The Mental Instability of Christ

If the Lord Jesus Christ stood here today, teaching as he once did, there is little doubt that he would be labeled as mentally ill. Mark writes that even Christ’s family once considered him insane, or as the ESV states, “They were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Little has changed in the almost 2000 years that have passed since then and therefore, that label would stick today as well. In fact, if we look at the evolution of psychological diagnoses and apply them as they stand today, Christ would be classified specifically for several of the behaviors he exhibited throughout his earthly ministry. Not only are these characteristics unfair, but they can show a few of the flaws that now form the modern practice of psychological analysis.
Noting circumstances like Christ’s tendency to withdraw at times, react – some would say overreact – strongly to circumstances he disagreed with (like overturning the tables in the temple) some could make the case that Christ was experiencing from an adjustment disorder or a mild form of bipolar. In either case, though, our limited information would prohibit such an outright diagnosis. Therefore, one could formally stipulate that Christ suffered from an unspecified mental disorder (300.9 according to the DSM-V) because certainly, he was suffering from something. Those diagnoses are vague, or at least inconclusive, though.
Instead, if one is going to diagnosis Jesus Christ according to psychological standards of today, we must look for something more definitive. Considering the limited information we have about Christ’s life and ministry, psychologists are likely to turn to two probable diagnoses:
  1. Delusional Disorder (Grandiose type): Defined by an inflated sense of worth, knowledge, power, or identity, one could argue that Christ demonstrated each of these. Jesus Christ presented himself as God and on that basis alone some would be quick to apply this diagnosis. Moreover, he sought disciples to follow him, had the propensity to talk in parables, and presented himself as one who with complete authority making their diagnosis complete.
  2. Narcissism: Today, few understand the narcissism diagnosis. Because so many people demonstrate this behavior it has become harder to recognize it, but I digress. Similar to the characteristics of a delusional disorder, narcissists have a high view of self characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance and belief that he or she is someone extremely special. However, such a diagnosis is stronger because in diagnosing Christ some would argue that he meets the criteria by his sense of entitlement, his arrogant behaviors, and his need for admiration.
To be fair, when we look at how Christ responded to certain circumstances, his claims about who he is, and continued confrontation against cultural norms, it is easy to understand why some would assert that mental illness was part of who he was. At the very least, most would agree with Christ’s only family by saying, “He is out of his mind.”
Interestingly enough, when context and truth are considered, Christ demonstrated behavior that can be classified not only as mentally sound, but as the one who defines the standard for what should be considered normal, prudent, and sensible. Consider the episode of Matthew 12 when Christ confronts the Pharisees for their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. In that episode, Christ demonstrates an acute awareness of who he is (God) and his responsibility (to teach, to judge, and to save). This is not a man of delusions, but he exhibits soundness in his assertions at that moment, which are further substantiated by his death, burial, and resurrection. Reflecting on the gospels there are moments when Christ’s emotions are recorded. There is anger over the people’s defamation of God or indignation towards God’s mission, he shows sadness at the death of Lazarus, and recognizes the need to withdraw from the crowds for his own time. In each of these circumstances, Christ presents as one who is in complete control of who he is.
Therefore, while the world would declare Christ to be mentally unstable, and likely in need of medication, he is more stable than any of us. In a discussion on wisdom, Paul cites Isaiah 29:14, saying, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Throughout the context of this verse (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:4) there is a complete discussion that concludes the following:
  • The wisdom of the world is foolishness compared to the wisdom of God.
  • God will confound the wisdom of the world.
While the world would declare Christ unstable, his activity would demonstrate otherwise, and thus it serves as yet an example of God would use what is considered foolishness by the world to discredit the wisdom of the world.

Secular psychology is infiltrating the teachings of the church, finding itself as an equal or greater authority than that of Scripture. The trend is concerning, especially when we consider that Christ himself would have been labeled as a mentally unstable person. That revelation accentuates the great need for discernment when employing secular psychology in daily living, and so, this starts a series of articles that I plan to do in the upcoming weeks on that very topic: examining some aspects of secular psychology from a biblical worldview.

Photo “Orange Mood” courtesy of user Stefano Corso and Flickr.