Biblical, Mental and Emotional Health
Hellen Keller was born to a wealthy family in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in 1880. When she was only nineteen months old, she was struck by an illness diagnosed at the time as brain fever that left her deaf and blind. As a result, her early childhood was disorderly and she had little enrichment from her environment. But when Hellen was six, her parents hired Anne Sullivan, a twenty-year-old teacher who had been blind herself but had recovered her sight through surgery. Anne put one of Helen’s hands in the stream flowing from a pump wither finger wrote the letters w-a-t-e-r in Helen’s other hand. Then Helen realized that communication was possible; she could learn about the things she encountered.
In time, Helen learned to read raised print and to write. When Anne told Helen about a deaf-blind girl in Norway who had learned to speak, Helen indicated that she wanted to learn how to talk, too, so she was taken to the Horace Mann School to receive speech lessons. Eventually, she attended Radcliffe College, from which she graduated cum laude with a B.A. degree. And from then on, she led an active literary life, publishing several books and contributing regularly to magazines and newspapers on the topics of blindness, deafness, social issues, women’s issues, and religion. Helen received numerous awards, distinctions, and honorary doctoral degrees. Her interesting and fruitful life, which has brought inspiration and blessing to many, ended in 1968.
Helen Keller was a highly resilient woman. She wrote, “I have never believed that my limitations were in any sense punishments or accidents. If I had held such a view, I could never have exerted the strength to overcome them. I thank God for my handicaps; for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.
Resilience is the ability to endure illness, change, or misfortune and bounce back with added strength to attain goals unthinkable before the crisis. Resilience has been under serious study in recent years. There is something about human suffering that makes some people emerge with an extra measure of power and strength.
Instances in which people have responded to experiences of adversity with outstanding achievements are not isolated or rare. In 1964, Victor Goertzel, a research psychologist trained at the University of California and at the University of Michigan, and his wife, Mildred, a high school teacher and professional writer, published a book title Cradles of Eminence. They selected four hundred individuals whom they judge to be eminent based upon the number of biographies written about them. Their list included such people as Franklin Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Nelson Rockefeller, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, and William James and Sigmund Freud. Then the Goertzels spent several years analyzing the environment in which these people grew up.
Although they found that some of these prominent people had grown up in warm, supportive environments, they also found that an unexpectedly high proportion of them had hated school and school teachers and had grown up with opinionated parents, failure-prone fathers, and/or domineering mothers. Many others had physical defects or disabilities, and, in fact, many of them said that it was their handicaps that had motivated them to excel.
In 2004, Ted Goertze, Victor and Mildred’s son, published a second edition of the original work, adding three hundred more cases from recent years. Among the personalities added were Robert Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Hermann Hesse, Simone de Beauvior, Walt Disney, Teresa of Calcutta, Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Streisand, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Gates. Overall, these more contemporary people, who had clear goals and very high internal motivations to attain them, came from backgrounds similar to those of the people featured in the first edition.
There are millions of people today who are enduring severe illness, the loss of a dear one, divorce, unemployment, poverty, single-parenting, violence (domestic, criminal, or the result of terrorism), natural disaster, and war. Many survivors of such conditions will resiliently rise with enhanced power, not just to become wealthy or a successful professional, but to enjoy sound mental health and happiness. This is possible only because a loving Creator has given the beings He created the mechanisms and resources to recover from setbacks and build happy lives.
The Bible contains many references to resilient individuals. Once the severe adversity that was holding them back ended, God used them as channels through which He could accomplish His mission. Studying the lives of such men and women may help us to face our own stressful situations by depending upon the invincible power of God.
Resilient Men in the Bible
Noah lived so long that his life is measured in centuries, so he must have experienced all kinds of sorrows. We are told of a few: He witnessed the growing corruption of God’s children. He faced the heavy demands of building an ark while being mocked by virtually everyone. He witnessed the corruption of his own descendants after the Flood. And he even had to curse one of his own sons.
Abraham left his country, his people, and the household of his father to start a journey with an unknown destination. He faced a multitude of issues related to his wife’s barrenness and God’s promise of numerous descendants. He experienced significant tensions with members of his family and household. And he experienced one of the hardest tests of loyalty – the sacrifice of his own teenage son, the son of promise.
