Skip navigation

I’m writing a blog for Christians or people with an experience of Christianity and/or the church about doubt. This second blog is about the relationship between emotions and Christian doubt. This isn’t a blog about “right” or “wrong” emotional responses as I don’t believe such a thing exists – an emotional response cannot be controlled or judged. What it can be though is observed and learnt from, which is what I’m going to have a shot at doing. I’ve actually decided to post this blog in two parts as I ended up coming at this from two angles: mental health and suffering.
The power of emotions

Emotions are powerful things. As a blog immediately gains more credibility by quoting dead philosophers, I am going to quote Nietzche who said about emotions, “One ought to hold onto one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too.” Emotions are so powerful because they influence so many aspects of our life – how we behave; how we relate; how we perceive the world…and how we think. That influence is also lasting in terms of the impression it makes on us – it sticks around. Maya Angelou said, “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

(I don’t want this blog to turn into war and peace so I’m not going to attempt to go into how emotions work. It’s a super interesting subject though and I would recommend having a read of my mate Dave’s blogs on different types of therapy as that gives you a good intro to emotional management. The book “The Chimp Paradox” also has some good stuff on the subject. )

In many ways, how we feel about God and Jesus can influence doubts and questioning of the Christian faith – so it’s worth digging into those feelings and thinking about the role they have. 

Mental health problems 

Anyone who has experienced any kind of mental health problem will know just how awful mental illness can make you feel – loneliness, hopelessness, irritability, tiredness, suspicion… these can become the norm and everything appears to be painted grey. Vigour and vitality disappear, inertia and heaviness dominate. When I was suffering from depression I remember just how hard it was to even get out of bed – I watched multiple seasons of 24 over a short period of time, wanting to escape reality and barely leaving my room. (I can’t watch that series any more as it has too many bad associations!)

The way we see people and our relationships with them also changes when our mental health is struggling. If we have mental health problems or are struggling with our emotions, this can colour how we view God. Some people find solace in God when they are feeling bad mentally – but others find they start to see him in a negative light. Others quite simply don’t have the headspace for him.

One huge step forward through is to gain an awareness of how our emotions are effecting us – so we can start to figure out how to work through them and manage them, rather than them managing us. One of the key factors in my recovery from depression was learning to notice when I was becoming really angry and down and tracing the events and thoughts which had led to that. Noticing emotions rather than just blindly feeling them is a pretty powerful breakthrough. Talking things through with a counsellor, practicing things like mindfulness can help us slow our minds down and process our feelings – including the thoughts and feelings about God. 

I’ve also found that when I’m struggling mentally, lots of things seem less certain. I’m less certain of other people’s love for me (or suspicious about if they have ever loved me); I’m less certain of my own abilities; I’m less certain that I’m doing the right thing or saying the right thing. I find it hard to cope with uncertainty in situations like going into a room full of people I don’t know or trying something new at work. 

When in that kind of mental state it can be really comforting to be reassured of things which we feel are certain. Spiritual consolation is hugely important with massive comfort and strength being found in God. I have definately experienced that myself, with my faith in God being a key factor in beginning to live in mental health recovery. 
I think it’s important to be aware though of the “Christianity as a crutch” criticism where people solely rely on faith in God to prop them up through emotional struggles, to the point of neglecting to work on their own emotional resilience and mental health issues, leaving their inability to cope with uncertainty and their mental health problems undealt with. It’s easily done but I’m not sure it’s helpful in that it doesn’t encourage growth in faith or in emotional management. (More on certainty in the next blog). I’ve seen the “Christianity crutch” happen before in a really sad case – a man my family knew became increasingly spiritually fervent and intense in his insistence about certain beliefs about God. His mental health deteriorated in the meantime, ending up with a total breakdown which resulted in his marriage ending and him being homeless for a period of time. 

Another complicating issue can be the tendency of some Christians to spiritualise mental health issues and doubts. If mental health issues or emotional rooted doubts are perceived as some kind of demonic attack or a lack of faith, that can be incredibly damaging emotionally to a person’s faith in the long run. If the answer is solely to ‘pray away’ the emotional problems or emotional doubts, little attention is given to the need for psychological treatments or work required on emotional management. Without that kind of specialist support or work a person could become increasingly emotionally unstable- which could in turn damage their faith even more if they perceive their continued struggles as abandonment from God – or perversely as some kind of spiritual inadequacy on their behalf. 

The sum of it I guess is that doubts about God and mental health do have many intrinsic links. Whether spirituality is healing or helpful really does vary from person to person, but I do think it’s worth being aware of and sensitive, to given the number of people who have mental health problems. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: