Yesterday, I received two messages with video clips of Vice President Pence responding to a “mental illness” accusation. My first thought was “What now?” I rarely open political messages or links, but given this was about faith and mental illness, I felt both obliged and intrigued.
In the clip, Pence refers to a comment on ABC that claimed Christianity was a mental illness. Unlike much political rhetoric that is filled with deceit, I suspected that Pence was reasonably accurate in his remarks. Authentic Christian faith doesn’t hold up well to media sound bytes.
The exact comment made was this:
It’s one thing to talk to Jesus, it’s quite another when Jesus talks back to you. That’s mental illness.
Was this a joke? A careless slam on Pence? Something more?
Two other persons on the show took umbrage at the remarks. One said:
Jesus talks to me every day and I’m not mentally ill.
While faith was generally moderated out of the show’s message, at least this comment made it in.
The question I want to explore has nothing to do with Mike Pence’s faith or mental health. It is this:
Is there a distinction between delusional voices and spiritual ones?
This is a deeply personal and profoundly pastoral question for me. As a person with psychosis, I have heard voices that I thought were God’s, and were anything but. At the same time, as a person of faith in a living relationship with Jesus Christ, I have and still do hear the true “voice of God.”
I put “voice of God” in quotes partly as a protective measure lest you think I’m crazier than I am. The authentic voice of God rarely if ever comes in an external auditory form. We don’t hear God’s voice as we would hear a dog bark. It is more real than this. More a conviction in our hearts. A revelation in our minds. An inspiration for our spirit. This is what we mean when we say, “Jesus spoke to me.”
Those of us who hear delusional voices have a unique challenge. How can these voices be silenced so we can hear what God is saying to us? Psychotropic medication can help quell the voices and loud thoughts. Therapy can provide some clarity as to what is real and what is an intrusion into reality. There are also vital spiritual practices that help us distinguish between what is from the true God and what is from false imposters.
1. Read Scripture not just for information, but formation. The Bible is many things, but its primary purpose is to lead us in a life of saving faith. The Bible does not just tell us about a god, it reveals the true God to us. Through the Holy Spirit, God breathes life into us as we read Scripture. One professor gave me sage advice, “Don’t listen to any spirit that tells you to do something Scripture does not permit.”
2. Worship within a faithful body of Christ. God does not speak exclusively to individual believers so much as God’s message comes to the faith community as we offer ourselves in praise to the One who calls us one family. At my church, we sing Psalms. These timeless prayers speak to me and through me to help me grow closer to Christ.
3. Seek counsel from a trusted man or woman of faith who has a vibrant walk with Christ. Ask questions. Speak carefully and listen prayerfully. One thing I have done is keep a prayer journal and share portions of it with my spiritual mentors for insight and guidance.
No, if Jesus speaks to us it does not mean we have a mental illness. And if we are mentally ill, it doesn’t mean God won’t speak to us. God speaks. Do we listen?