I had someone say to me few weeks ago , regarding someone who was engaged in self-harm, “maybe she thinks its cute.” No one hurts themselves because they think it is cute.
As a society we have come pretty far in no longer villainizing those with physical needs. We no longer condemn them, no longer act as if they are to blame for the symptoms that they suffer, at least mostly. The physical needs that are harder to see still need work.
We are improving on the issue of mental health, but we still have problems making the leap from the principle to the practice. Acknowledging that there are people who suffer from anxiety or depression or something else and that they need help is easier than looking at someone we know and realizing that saying “suck it up and work harder” is not helpful.
Unfortunately, even or especially among Christians, we have long cultivated a different approach to those we consider “sinful.” Condemnation is the path we choose, often followed by retribution. I want to take a step back for a second and think things through.
First, human beings are limited creatures. This is not sinful, it is how God made us. Because we are limited we have fear, again not inherently sinful. This is, however, the place where those with mental illnesses begin to disconnect from the average person as the place of fear becomes a vast and turbulent place. Fear leads to one of two paths. The better one is to embrace love and faith and deal with the cause of fear from that perspective. The other, more common one, is to deal with fear from a place of anxiety in which we act out to remove the fear.
This is the point where we can sin and often do. We sin because we react to our fear out of the same causes of the fear, our limitlessness, and thus make choices that harm ourselves and others. We miss the mark of love and grace.
So what am I asking?
That we look at those we consider “sinners.” Look at the person you would consider the worst alive. If they are such at all and if the problem is not our own corrupted view of the world, then look at them as people who need grace. Start there. Not with the harm they have done but with the understanding they need all of the things that God offers us: patience, grace, love, and forgiveness.
Do we accept harm to ourselves or others? No. Do we tolerate injustice? No. Do we remove consequences for evil acts? No. Do we stop trying to correct and teach and guide? No. Do we deny our own understanding of right and wrong? No.
But we start from a position where all are equal in need of love and grace.
For this is how God treats us.