It is natural to be confused about how, when we have a serious mental health challenge, we can still be made in the image God, or, as Psalm 139 says:
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
We can just as easily ask “Why did You make me diabetic?”, and then of course there is the classic “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”
We have free will and are fallen and so there is much imperfection in the world. God does not “make” anyone mentally or physically ill, anymore than he is responsible for any of life’s other misfortunes or ugliness.
What He has done is provided us with doctors and medicine that make it possible to live a healthy life.
God never leaves us. Even in the most acute bouts of mania or depression, God stays with us.
It is true that there may be periods where our minds are so disordered by our illness that we do not feel God’s presence. We cannot pray, and we cannot study scripture. However, my experience has been that the more I build my faith and my relationship with God when I am in between episodes, the easier it is to find my way to Him during a relapse or mood swing.
For me as a bipolar Christian, I believe staying well depends on both faith and works. I cannot do it alone, but I also have an obligation to do what I can.
My perspective is that bipolar disorder does not give the bipolar Christian a “free pass”.
Although my thoughts may at times be chaotic, irrational, or delusional, if I sin I am still separating myself from God, and that is never part of God’s plan for me.
Bipolar disorder is certainly an explanation for bad behavior but is it an excuse?
I think maybe it is more like an extenuating circumstance, for example the way that mitigation is taken into account in our criminal justice system.
When I had my first full blown manic episode I was undiagnosed and untreated. I did some terrible things that became a source of profound shame and regret. Were these terrible things sins? Absolutely! Would I have acted this way if I was not experiencing an acute manic episode? Never! So am I trying to have it both ways? How can this “diminished responsibility” be reconciled with my belief that sin is still sin and offends God?
For me as a Catholic, I can look to Church doctrine and find some comfort. Sin must be committed with “full knowledge” and “deliberate consent”. The delusional thinking of bipolar mania makes full knowledge and deliberate consent impossible.
For me, my life is divided into two parts – Before Diagnosis and After Diagnosis.
Now that I know I have bipolar disorder I am responsible for managing it. It would definitely be a sin to ignore the strategies that keep me well and which help me avoid or minimize relapses.
For example, as a bipolar Christian I am accountable for taking my medication, seeking therapy, following my Wellness Plan by exercising daily, sticking to my Bipolar Diet, and honoring my Treatment Contract with my spouse.
A big issue for the bipolar Christian is finding the right therapist.
Secular fundamentalism (the new “religion” of elevating political correctness over traditional faith) makes it hard for some therapists, even if Christian, to put relationship with God at the center of the therapeutic process.
So dig a little.
With any therapist it is ok to ask them about both their faith AND how it influences their practice of therapy.
There ARE practitioners of faith based therapy and, for a Christian, it is well worth the effort to find one.
The pivot point of faith based therapy is exactly the same for a person with bipolar disorder as it is for anyone else. That is, to focus our energy on God.
There should be no conflict between our faith and what we learn in therapy.1
Today it is well recognized that the practice of our faith contributes to a sense of peace and psychological well-being. A balanced and healthy Christian faith and practice can contribute to an overall sense of psychological well-being for persons.
A skilled therapist will work with us to develop a healthy and strong personal identity, just as we all should strive to do anyway.
As Christians we already know that God’s teachings provide the attitudes, values, morals, and customs that are the formula for a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.
Controversial beliefs about bipolar & Christianity
Some people believe that bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) and other mental health problems are the evidence of, or consequences of, demonic possession.
Some people believe that bipolar disorder can be cured by prayer.
Some people believe that psychiatry and psychiatric drugs have their origins in Satan, not in God, and must be totally rejected.
It is not possible to argue through all of the theological issues involved in a single web page. Also, deeply held beliefs are not easily changed. All I can do is share my own experiences and beliefs.
As a bipolar Christian I believe my illness has a biological basis, and although it has spiritual dimensions, it is not, at root, the work of the devil. However, the devil can work through it by creating temptation.
For example, I may be tempted to the sin of pride by thinking I can manage my illness myself, without God. Or I might be tempted to the sin of laziness and not stick to daily exercise, my Bipolar Diet, and the other elements of my Wellness Plan.
Also, I firmly believe that God works through doctors and medicines and that they must be embraced. Enough said.