Strength For His People, A Ministry for the Families of the Mentally Ill

Strength For His People was written by a minister, Dr. Steven Waterhouse, who has a brother with schizophrenia. The book has helped more than 30,000 families, and has endorsements from Dr. E. Fuller Torrey and Focus on the Family.

Strength For His People offers a Biblical perspective on schizophrenia which will be of interest to counselors, ministers, religious leaders, family members, and chaplains. Topics include an explanation of the differences between schizophrenia and demon possession, the failure of churches in responding to mental illness; evidence that schizophrenia is primarily a medical not moral problem; a theological treatment as to why God permits suffering; the argument for intrinsic human worth not being based on achievement; and studies on how to handle family emotions such as, depression, guilt, anger at God, fears, isolation, denial, and family conflict.

The following expands on the topics covered in Strength For His People

Medical Observations

Schizophrenia runs in family lines

  • Adoption studies in Oregon, Denmark, and Israel, establish that family environment is not the critical factor
  • MRI studies show enlarged ventricles in some twin comparisons.

Mental Illness is not a myth

  • Dysfunctional homes do not necessarily cause mental illness, it also strikes in stable homes
  • Drug Usage - Many mentally ill people have never taken drugs.
  • Defense for a crime - Moral responsibility can be detected when one practices cover-up,
    blame shifting, and moral indignation when he or she is offended by a sin. Most mentally ill people exhibit such traits of moral responsibility even if it is harder for them to do what is right because of their distorted thinking. Millions of mentally ill people have never been charged with a crime and are not faking it in case they might need a future excuse for one.

Divine chastisement or demonic influence - (see rebuttal, below). There may be cases of
dual-diagnosis just as mentally ill people might also take drugs, but most of the time demons can be ruled out.

Mental Illness and the Bible

  • Most Bible references to mental illness are false accusations designed to stigmatize or isolate another (David, 1 Sam. 21:12-15; Jesus, Mark 3:21; Paul, Acts 26:24-25).
  • Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 4. This example may show that God might use mental illness as a chastisement, but we may not generalize Nebuchadnezzar's example to all. Furthermore, the delusion that one is an animal is an extraordinarily rare disorder. It is definitely not a common symptom of schizophrenia.
  • Deut. 28:27-29,34 mentions "madness" as a divine chastisement

Note that all items in these verses are medical problems (boils, tumors, scabs, blindness).
This means "madness" is also a medical problem even if sometimes God uses it to discipline.

If "madness" is one way of chastisement, then the conclusion that an individual
case of mental illness is God's chastisement is still no more universally transferable to all than would be boils, hemorrhoids, or the itch. In fact, baldness can be a sign of God's wrath in Scripture. Would we want to make a universal principal that all cases of baldness are chastisement?

No given medical problem is ever a universal sign of God's chastisement. Only deep
rebellion in ones life suggests the possibility of chastisement. A definite conclusion that another is being disciplined by God is almost always a private matter between the afflicted one and the Holy Spirit.

Mental Illness and Demons - Are mentally ill people demon-possessed?

  • In the New Testament demons spoke in rational dialogue. Untreated people with schizophrenia speak in "word-salads".
  • Demons have an aversion to Christ. Mentally ill people often want spiritual help.
  • Demons might give supernatural knowledge to their host. Mentally ill people never exhibit clairvoyance.
  • Assuming demons to be secretive, we presume those who claim to be demon-possessed are not.
  • Supernatural phenomena are indications of evil spirits not mental illness.
  • If medicine alleviates the problems, it was not demons.
  • In the case of Mark 5:15 the restoration to a "right mind" may only mean the former demoniac was no longer suicidal or violent. There may not be any reference to schizophrenia. If a "right mind" does refer to a healing from insanity, then we still may not view all cases of mental illness as caused by demons. In the New Testament, demons cause epilepsy, deafness, blindness, muteness, and suicidal feelings. Would anyone want to diagnose demons in all modern cases of these problems?

It is certainly possible that some who are demon-possessed have been misdiagnosed as mentally ill and placed in mental hospitals, but the classic symptoms of schizophrenia are different from New Testament demon possession. (For symptoms of New Testament demon possession see Waterhouse, Steven. Demons or Mental Illness Amarillo, TX: Westcliff Press, 2003).

