Where was God in this? Part IV, Hannah

Depression not moving

On Tuesday 21st July in a conversation on Facebook on a discussion on “How Churchy are you” three of us got sidelined into abuse in charismatic circles, how people had been prayed for for healing or prayed for for deliverance for neuro-divergent or mental health issues. And then when nothing happened the person being prayed for, who did not ask for healing anyway, gets the blame. “You were not healed because you did not have enough faith,” or similar words, is how this narrative goes.

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Diagnosis of mental and neurological conditions or even being LGBTQ+ as demon possession or oppression by people with no psychiatric or psychological training is a problem in charismatic circles. Victim blaming for these and for not being healed when prayed for these and for physical and medical conditions is another.Not that I am having a go at charismatics, I am part of that tradition. Being Anglican, Evangelical (but not the right wing kind) and Charismatic in my theology and praxis. The Charismatics, in my view aught to be stronger on the gift of discernment.

My experience of this has been with both being autistic and having depression following my 2006 accident. That hung around for years, if someone in the church had seen my behaviour as something to be helped and not something to be disciplined. I was banned from being part of a home group in this period. It is only recently that I have heard that my behaviour was consistent with having PTSD, if only someone had pointed that out at the time.

People with depression being treated badly has a long history, right back to the early parts of the Bible. Back then psychology was not a thing. They did not have the language we have to talk about mental health, but the issues were still there. Take the story of Hannah:

[Elkanah] had two wives. The name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

1 Samuel 1:2,

Hannah is ridiculed by Peninnah because she has no children, and this goes on year after year after year. Hannah’s behaviour is consistent with that of someone who has chronic depression. She is stuck.

So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

ibid

Where is God in this story? Here is someone with mental health issues, taking her problems to God, it is no surprise that her behaviour is not the sort of thing that goes down well in the temple back then, as it also is in churches these days. The High Priest Eli wants Hannah put out of the temple, but at least he listens to Hannah, so many these days try to silence those who do not fit their stereotype of what Christian behaviour is supposed to be like. Depressed? Cheer up.

This type of leadership in the name of Christianity makes me sick. In the story of Hannah God is on the side of the person with the mental health issues, Hannah. Not even Eli comes out of this well, when he blesses Hannah she replies, “Let your servant find favour in your eyes.” (verse 18). Even in blessing Hannah, Eli cannot look on he favourably. Abuse of those who do not fit in through their mental health goes way back. God is not on the side of the priest Eli, the abusive Peninnah, or even Elkanah, who does nothing to stop one wife abusing the other. God is on the side of the person who has mental health issues, is abused, and does not fit in the worship pattern. Hannah.

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