“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” JRR Tolkien
Well, I am going to sound like a broken record. Once again, I had another one of "those days." My son returned home from college with a lymph node the size of a small child's fist. Today we leaned that he tested positive for acute mononucleosis and needs some further testing. So, with family visiting and Christmas preparations, I, like all of you reading this,have been a bit busy.
I have been thinking about this post all day. Frankly the comments have been excellent. You all have said many things that I overlooked. So, I have decided to highlight some thoughts from Mr. Dee and our readers. All of them should spark discussion.
A horribly abused boy
In my former as a public health nurse, I knew of some children who were so severely abused, sexually, physically, and mentally that they have, as adults, lost touch with reality. Imagine a little 2 year old boy being sexually abused by his dad and his friends, given alcohol and drugs at the age of 5. Picture a medical chart that shows multiple, poorly healed fractures. The well meaning, yet overwhelmed Child Protective Services finally find out about him as a young teen because he shows up, having run from his abusive father, at an Emergency Room with a broken arm and two black eyes.
He is non-interactive, appears to hear voices and exhibits serious outbursts of anger. He is institutionalized for several weeks, given medication and dismissed into the care of social workers who place him in a foster home. His emotional state is so disruptive that his foster family refuse to continue caring for him. He is placed into a series of foster homes, and finally disappears to live on the streets.
He is later arrested because he killed another vagrant who was stealing his blanket. He appears in court, confused and zoned out. What do we do?
Does he go into jail, just another evil sinner, who refuses to do what was right? Does he go to jail primarily to prevent him from hurting others? Should he receive psychiatric care?
My heart goes out to the little boy that he was-alone and horribly abused with little to no evidence of love. Is it any wonder his mind broke under the pain? Could it be that the real evil and sin is our refusal to deal with some of the root causes of mental illness?
Five years ago, I decided to take in a little pug dog, Petunia, who, for 4 1/2 years lived through untold abuse. She was hit in her head which caused diminished sight in one eye. A number of her teeth were knocked out and her back leg was pulled out of joint. She had never had a bath and was skin and bones due to starvation. She made her way to my house by the courageous act of a woman who broke into her neighbor's backyard and removed her from her chain. She told the owner that she would call the police if he tried to stop her. Petunia came to my house about 5 days later after being surrendered to Pug Rescue.
She would run away from all of us. I would let her out into the back yard but she would run away from me when it was time to come in. I couldn't catch her. She would sit outside, in pouring rain, running away as I approached and howling pitifully. I had never heard a pug do that.I would stand there, in tears, trying to help her see that I loved her but she couldn't yet understand, I finally put a harness on her and a long lead. To get her to come in the house, I used to reel her in like a fish.
She would then run and hide in a corner of the house, whimpering. Slowly over time, she would approach us for food and then run away. Housebreaking did not go well. She had never been housebroken because she had lived outside, something that pugs are not supposed to do. If I even frowned and said "no" when she had an accident, it would cause her to run and hide for most of the day.
So, we ripped up our carpets, put in wood floors (I wanted to do that anyway) and went with the flow, never expressing negativity After 9 months she would go out the doggie door. By the end of 2 years, she would sit in the same room with us. By year 3 she would allow me to pat her. It took another 6 months for Mr Dee to be allowed to pat her. Her abuser had been a man. By year 5 she would take walks on a leash but was still afraid to leave the house.About 6 months ago, she put her paw on my leg and I bent down and she licked my face for the first time. Needless to say, I it was an emotional moment.
She now loves and trusts all people who come into our house> She is a happy dog who is now finally able to enjoy her life, sunning on the deck, playing with her pug sister and sleeping on her memory foam bed. But, she still does not like to leave the house. She may never fully trust the world outside.
5 years! That is a long time in dog years.
Mental illness is like that, it takes time, understanding, love, money and commitment. Unfortunately, our society does not prioritize our mental health system and it is broken, despite the valiant efforts of many professionals. It is virtually impossible to commit someone against their will. Even when involuntary commission occurs, it is usually limited to a few days to a week.
So, as a society, are we so limited that we cannot intervene in the lives of disturbed individuals until they commit a horrendous crime? It sure seems so. I wish there was an easy solution but there is not.
Meantime, there is a movement within the evangelical church which rejects modern psychology and embraces Nouthetic counseling link.This thinking is dangerous, especially when it comes to serious mental illness.
It is a form of pastoral counseling that holds that counseling should be based solely upon the Bible and focused upon sin, and that repudiating mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, radically secular and fundamentally opposed to Christianity.
I want to reiterate something. I do NOT believe that a mentally ill person who commits a horrific act should be allowed to run free in society. The only solution, until we get serious about mental illness, appears to be incarceration. But, we should always remember that the madman who commits a horrific crime could once have been a little boy who was tortured beyond imagining.
In the wake of the senseless massacre of innocent young children in Newtown, Connecticut, the Church struggles to make sense of what occurred. No question that it was an incredibly “evil” act. This dark occurrence has led certain well-meaning Christians to attempt to console the families of the dead children, saying that “Jesus is the answer”.