Mental Illness and Society

Mental Illness overlaps with the work of an astounding number of leaders (politicians, judges, attorneys, police, teachers, doctors and other medical professionals, chaplains of all kinds [military, hospital, prison], social workers, college professors, and millions of families. Four out of ten long-term hospital beds are taken by schizophrenia alone! The fact that A Beautiful Mind won the movie of the year shows society's interest in this problem. Opportunities to evangelize and give attention to the Bible's counsel are great.

Even if medicine is necessary, it is not sufficient for the abundant life. The non-Christian would often realize this. A psychiatrist once said, "I can tune the piano, but only God can teach a mentally ill person to make music again."

The Bible gives answers for pastoral counseling, nevertheless, misdiagnosis of a problem can lead to misapplication of the Bible in pastoral counseling. The point may be true, but it will not help if it addresses a problem the person does not have. We must understand mental illness and its impact upon families before giving counsel. Even if a pastor cannot immediately help the person in a crisis, the family remains within the domain of pastoral care at all times. This is true of a one in a coma after a car accident or a psychiatric breakdown. The relationship must be preserved from the beginning, and the mentally ill person must be helped after medical treatment has improved thinking. Families of people with schizophrenia (2,000,000) have by and large been overlooked by the ministry. The Bible teaches about the emotional needs and philosophical questions faced by families of the mentally ill. Christianity could make a great ministry contribution. When we finally understand the problem, it is not hard to apply the Bible. This is especially true if we do not overlook the families. Even the mentally ill person might benefit from pastoral care after medicine has improved thinking.

Problems and Spiritual Questions Among Families of the Mentally Ill

  • Guilt of Various Kinds

    Families have false guilt over causing a child to become mentally ill

    They have true guilt over treatment of those with the exasperating behaviors involved in mental illness (by survey, 53% feel guilty over harsh treatment of a relative). Unsaved people need faith in Christ to remove guilt before God as Judge. Believers need confession to remove guilt before God as Father.

  • Fears

    Mental illness in a home causes fears among relatives that other families do not face (by survey50% worry about their relative becoming lost on the streets, 95% worry about care after parental death, 10% of those with schizophrenia do kill themselves.

  • Anger

    Many are angry with God for allowing the mental breakdown of a relative (40% by survey). The Bible allows respectful venting (even Jesus asked "Why?"). However, we must develop a philosophy of suffering (see Waterhouse, Steven. Suffering, What Good Is It? Amarillo TX, Westcliff Press, 2003).

  • Marriage Counseling

    A relative's mental illness causes marital disagreements.

  • Depression

    One out of 13 relatives report a suicide attempt because care-giving for a mentally ill person is too tough (See Waterhouse, Steven. Depression, Biblical Causes and Counseling, Westcliff Press, Amarillo TX 2003).

  • Stigma, isolation, loneliness

    The worst emotional adjustment arises in families who withdraw from church, though many of them do just that. The combination of shame plus the awkwardness that church leaders have in counseling these families leads to withdrawal from church. They need fellowship.

  • Questions about suffering

    What good can come from suffering? Why does God allow a terrible disorder like schizophrenia? Why my family?

  • Questions about human value

    What good is a person who will never achieve by societal standards of achievement (marriage, education, career, income)?

  • Questions about demons

    Do demons cause mental behaviors? What are the voices? Falsely thinking ones relative is demon-possessed causes a poor family response to a relative's mental illness.


The Bible prescribes answers, but Christian leaders must first describe the exact nature of the problem. Pastors might not be able to help a mentally ill person in a crisis mode, but they can preserve the relationship until stabilization. At all times the families are the church's responsibility. Once the problem is understood, the Bible has great relevance to the needs and questions among families of the mentally ill. These families comprise a huge, overlooked target group for evangelism, and helping them also brings interaction and ministry with unsaved leaders in many diverse professions. Evangelicals lose opportunities from failing to address this need through awkwardness, ignorance, and withdrawal. In reality, there is a wide open door for potential ministry.

For copies of Strength For His People ($4, postpaid) or other Westcliff publications, contact Westcliff Press, on line at, telephone (806)359-6362, at P.O. Box 1521, Amarillo TX 79105.



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