Toward a Theology of Mental Health and Wholeness (2)

This journey began by looking at creation and what the intention of God was, from the beginning, for us. It is important to start there as any understanding of the frailties of human life must, by necessity, begin with the ideal state of humanity that God has intended for us. With that understanding, we come to the fall from grace. Initially I had intended to delve into a rather deep and nuanced comparison of the various mechanisms that have been brought forth regarding the fall from grace, but I have found that to be even longer than I normally go on, so I have chosen to simply affirm the basic truths of the fall as the United Methodists understand them realizing that will suffice for our purposes here.

Article VII — Of Original or Birth Sin

Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.” 

This article describes how United Methodists understand the consequences of the fall from grace, no matter the mechanism that you choose to use as a description of the event itself. This of course describes our disposition, but it does not describe our physical state other than to allude to the reality that we, and indeed the entire world, has fallen from the state that God had proclaimed “good”.

We know from Genesis chapter 3 that our first parents ate the fruit, and that the consequences of that followed. .The action of eating the fruit has taken humans, and the whole of created order, from a place of obedience to God to a place of disobedience to God. As discussed at length in the first piece, Irenaeus consistently describes creation by it’s relationship to The Creator (The Trinity). There is an ontological affinity between humanity and God in which humanity is designed to share a part of God’s being while simultaneously being completely dependent upon God for it’s (humanity’s) being. This is the truth, and mystery, of the image and likeness of God. Being in a state of disobedience to God has upset that ontological design resulting in the consequence of humanity being turned over to death. The disobedience of our first parents results in a nature passed on to us that carries the reality of a marred image deeply in need of restoration by its creator. The suggestion here is that the marred image is not intrinsic to us and how God has created us, but rather relational between God and us as there was no flaw in the initial design. To further Irenaeus’ understanding, we spoke of his image of Christ and the Holy Spirit as being the hands of God, consequently being also an intrinsic part of our creation. The state of disobedience that we are in has damaged the image within us as we no longer properly reflect Christ, or the Holy Spirit. We, in essence, wander around with a part of our intrinsic design so marred by our own disobedience, and the nature passed on to us, that we are no longer able to function as God intended from the beginning.

The result of this is death. Spiritual death in that we are separated from all three person’s that comprise The Creator God, in temporal death, including illness, both mental and physical, and, without the intervention of God, eternal death immediately following temporal death. So, for Irenaeus, this is expressed in that we are still created beings, and we still indeed posses the image of God, but the marred image that it is lacks the Holy Spirit. Our trinitarian design, similar to God, but not nearly God, has been so corrupted that while we are still created beings possessing the image of God, we have become so corrupted that we no longer have His likeness. As discussed in the first piece, the likeness of God, the Holy Spirit, was central to our creation at the beginning, but now is missing in those who are not numbered among the faithful. We were created to have a trinitarian nature, but, due to the fall, we only possess a dual nature as we enter the world. This is why for Irenaeus, and really, for Wesleyan’s, restoration is central to proper understandings of theology. We are, quite literally, incomplete. Is it any wonder then that there is all manner of illness and difficulty that affects us? All of this is the result of the curse that comes as a consequence of our first parent’s disobedience.

So, we finally get to the good part of the story. We are all desperately in need of God’s grace. In the Wesleyan tradition, even the grace of God reflects the triune nature of God. The prevenient grace that God pours into our lives to call us back to Him is followed by the justifying grace that restores us to right relationship with God returning us from disobedience to obedience by faith in The Christ, to the sanctifying grace that continues the work of restoring us to God and God to us. The grace that restores us is triune in nature returning to us a more perfect, but not yet perfect, reflection of the Holy Trinity, by returning the Holy Spirit to us so that part of us that was separated by the fall, changing our nature, is restored returning our nature back to what was intended by God in the beginning. We are reborn and a new creation as our dual nature that is imperfect is returned to a triune nature more closely resembling God’s plan here, and perfected in the here after.

The next installment of this will finally begin dealing with how all of this impacts mental health and wholeness from a theological standpoint and how that theology intersects with modern medicine in healthy, and perhaps not so healthy, ways, to lead us back to the design that God has originally intended for us.

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