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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

25 June 2005

Can Mentally Ill People Go to Heaven?

Recent questions led me to pull this out of the archives. At the end of the article, I’ve included links to previous columns which also deal with mental and emotional illness.

Q: I have been diagnosed bipolar and schizophrenic affective, which means I constantly mix reality with things I’m told are my imagination. With different medications it is hard to feel any emotion. I know there is a God, I have felt Him. My wonder is this, I accepted Jesus into my heart — many years ago, when I wasn’t as mentally sick. Now, it seems all my energy is put into simply getting through the day. I do not feel close to God — or anyone. I have horrible thoughts, horrible anger. Can someone like me go to Heaven? I keep being told that mental illness is of the devil, and if I would only pray more I would be cured. I’m tired, very tired, and just don't see what I can do. Any help would be great.

A: Bipolar disorder, even without schizophrenia, may completely debilitate a person. The drugs are powerful, often with side effects such as you mention. This can make it difficult to choose between treatment and illness. You don’t mention it, but I imagine that some form of counseling also takes place. Especially if our doctors and counselors aren’t Christian, sufferers often desire additional advice and comfort from their pastors and other spiritual leaders. It sounds, however, that your “helpers” offer as little comfort as those who surrounded Job in his trials.

In times of weakness, Satan attempts to overthrow trust in God. We might wonder, “What kind of faith do I have if I feel so bad?” The devil tries to get us to confuse the problems we have with problems we cause, leading toward doubting our entire relationship with God. All of us are sinners. However, your affliction isn’t any more your fault than are cancer, blindness, diabetes, heart disease, or broken bones in others. Still, because mental illness preys directly on the mind, you probably will always find the struggle difficult. Not only do you have feelings about both God and yourself, such afflictions create their own feelings, often at odds with the facts.

Even among those without such problems as you face, feelings provide poor guidance. God may “feel” far away when He clearly says He’s with us. Or we may “feel” like we’re doing fine by God when actually we’re in sinful rebellion.

You say that you “accepted Jesus” years ago. Actually, He accepted you and then created the faith to allow you to respond. He clings tightly to you even when you are too weak to hold on to Him. The Bible says we cannot save ourselves. Instead, God works through the forgiveness of sins, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He washes us in Baptism, comforts us by forgiving sins, and pours the holy medicine of the body and blood of Jesus Christ into us. His promises to you count infinitely more than your promises to Him.

Remaining afflicted with bipolar or schizophrenia doesn’t make you a poor Christian. Even if we pray long and fervently, we tell God, “Your will be done. (Matthew 6:10)” It may be God’s will that your illnesses continue, regardless of your faith in Him. Who has a closer relationship with the Father than does Jesus? He prayed in the Garden, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. (Matthew 26:39)” The Father chose not to free Jesus, but to afflict His Son and thus bring healing to us.

The Lord frees us from bondage to sin, death, and devil through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. Sometimes He lifts other burdens; sometimes He allows them to remain. Whenever I talk with people suffering depression and other mental and emotional problems, I urge them to remember Psalm 130. It begins, ”Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,’ and moves into a celebration of the Lord lovingly keeping his promises. Remember that you cannot climb up to meet God on His level. Instead, His Son lovingly descended, crawling into the painful pit occupied by sinful humanity, lifting us up toward heaven. He accepted the shame of the cross (Hebrews 12:2). He confronted devastating abandonment by His Father, crying out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46)” The Father judged the Son “guilty” of all sin so that He might say “not guilty” to all believers in Christ. Let your heart hear what your faith already knows: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)”

Arriving at the heart of your question, my reply is yes, you can go to heaven. Once there, your long and painful journey will testify that Christ was with you every step of the way. Your mind and your emotions will be perfectly whole, in a way that no one on earth can ever know. Even now, God forgives your doubts and your anger. He strengthens weak faith. For the sake of your eternal life and for peace of mind in the present, please find Christians who will embrace you and pray for you but who won’t lay the blame for lack of healing on you. If you desire, write me back and I’ll try to put you in touch with a pastor in your area who’ll work to remove your guilt, not add to it.

Other columns:
Christians with Mental or Emotional Illness
Mental Health and Spiritual Well-Being

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Blogger Orycteropus Afer said...

