Is there a relationship between Jesus and mental health? Was Jesus really divine, or just mentally ill?
Jesus and mental health is often a topic of conversation in circles critical of Christian theology. While there is no definitive link between Jesus and mental health, some speculate that Jesus was simply a crazy man who believed himself to be the son of God.
Read about the relationship between Jesus and mental health below.
Jesus and Mental Health
The evidence that Jesus believed he was the Son of God, the Messiah, cuts two ways: While it establishes that he did indeed believe himself to be divine, it also raises questions about his sanity. If no other rabbi of the time felt compelled to make similar claims about his divinity, it begs the question: was Jesus crazy? What’s the connection between Jesus and mental health?
Of course, the person to ask is a psychologist. Strobel visits Gary Collins, a clinical psychologist (Ph.D., Purdue University) who taught at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for twenty years. He has written well over 100 articles for scholarly journals and has written 45 books on psychological and theological themes, including Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide and touches on the question “was Jesus crazy?”
Was Jesus Insane?
When asking “was Jesus crazy?” you have to consider possible symptoms. A common symptom of mental illness is delusion, particularly delusions of grandeur. Many paranoid schizophrenics will at times believe they are someone famous or important: a Nobel Prize winner, the President of the United States—even Jesus himself. If misbegotten beliefs like this are so common among the mentally ill, who’s to say Jesus too wasn’t suffering from psychosis? Jesus and mental health is a highly debated topic.
What distinguishes Jesus from the mentally ill is the lack of accompanying symptoms. Psychotics who ask “was Jesus insane?” often have an inflated sense of their own importance, yes, but they also exhibit emotional distress, like irrational anger, paranoia, or anxiety; difficulty thinking logically; and/or antisocial behavior, like dressing strangely or neglecting personal hygiene. The mental health of Jesus exhibits none of these traits, so the Jesus and mental health theory doesn’t hold much merit.
In fact, the gospels attest to a well-adjusted and emotionally balanced human being. Jesus befriended people from all walks of life, inspired love in his compatriots, and had deep compassion for his fellow man. He spoke eloquently and had a firm grip on reality, and he responded to people’s hardship with empathy. In short, there’s nothing in his behavior to indicate he was mentally disturbed.
The View of Jesus’s Contemporaries
Of course, our understanding of Jesus is based exclusively on the biblical and historical evidence. So it’s common when evaluating to ask, “was Jesus insane?” It’s a fact that many of Jesus’s contemporaries believed he was crazy. For example, in John 20:20, we read that the Jews of the time believed Jesus was possessed by a demon and “raving mad.”
Although Jesus’s countrymen did indeed question the mental health of Jesus, their suspicion was prompted by Jesus’s uniqueness, not any evidence of mental disturbance. (In other words, they called him “insane” because his teachings were so unfamiliar.) And, unlike a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur, Jesus established his divinity through specific acts: for example, healing the sick or bringing the dead back to life.
(Skeptics have charged that Jesus’s “miracles” are likely less impressive than they seem, and may be more closely related to the mental health of Jesus. For example, many conditions in the ancient world were psychosomatic—that is, imagined—and so Jesus’s ability to heal was tantamount to the placebo effect: Because people believed Jesus was a healer, they simply willed themselves better once he administered to them.
The problem with this argument is that death is not a psychosomatic condition, yet Jesus was nevertheless able to bring the deceased back to life.)
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