Biblical, Mental and Emotional Health
Pastor Carlos Rando an evangelist from South America, held an evangelistic series in a church in Madrid, Spain, in the 1990’s. His program consisted of a stress management seminar, followed by some lectures on the Bible and its message. Early in the series, he asked each person present to write on a piece of paper, in descending order, the top three sources of the stress they faced. Pastor Rando said he would use the survey results to introduce the following day’s message.
Helping to collect and count the responses, I heard someone observe that Pastor Rando had already prepared transparencies (the age before PowerPoint) that presented relationships as the number-one stressor for the audience. “But, Pastor Rando,” the deacon objected, “we haven’t finished counting yet!”
“Well” the evangelist said, “I’ve done this so many times and in so many places that I already know what the result will be – relationships, money, and health; or relationships, health, and money. Relationships are always first.”
I find it very interesting that people tend to be the principal source of stress – oftentimes, it’s someone close to us: spouse, child, boss, neighbor, relative, friend, colleague, supplier, client, and so forth. Psychologists, counselors, and social workers know too well that when people come for help, they are likely to have problems with either self or others.
People can also bring much joy and satisfaction to our lives. When we achieve satisfying interactions with others, we experience happiness and emotional development. But supportive and successful relationship don’t happen without a reasonable investment of time, effort, and care. This includes kindness, humbleness, and the ability to receive and to give, to disclose and to endure, to confess and to forgive. The Bible offers endless counsel on maintaining optimal relationships. In this chapter we will discuss some of those passages and the principles they reveal that may help us in our relationships.
The effects of positive relationships are overwhelming. John Robbins, the only son of the cofounder of Baskin-Robbins ice-cream franchise, wrote a book titled Healthy at 100. He obtained a large amount of data about groups of people known for their longevity, by studying the inhabitants of Abkhazia, an autonomous region of Georgia on the western side of the Caucasus mountain range, the people of the Vilcabamba Valley, a remote area of Ecuador, isolated high in the Andes near the border with Peru; the Hunzans, who lived in a fertile alley surrounded by twenty-thousand foot-high mountains in north Pakistan, near the border with China; and the citizen of the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, who live in small villages scattered over the southernmost island of Japan. The people who live in these areas enjoy much greater levels of health and longevity than the rest of the world averages.
In spite of the difference in geographic location and culture, the diets and lifestyles of these people are remarkably similar. Furthermore, they all are privileged to have excellent social interactions. Family and community relationships are optimal, with constant exchange of kind, cordial, and loving messages. Life is free from competition. The people regard the elderly with profound respect – almost reverence – for their maturity, wisdom, and contribution to the community. And delinquency is practically nonexistent.
Good relationships transmit the right kinds of moods, preventing depression, aiding in avoiding conflict and violence, and promoting togetherness. They also help us avoid intolerable stress. Social competence is a precious asset in human relations in general. This kind of skill allows us to gain a deep knowledge of people’s feeling and motives, and enables fruitful work in groups and solution through negotiation.
On the other hand, the mere absence of social interaction is problematic, and defective relationships bring much unhappiness and grief to everyone around. John Cacioppo, a professor at the University of Chicago, and his colleagues recruited subjects for a study of the association between loneliness and quality of sleep, the first study of its kind. They selected individuals in the upper and lower 20 percent brackets of loneliness as measured by the UCLA_R loneliness Scale. Then they studied their sleep patterns over a period of two weeks, having them each spend two nights in the research center with multiple sensors attached. The data analysis showed significant differences between the two groups. The participants who were lonely displayed poorer sleep efficiency, spending more time awake after sleep onset than did the participants who weren’t lonely. In other studies, loneliness was seen as significantly reducing the probability of physical exercise in middle-aged people and as accelerating the rate of physiological deterioration in twenty-year-olds.
But the Quality of our relationships means much more than effectiveness and satisfaction. God has given us relationships so that we, His creatures, may give and receive love, care, concern, and empathy. That is why it is a topic on ongoing consideration in the Bible.
Humbleness and Gentleness
The Bible contains an abundance of admonitions about the value of nourishing personal interactions. Six of the Ten Commandments have to do with maintaining right social interactions. The Bible also contains many stories that can teach us valuable lessons through their depiction of how people interact.
Paul considered teaching the members of the early church how to preserve the Christlike spirit that should characterize Christ’s followers to be one of the primary tasks of his ministry. That’s why his letters contain counsel for husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, free men and slaved, church leaders and parishioners, government leaders and citizens. Paul insisted on Jesus’ love message to the early church: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8; cf. Galatians 5:14). And on numerous occasions, he promoted love, service, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, forgiveness, hospitality, truthfulness, fairness, peacefulness, submission, readiness to encourage, openness to being counseled, respect, tolerance, and peacemaking. All of these qualities have to do with establishing, maintaining, and enhancing interpersonal connections.
Paul wrote several times on the themes of humbleness and submissiveness; “Be completely humble and gentile (Ephesians 4:2). “Submit to one another” (Ephesians 5:21). He regarded these themes as important because one of the strongest barriers to positive human interactions is the universal struggle for power. It was present in his day, and it’s part of our lives now. It touches families, friendships, work places, and churches. Any cooperative project runs the risk of power struggles – one or more parties may attempt to gain control over the others in order to satisfy their own needs. Interestingly, many of those in need of power act as they do because of their low self-esteem. Abusers, for example, have less self-esteem than most other people. Our self-esteem increases when we realize how much God values us.
Social psychologist who study how people relate to each other have noted an interesting fact: When two people talk to each other or when someone does something in the presence of another person, they tend to display either a top-down or bottom up attitude. This is evidenced through the kinds of words they use and the nonverbal cues they display. If two people show a top-down attitude, the interaction may be balanced but at the risk of discomfort because of the unequal roles. But when the interaction is truly a bottom-up on both sides, the parties involved attempt to build each other up, to empower each other. This kind of interaction is close to what Paul called for when he encouraged Christians to submit to one another. The result is likely to be a smooth relationship, with a full sharing of power and responsibilities.
First Samuel 25 tells the story of a woman, Abigail, who was able to save dozens of lives through her remarkable social competence. Abigail was married to a man named Nabal, which means “fool.” Nabal was very rich, but he was also mean and socially illiterate – he had no tact and no understanding of the realities of life. Various English translations use the following appellatives to describe him: Churlish, harsh, brutish, rough, crude, as well as an evil man, and badly behaved. Nabal’s nature must have provided much fodder for conversation in his household. I can imagine one of his servants saying, “He’s such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”
David who had defended Nabal’s interests at no cost to him, sent emissaries to Nabal to request – very kindly and respectfully – food for his soldiers. But Nabal refused to give the soldiers anything, and he treated them with disrespect. As soon as Abigail heard about her husband’s preposterous behavior, she devised an emergency plan. Note some of the steps she took.
- Her immediate action: she arranged for the servants to give David’s men about a ton of food, and commodities they needed most.
- Her nonverbal messages: when she saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before him with her face to the ground.
- Her speech: she expressed her good wishes with language that exalted God and called for His blessings upon David and his descendants.
- Her acknowledgment of Nabal’s folly: in her report to David she called her own husband “wicked” and a “fool.”
- Her respectful language: Abigail constantly referred to David as “my master” and to herself as “your servant.”
- Her appeal: She begged for forgiveness on behalf of her husband and invited David not to burden his conscience with the blood of many innocent people.
David granted Abigail’s petition, and Nabal died of shock when he heard what had ben about to happen to him and his household. This is how Abigail prevent a great number of casualties. Soon after this, David took Abigail as his wife.