In a recent article by the Washington Post, I learned about the latest government sponsored research project being considered by President Donald Trump. This proposal is for the development of a new agency, HARPA, tasked in seeking to identify links between violent behavior and mental health using data and technology:
"The idea is for the agency to develop a “sensor suite" using advanced artificial intelligence to try and identify changes in mental status that could make an individual more prone to violent behavior. The research would ultimately be opened to the public.
HARPA would develop “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence,” says a copy of the proposal. “A multi-modality solution, along with real-time data analytics, is needed to achieve such an accurate diagnosis.”
I don’t see this as alarming in the sense I’m afraid our government will set up concentration camps or that we are moving toward some sort of Minority Report scenario, but it is a sobering reflection of how society views people who struggle against serious mental illness. As a Christian, and mother of someone who has an SMI, this gives me great reason to consider again why Christians should especially care about those who are on the margins of our nation.
Image Bearers First
God created all things. I live in the beautiful state of Arizona and am privileged every day to view majestic sunsets or take small day trips up through the cactus covered desert mountains and gape wide-mouth-opened at the spectacular Grand Canyon. God’s splendor in creation is on display day after day.
If this were not enough, mankind has been granted the distinct honor of being made in God’s likeness:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” - Genesis 1:26-27
People who battle the disability of serious mental illness are image bearers first, no different than any of us. They are not a set of data to be analyzed or collected by our government. Individuals who are uniquely created by God, in His image, are worthy of our advocacy, care, respect, and the wise and loving inclusion in our church families.
God Loves the Helpless
Fellow Christians, we are the recipients of lavish, unmerited mercy. Dead in our sins with no help or hope. We didn’t have an inkling that we needed rescuing and yet, God loved us and sent his son to die for such rebellious and hostile sinners as us:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” - Romans 5:6-9
Let’s not breeze past the last verse above. Helpless sinners plucked from the road toward hell that we so justly deserved. Let that picture linger in our minds for a while and think about our helpless neighbors warring in vain against the raging torrent of delusions, homelessness, filth, victimization, and imprisonment.
When we help those who cannot help themselves, we are reflecting the very heart of God. We are reflecting our own rescue stories here in this space. Do you see the gospel implications?
Saved to Share
Our nation boasts of unprecedented wealth at the moment. Do we Christians see this as an opportunity to live generously? Will we fall into society’s mindset that our government will take care of the poor and helpless? The Bible is saturated with calls to live differently:
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.” - Isaiah 58:6-8
Assuming our nation is replete with adequate social safety nets, or consoling ourselves with thoughts like, “hey, it could always be worse,” is a poor excuse to hoard our prosperity and look the other way. God hears the invisible cries of the disabled in our prisons and streets. God calls us to move toward the helpless with the intellect, energy, prayers, money, and compassion that He has freely given to us.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” - James 1:27
These image bearers, the ones afflicted with more severe forms of mental illness, are the orphans of today. These people are trapped. They are not a voting block. They will not get anyone elected because they probably won’t vote, they are the contemporary “undesirables.”
At the end of the day, I think that we will be judged as a nation not by how many mass shootings we prevent, how well crafted our technology becomes in detecting potential threats, or how safe we are. But we will be judged by how well we treated those who needed our help the most, those who cannot help themselves.
Christians have the unique opportunity in this era of political division and confusion to give voice to those on the fringes of our society. We have the opportunity to share the hope of the gospel, to show love, and to give dignity to those who have none. Scripture informs us about how God views people with mental disabilities. Scripture equips and shows us how to respond with the help of God’s Holy Spirit. This is why Christians should care about the seriously mentally ill, this is why we can.
P82 Project Restoration is a Christ centered organization that exists to promote life with dignity for individuals and families who are struggling against serious mental illness. We do this through advocacy, assistance, prayer, and resource development for churches.