Moses endured endless pressures: His Hebrew origin raised tension in the court of Egypt. His killing of the Egyptian foreman forced him to flee in fear and guilt. His negotiations with Pharaoh were difficult and accompanied with terrible plagues. And, for nearly forty years, he had to face the constant rebellion of the Israelites.
In the New Testament, we find that John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, and, according to Jesus, the greatest of the prophets, who lived a humble, committed, and sacrificial life. Despite that, though, his ministry obtained very partial results, and he was unjustly thrown into prison, where his faith was shaken, as we see in the fact that he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who has come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3).
The apostle Paul’s lifestyle changed radically after his conversion. On several occasions, he went to prison because of his faith. He was beaten severely a few times and stoned once. He traveled extensively under perilous conditions, while bearing the constant pressure of concern and responsibility for the early Christian communities.
All of these men and many others mentioned in the bible, suffered intensely. But after each trial, they emerged stronger. They possessed resilience that comes only from God.
Let’s take a closer look at two of the most resilient men in the Bible, Job and Joseph.
Job. This servant of the Lord was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Yet he was subjected to a severe test that was made even more difficult to endure because most people of his day believed that suffering was the direct result of a person’s wrongdoings. While this test was very personal, it also had universal implications; when Satan claimed that Job feared the Lord only because the Lord blessed and protected him, it became a test in which the forces of evil confronted those of God. With God’s permission, Satan destroyed Job’s wealth, family, and health. The evil one arranged for enemies to steal Job’s livestock and his servants, and he sent fire to destroy Job’s crops and workers. Then he sent a powerful wind from the desert to collapse the house where Job’s children were feasting, killing them all. And finally, Satan afflicted Job with painful sores that covered his entire body. Job responded to all of this with complete submission to the Lord’s will. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised (Job 1:21).
But the trials that came to Job didn’t end with his losses of wealth, children, and health. The social network he was left with failed him too. In the midst of his suffering, his wife undercut him further, saying, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).
Job’s experience is the supreme example of patience, long-suffering, and perseverance. His attitude models the ideal reaction of a believer when facing adversity, especially when it’s undeserved. James referred to Job: “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:10, 11). The lesson to which James pointed is twofold: (1) hold on to hope in God who wants the best for you and is compassionate and merciful, and (2) understand that what God does is always good in the long run. That’s why the psalmist said many times: “Wait on the Lord.”
There are times as a Pastor that when someone makes an appointment to see you, that it always spells trouble. Of course, that is not always the case. There is one member when he makes an appointment it is always accompanied by words of encouragement and prayer. Not for himself, but for me. I have almost come to consider him the pastor’s pastor.
But there was that time he came to see me and although his words were encouraging, and he again offered his usual prayer, it was clear to see he was the one suffering. Why because he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. When I asked him how he was coping with this illness. He said, God tightens but does not choke. It was a Spanish proverb usually spoken to encourage someone undergoing difficulties.
In this life, we may have to endure a lot of pain, but we can always have the assurance that God has something much better in store for us. Job’s response to his friends’ philosophical arguments reveals that he believed this. He said, “I know that my Redeemers lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” (Job 19:25, 26).
Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son had at least two significantly painful experiences that completely changed the direction of his life. The first involved his brothers. Joseph may have lacked tact when he told his brothers about his dreams and displayed his many-colored coat, but the price they made him pay was out of proportion to his offense: they determined to kill him in cold blood. Reuben intervened and prevented the murder, but then Joseph’s brothers stripped the special coat off of him and sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants, who, in turn, sold Joseph as a slave in Egypt.
Then Joseph was unjustly put in prison. While he was faithful serving Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Potiphar’s wife tried repeatedly to seduce him. Eventually, enraged by Joseph’s rejections of her advances, she accused him of attempting to assault her, and he was thrown in prison.
Both instances resulted in very unfair actions that Joseph didn’t deserve. However, he bounced back from them, and, in the end, they opened the path that led joseph to a position in the government of Egypt second only to that of Pharaoh himself. There Joseph was able to fulfill the great mission of saving many people from death, included his own family.