the right answer to difficult circumstances was to thank God for them. The specific example from the Kay Arthur text, which drew on Bill Bright’s experience in Campus Crusade (now known as Cru), was a girl depressed after her fiance died in a car crash. According to Bright, her depression vanished as soon as she learned to thank God for the car crash and her fiance’s death.
That sounds a bit crazy to me. Also a bit off the mark. I respect God’s power, but I’m not sure I’m ready to blame God for creating evil, much less thank God for doing it. That feels to me like the worst kind of taking God’s name in vain.
What the instructor had no way of knowing was that I was sitting in the class suffering the side effects of a medication that was clearly the wrong medication for me. It was causing me to believe that God was evil and that the Bible was just a pack of lies God had given us trying to convince us God was other than God actually is.
If I believed the instructor’s guidance, my meds-induced psychosis would have lifted as soon as I thanked God for being psychotic.
Besides, I couldn’t possibly thank a God that (buried somewhere deep in more than 20 prior years of Christian living) I knew was good for putting me in (what I desperately hoped was) a temporary meds-induced state where I was entirely convinced God was evil. Why would God want me to believe that God is evil? This was evil itself at work. To thank God for it would be the most horrible form of taking God’s name in vain.
Happily, God never suggests we do such a thing. God urges us to remain thankful for whatever good we can see and find during trying times. Sometimes, that good may seem quite small. So we say:
- Thank you, God, for making it possible for me to put one foot in front of another again today.
- Thank you, God, for the blue heron I can see fishing in the lake right now.
- Thank you, God, for an apartment I can afford.
- Thank you, God, for extra hours (=extra money) this week.
- Thank you, God, for a (new) pastor at my (new) church who notices that I’m not there on Sunday and actually calls!
- Thank you, God, for a $12.99 job interview dress that matches accessories I already own.
- Thank you, God, for phone calls from friends.
But never “Thank you, God, for the sin and failures and disaster that has made such huge and difficult changes in my life.” Just thank you that God, being God, is able to take sin and disaster — which God neither authors nor approves — and work them together for good on the path I’m walking because I am among those who are called according to God’s purposes.
God is good and God is with us. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us. Even when it is difficult to see God along the path we are walking, God is present in all of the good we encounter and God does not abandon us in all of the evil we encounter.
So should we thank God for mental illness? If you think you should thank God for cancer or kidney failure or a blown rotator cuff, then I’d say sure.
But if you think you should only thank God for being present in love and care when you suffer, and teaching you lessons you might not have learned without suffering … then I’d say it’s not the illness for which you are grateful. It’s God.
And God deserves the glory.