I have been on a bit of a blogging binge these past few days. I suspect the reason is that I am housebound. I had an arthroscopic surgical repair on my hip and must do a lot of sitting around. I feel compelled to say that it was a young person’s injury. Yeah, yeah, let me just wipe any images of me creeping along with a walker out of your minds tout de suite! I must retain some ounce of dignity after a month on crutches or at least believe that I have.
I also finally have time to contemplate because everyone is back in school! There’s some quiet around here. Sort of. So, ideas have room to move. One idea that percolates often is the notion that Christians don’t need therapy. I have bumped up against this idea many, many times. I didn’t realize that it was so pervasive until I met other Christians who had to see their therapists clandestinely. Apparently, in certain religious circles, psychology and psychiatry are thought to be forms of quackery. Like chiropractic care. My father once told me that my seeing a chiropractor was stupid because they were all quacks. My nature is to question such views so I attempted to build a case. He wasn’t having it. Chiropractors are all quacks. Case closed.
I’ve met people who insist that they don’t need to see a therapist and they certainly will never take medication for their mood issues because God will heal them. Years later, they are still waiting for God to heal them. I was told with great zeal by a woman I did not know in a church setting that God would punish and judge me if I had surgery because this represented my choosing man’s way over God’s will for me. If it was God’s will for me to bleed to death, then so be it. I knew a Christian addiction counselor who prayed for a man with addiction issues one evening. When she was finished, she declared that he was healed and was in no further need of counsel, accountability, retraining in thinking, or help. I know a family who refused to send their son to AA claiming that he simply needed to walk in victory. He didn’t need to follow some twelve step program. They were angry that the 12 steps in AA weren’t specific enough in naming God as Jesus so they refused to have anything to do with it.
I could continue to tell stories like this, but I think it’s clear that there are some odd views out there. Do they exist outside Christian circles? Well, of course, they do, but I’m interested in the attitudes I see and have experienced in the Church today. Why? Because there is a better way. Also, these views don’t line up with any biblical account so why are we behaving like this? Truthfully? I think most of these attitudes go all the way back to one verse in Genesis:
“As for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” Genesis 9:7
This verse is a horribly misunderstood verse because it’s so poorly translated. The Hebrew is bursting with dimensions of meaning that can in no way be conveyed in one sentence. What does it really mean? First, what do people think it means? From what I’ve encountered over the years, I observe that people believe this verse to mean, “Go out and try and find a mate so that you can have a lot of babies.” That’s it. That’s what everyone seems to think this verse means. I’m not sure that I want to worship or believe in a god that would command something like that. Why go to all the trouble to create humans if that’s all we’re good for?
The Hebrew word used for ‘fruitful’ in this verse is פָּרָה (parah), and it does mean fruitful; but it means fruitful in the sense of prospering, flourishing, and increasing as one increases in a physical sense. I am fruitful in my labor or my work. I see results from my effort. It has a very concrete implication and sense about it. The next word ‘multiply’ is an odd choice. Why choose ‘multiply’ here when the next command in this verse is almost a reiteration of this word? What does this really mean? The Hebrew word used in this text for ‘multiply’ is רָבָה (rabah), and it does mean ‘multiply’ but how? How are we to multiply? This is where it matters. What is implied in the Hebrew in this word is not just having children. There are many definitions for this word. They are:
- to multiply in greatness or become great
- to multiply in things or become great of things
- to become great of wisdom or noble thoughts
- to become a great person with great knowledge
- to set a high price
- to enlarge one’s army
- to multiply one’s wealth
- to increase one’s animals
- to do much greatly and often
- to pray a long time
- to increase in glory
- to make another person great
- to make God great
- to enlarge or increase one’s borders
- to bring in abundance
- to have children
Of the sixteen definitions that I could find for rabah, only one concerns having children. The others define our role as humans. We were to go out and increase in knowledge, greatness, wisdom, nobility, and character. We were to make the world better. We were released to do that. We were commanded to live our lives. Go out and learn. Go out and think. Go out and work. This verse isn’t about marrying and having children. It’s about God pointing to the great unknown and saying, “Well, get out there! Go make something of yourselves! Try! And make sure to make others great while you’re pursuing greatness, too! ” We were given autonomy. God did not mean for us to be little children, quaking and wondering if every choice we make is okay with Him. Clearly, this verse depicts something different. This verse is empowering. This verse speaks of collaboration and permissions and a wide open playing field.
So, what does this have to do with therapy?
- “I’ll just wait for God to heal me.” vs. become a person with great knowledge
- “I know I have anxiety but God will do something about that, I’m sure.” vs. become great of wisdom or noble thoughts
- “I don’t need some 12-step program. I’m fine.” vs. do much greatly and often
- “I know I struggle with my anger. I know I’m depressed sometimes. I read my Bible. I go to church. I’m sure God will help me.” vs. enlarge or increase one’s borders
- “That therapy business is just a bunch of BS. I’m fine. I don’t need some stranger to tell me what to do. I go to church.” vs. increase in glory
These are really just victim statements. There is nothing empowered about them. God has already given us permission, commanded us even, to get our acts together. If something isn’t working in our lives, then we are already permitted to fix it! Does God work miracles today? Yes, but, more often than not, He is going to set you on a path that will take you through a journey that will multiply you so that you will increase in nobility, wisdom, knowledge, greatness, and, finally, learn what flourishing looks like. That is what God looks like. We are His children, and children look like their parents. God does not “fix” our health problems for us if we can engage in a process that will, over the long term, heal us in some way. How many diabetics do you know who get treatment for their disease by waiting for God? God has already provided treatment through diet, exercise, and proper medical care. The diabetic, however, has to engage their will to seek out that treatment. There is a process there.
We can all recognize that diabetes involves the pancreas. When will the Church recognize that mental illness involves another internal organ–the brain? There are highly trained clinicians who treat the brain as well, and pursuing care with a trusted clinician combined with whatever forms of faith practice that are meaningful to you in order to overcome what is hindering your mental health and well-being are what it means to learn to flourish and multiply. You don’t need permission from a pastor, small group, or best friend to seek help. You don’t need to wonder if it’s okay to see a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Will God be angry with you because you didn’t wait long enough for Him to intervene?
You’ve already been told to go out there and do something. Pursue something. Enlarge your borders. Increase your knowledge. Become a great person.
Do. Increase. Enlarge. Become. Go.