A better Christian understanding of mental illness and its treatment certainly seems appropriate. After all, we do want to sound more informed and helpful than super Scientologist Tom Cruise, don't we?

02 July, 2005 22:49  
Anonymous Stingray said...

Thanks for the excellent post. An unfortunate number of people with mental illness have been taught or otherwise believe that the problem is not that they have an true illness, but rather that God somehow hates them. Orycteropus Afer pointed me to your post and I have linked to a similar article on my website. I've also add both of your sites to my blogroll.

01 March, 2006 17:27  
Blogger Erin said...

I think your advice was very good, Pastor, thank you

15 August, 2008 23:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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27 August, 2008 13:42  
Anonymous dave said...

I know the Lord Jesus will accept you in heaven when its your time , because if you accepted Him as your Lord and saviour than you will be there with him , never mind some so called christians who are to heavenly minded and not earthly good to those who need their support and prayers and help, its so easy to blame the person for this and that, but with out real support and help never mind them, Jesus LOVES YOU so much !!!!

27 January, 2009 01:50  
Blogger ajb said...

this site has been helpful.... thanks....I believe my husband 35 and daughters 17,15, and sons 11, 6, 4, are in heaven......or are we just chest pieces... ?

23 August, 2009 04:32  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're reading this, and suffering from an illness, though the post itself said it all, just so you can hear it from another, God does not hate you, He loves you, by grace, through faith in His son Jesus Christ.

Grace has been given to you by God. Your faith has been given to you by God's grace. When you accepted His gift of salvation, you were sealed unto the day of redemption. You were incapable of accepting that gift without Him (accepting Jesus as your savior.), since you played no part in receiving this gift, how then can you play a part in losing it?

God's love is unconditional. Even the extreme conservative Christian accepts this, and is your illness not a condition? If God were to tell you "I do not love you because of your condition" it would make His love conditional.

All the good in you is from Him. The ancient greek text meaning of salvation translates to "God will save us, God is saving us, God has saved us." This parallels the meaning of sanctification, whereby our faith produces works of the Spirit. Look into your past since accepting His gift to now and see His work in you. It is difficult sometimes to see the work of the Spirit when you look over a short timespan, we all have our bad days.

If Paul killed Christians, and then stated later that "I do what I don't want to do, and don't do what I want to do", and God's love was still so great for him that he was given the honor of writing God's inspired word, don't you think that God has love for you? I don't think you went around killing Christians in your days, but the Bible shows that even if you have, He loves you.

God loves you so much more than you can comprehend. It is beyond the scope of human understanding how much God truly loves each and every one of us. His Son, sacrificed, for us, so that we could come to Him.

10 March, 2010 02:13  
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Blogger Kim said...

What IF a person was mentally ill with bipolar disease and the illness kept their brain from reasoning well enought to stay on their medication and to the be clear headed enough to accept the truth of God and salvation that was presented to them? It is possible that without the disease the person would have been open to and accepted Christ. To our knowledge he never did. Doe he have a chance since the disease affected his ability to think? He has just passed away and we are in turmoil over this question.

14 June, 2011 07:42  
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Just remember everybody: John 14:6...

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Blogger Helga Peña said...

I like this article. My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1990's. I don't rememebr the year, since I was a teenager. He did accept the Lord as his Saviour. He stopped taking his meds, and committed suicide in November 1998. I took it well then, but there are times when I feel down about it. he was 22 years older than me, and we really didn't get to know each other.

Today, someone at church said that people who committ suicide don't know who their God really is. It hurt me to the core.

12 January, 2013 21:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. My grandpa had bipolar and I was. told by a pastor he went to Hell because he did not repent of his sins. This hurt me to the core because my grandpa was such a strong believer

03 February, 2013 17:47  
Anonymous Robert Smith said...

Great post, Thanks for sharing information on that matter. Your information is more helpful to mentally illness people.

07 March, 2013 00:21  
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23 March, 2014 23:41  
Blogger Unknown said...

Sorry to hear about that :( A pastor can guess personally to himself m, but it's not his place to say whether someone goes to hell. Since mental illness of the person sometimes controls them. They are unable to have a reflex to stop from suicide. They would be covered by Jesus same as an innocent child would be. It was the illness that took your grandpa not his soul.

17 March, 2016 17:26  

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