While that statement is certainly true, if the likely cause for the murderer’s rage ends up being serious mental illness, simply saying “Jesus is the answer” may not do much good. It would be like telling someone with angina that the cause of their chest pain was spiritual. While the spiritual well-being of the person with angina is important, a stent and/or medicines would likely be the best treatment to remedy the angina.
If the murderer’s problem is medical (serious mental illness with psychosis) rather than spiritual (demonic possession or the like), we Christians may need to come to better grips with the problem of serious mental illness in America and its potentially lethal consequences.
As a Christian cardiologist, I would caution against over-emphasizing the problem of evil, particularly if mental illness turns out to be the root cause. We offer the love of Christ to those who have been deeply hurt by this incident. We offer to show compassion, and to weep with those who are weeping, just as Jesus would do. By such actions we demonstrate the love of Christ, and in that sense, Jesus is, through His body, providing an “answer” to the grieving families.
Assuming that serious mental illness is the cause of this horrific occurrence, Jesus may also be providing to us Christians “answers” in the form of a heightened awareness of the problem of mental illness, and the importance of early detection, accurate diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. These “answers” may help us as Christians to better cope with the harsh reality of living in a fallen world.
Who decides when someone is ill enough to commit?
Realistically we found our own physician thought so, a panel appointed by the state thought so, and STILL the courts would not move.
Only after a crime was committed was this person “committed” but still was in our care because a bed was not available.
Make no mistake–serious mental illness requiring commitment is usually pretty obvious to the people around.
There is a huge difference between sadness and bi-polar depression.
There is a huge difference between being a little selfish and being psychopathic.
There is a huge difference in being on top of the world and mania.
There is a huge difference between being shy and becoming so withdrawn you cannot be reached or respond to another person as Adam Lanza did.
So yes, when a person of any age has a history of psychotic breaks, or of threatening to harm themselves or others, or of being strongly delusional or suffering from hallucinations either visual or aural, the professionals can judge this and we should be able to commit them.
Example: not all mentally ill hear voices telling them to harm another person. But if a woman comes to her dr telling him she is hearing voices telling her to kill her baby, it is time to take action.
Not every kid that has problems with relating to peers will hurt someone. But a kid who either withdraws into such a place that they do not respond to others at all, or who repeatedly expresses a desire to hurt the other people, or who posts messages that he or she dreams of killing them all is letting us know it time to act.
Our courts indeed are to hold people innocent until proven guilty. But we are not talking innocence or guilt here. We are talking seriously disordered thinking or capable of rational thought and responsible action.
There is pretty good evidence James Holme’s dr knew he was dangerous, hence his banishment from campus. Had she been able to interact meaningfully with the court system, he could have been held, evaluated, treated, and the Aurora theater shooting would not have happened.
So which is better? LISTEN to the DOCTORS and protect the life and freedom of the people at the theater, or ignore them and clean up the carnage?
Rest assured commitment will never be an easy process and will probably always require the judgment of a panel of psychiatrists.
But we do need to revamp the privacy laws enough that when there is danger there is action.
Jeff S said
Alright, I wanted to get an answer to why we punished before I answered, but I’m going to go ahead because I don’t have a great deal of time in the next few hours.
In “Generous Justice” Tim Keller defines the word used in the Old Testament for “Justice” (Mishpat) as “giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care”. So the idea of “justice” means not just punishing the wicked, but elevating the oppressed, SACRIFICIALLY if necessary (God wasn’t kidding when he told his people to aid widows and orphans).
So when it comes to justice for someone with a mental disorder, what are we talking about? Is this an individual who is “due” punishment, protection, or care? Well, would you not agree it is all three? And if we were offering proper protection and care, would in some cases punishment not ever be necessary?
And this is why it is different than dealing with a non mentally ill person. The non mentally ill person is not “due” protection or care because those things are not necessary, at least not to the extent of the mentally ill person.
And before some Calvinist jumps in and says we are all “due” hell before breakfast (remember, I AM a Calvinist), we are talking about how we treat one another as image bearers of God. The scripture commands over and over again that we give people their “due” (whenever the word Mishpat appears, which is a lot)- if all of humanity were only ever “due” hell, then God wouldn’t have commanded it. We aren’t to treat others as “all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God”- that description is between us and him. When it comes to how we treat our fellow man, justice is about our status as image bearers of God.
The only argument for treating a mentally ill person and a non mentally ill person the same is if we believe that mental illness is not an oppressive state. If we believe that mental illness is oppressive, it is our duty as people of God to work to protect and care for those who have it.
I don’t think that mental illness or a need for care negates punishment, but it certainly must play a part in the process of our mission to individuals as the body of Christ.
Bob Cleveland makes a sad but convincing point.
Plain fact is there isn’t any “good answer” to all the collateral damage that the sin of Adam has sent through the human race. Man may think he’s up to the task of solving all the problems that stem therefrom, but as was true with the penalty for sin, man is simply not.
We’ll struggle with this clear through the next coming of Jesus. Count on it.
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 8:1-9:23 Mark 13:14-37 Psalm 50:1-23 Proverbs 10:29-30