Mental Health

April 6, 2016

Why do you think the mentally ill in the Bible so quickly recognized Jesus as the Christ?  For example, a man with an unclean spirit told Jesus, “I know thee who thou art, the holy One of God,” (Luke 4), and this story appears several chapters before Peter identified Jesus as the Christ (Luke 9). Perhaps the mentally ill were the first to recognize the mental nature of disease as requiring a spiritual cure, not a physical one.

And on this subject, here is a quote from a recent article in The Washington Post by a theologian and psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School.  In his review of the current movie “Miracles from Heaven,” Jeffrey Rediger wrote:

I’m trained in both medicine and theology. I’ve been investigating the medical evidence in stories like these since 2003. And I can say unequivocally that much of physical reality, remarkable as it may sound, is created in our minds….

It’s amazing to me that in the history of medicine we have never studied the people who beat the odds and find a path to health after being told that their illness is incurable or that they are going to die. You would think that these are the people that we would most want to study, that perhaps they found golden keys to health and vitality that we would want to understand. Certainly it’s true that if I wanted to become a great athlete I would study Michael Jordan or Serena Williams. But in medicine we have too long ignored or dismissed people with remarkable recoveries….

I disagree with one common viewpoint that the movie espouses. At the very beginning, it defines a “miracle” as a contradiction of natural law.

I believe that miracles only contradict what we know of nature at this point in time. Modern physics is, for example, way ahead of traditional science, and its implications have not been fully incorporated into its perspectives and methods yet. So I believe that miracles actually are consistent with mental and spiritual laws that we are only beginning to study. This is the only way I can understand the similarities among all those with remarkable recoveries whom I have been interviewing.

(“Harvard Medical School professor says ‘Miracles from Heaven’ and other remarkable cures could be real,” by Jeffrey Rediger, The Washington Post, March 29, 2016)


I found these Bible notes helpful in understanding the story about the man with the unclean spirit and the herd of swine in the Gadarenes:

Once the unclean spirit is cast out, it is possible to find out its identity. A legion was a division (usually of about five or six thousand troops) of the Roman military, who had conquered and, in effect, still occupied the country. Having entered the herd of pigs (which Jews were not permitted to eat), the Roman “legion” of unclean spirits, in a military image, charged into the sea and were destroyed, alluding to the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in Israel’s Exodus deliverance. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th edition, p.1799 & 1801)


Another commentary gave these insights:

And all the devils besought him, saying—”if thou cast us out” (Mt 8:31). Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them—Had they spoken out all their mind, perhaps this would have been it: “If we must quit our hold of this man, suffer us to continue our work of mischief in another form, that by entering these swine, and thus destroying the people’s property, we may steel their hearts against Thee!” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

In other words, if the devils couldn’t destroy this man, then they would destroy the pigs (the people’s livelihood), and thus the crowd would turn against Jesus because their livelihood was destroyed. But the loss of their hypocritical pig business “startled mortal mind in order to remove its beliefs” (SH 421:7), and the crowd eventually came to appreciate from their new evangelist that one cleansed and healed life is worth more than the value of any material business.  I have been looking at this story as “preventive and curative” — the man with the unclean spirit was cured (healing of sickness) and the crowd was prevented (in a very dramatic way) from further exposure to sin.

Along with the readings, I’ve included a photo from the British Museum of a wild boar with the Legion inscription.  Apparently, we’ve had quite a history of political madness, and how grateful we are when it self-destructs.