One reason sceptics are often reluctant to commit to the Christian faith is that they just cannot see how it helps them right here right now. Yes, they understand that there might be a heaven and they understand that the Christian life is motivated by the belief that they would get into heaven one day but outside that, they see no value or relevance of Christianity to their every day life.
At this point, it is fair to state that this belief or view tends to be more prominent in developed nations than developing nations. Having had the privilege of living in both kinds of nations, I can say unequivocally that I get it. I understand why religion and Christianity are not prized as highly in developed nations. In my humble opinion, this is because the system in developed nations do not need God to run. A worker does not need to pray/believe God to receive salary at the end of the month, a university degree is optional and there are opportunities to succeed without one, there are all sorts of opportunities to earn an honest living and in the midst of all of this prosperity, God is not a factor in the mind of the citizenry.
However, what developed nations lack in third world problems, they make up for in mental health issues. This, again in my humble opinion, is a reflection of the fact that man is incomplete without his maker and once there is a distance between man and his creator, there must be some kind of signpost for this deficit. The suicide and depression rates tend to be sky high in developed nations in comparison to developing nations despite the absence of the more deep-seated problems which abound in the developing world. I submit that the root cause of this is man’s removal of God from the prosperity equation, there is a reason John prays for Gaius that he prospers and remains in health as his soul prospers (3 John 1:2), there is a prosperity that is at the expense of the soul.
This to me, is the first and foremost area that Christianity helps in the here and now, the matter of mental health. There is a mentality and a belief system that the Bible instils in the believer. The mindset that they are not alone in whatever they face,
“For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”” (Hebrews 13:5 & 6)
Jesus Himself says He is with those who believe in Him even till the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). What comfort to know that the Lord of all creation is with you in your day to day life?
Even the Bible acknowledges there is profit in the Christian faith for the here and now. Paul writes,
“…godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)
There are promises that are for this life. Jesus says,
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
There is the promise of being an overcomer over whatever life throws at you. As John writes, pivoting off of this promise, greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world (1John 4:4). As Paul writes again, if God is for you, who can be against you? (Romans 8:31)
The believer can read the scriptures and find inspiration time and time again of instances where God has come through for those who believe in Him in the most dire of circumstances (Joseph, Job, Jacob, Abraham etc). These are great comforts. To know that there is indeed nothing new under the sun, there is no problem any of us would be the first to experience, no temptation (that is trials) overtaking us other than that which is common to men (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Now this is not to say Christians do not struggle with mental health issues or any issues at all in life, but there is an abundance of comfort that comes from the promises of scripture which non believers would not have the benefit of as they are hindered by their own unbelief.
Another way Christianity helps mental health is this, and the non believer would never understand this because there are no words to describe it, but there is an inner peace that comes from the Christian faith,
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)
There is something that cannot be explained which happens to the soul when it has been made right with God through Christ. An internal peace, a peace that, as Paul writes, “surpasses human understanding” (Philippians 4:7). The peace Jesus spoke about when He said,
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Now Jesus made it clear it is not the peace the world offers. Not the inner peace of Buddhism, New Age or Narcotics but a peace only Him can give. I wish I could describe it in better words but if the eloquent Paul, the beloved John and the anointed Peter could not, I am not ashamed I cannot either.
Again, the sceptic may say, “Well, are these not just mental gymnastics? is this not just a placebo? none of it being real?”. There are two quick responses I would have to this. First, there is the historical person and cross of Jesus Christ to point to as the basis for all of the Christian faith. Secondly, are anxiety and depression not based on mental gymnastics as well? looking at the world around you or at a situation and then concocting the worst possible scenarios in relation to these things? things that may, in reality, never happen. Is a Bulimic person, for instance, not engaging in mental gymnastics when they convince themselves they are overweight but are actually starving to death? So what is the harm if the scriptures aid your mental health by painting you better pictures than your human mind would ordinarily paint you? Think about it!
Now if all Christianity did as to give you a lens through which to view the world thus benefiting your mental health, that would be good enough in itself, but it goes further. There are benefits to be gained by living according to its dictates. To love people and forgive them, to be temperate and moderate in all things, to be truthful and honest, to respect authority, to confine sex to the context of marriage. We save ourselves a lot of trouble with the law, ruining relationships, the mental anguish of being bitter towards a person, plethora of potential health problems that come with promiscuity and hedonistic excess, the abortion brouhaha for one would be heavily mitigated by confining sex to marriage…but I digress
Third, the Christian faith makes you understand that your life is transcendent. That you would give account of your life to your creator and that your life is much bigger than just you. Remember the parable of the talents? This sort of mindset drives Christians to be productive, whether in terms of their day jobs, honouring God with their talents, being generous with their substance and this in turn vests great benefit on society. I have in an earlier article explored how civilisation today owes a great deal to the Christian faith. What I did not discuss in great detail was how God was the driving force for a lot of those inventors/inventions. Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press for instance stated,
“Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall soon flow in inexhaustible streams the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of men! Through it, God will spread His word; a spring of pure truth shall flow from it; like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance and become a cause of light hithertofore unknown to shine amongst men!”
In essence, if Christianity spurs its adherents to productivity and that in turn produces great benefit for mankind, it cannot be said that Christianity has been of no help in the here and now.
Finally, Christianity advocates good works. Paul writes,
“This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.” (Titus 3:8)
Good works profit men. Jesus Himself did good works. It was recorded that He went about doing good (Acts 10:38). Now good works would vary from person to person and from situation to situation. It does not always look like feeding the hungry and helping the poor like Mother Theresa did, it might be writing an article, it might be caring for a friend in need, it might be telling somebody about Jesus through our work but in all these things, we not only help others, but find fulfilment as well, we know our lives have meaning and serves a purpose, we know that we have been and are being a blessing to others and we know we will be rewarded by God in so doing. There is a godly pleasure to be found in living for something other than yourself.
In conclusion, by its impact on our mental health, productivity and conferral of benefit on others, sense of purpose and troubles we avoid by living according to its dictates, Christianity does indeed help us in the here and now.