Light and Shadows: The Other Aspects of our Shadow Side

Light and Shadows: The Other Aspects of our Shadow Side

Dr. Craig L. Oliver Sr.


Over the past few weeks, we have addressed the dark and shadowy side of life as we live in the light of God's moral perfection. We've dealt with the dark and the shadow side as it denotes our propensity and our proclivity towards sinful and even evil behavior. In 1 John 1:5-10, the Apostle John reminds us:


5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.


As we walk and have fellowship with God in the light, it exposes what is known as our dark or even our shadow side. Whenever a light is upon an object, it casts and creates a shadow. Yet, in these verses, we are not left hopeless or helpless. Instead, the Apostle helps us see that Jesus is, according to John, our righteous advocate before the Father. John asserts that if we would confess our sins and bring our shadow under the shadow of the cross, God will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (verse 9).


Another Dimension

However, there is another dimension of our existence's dark and shadow side. This time, we'll talk about a taboo topic—an aspect of our lives that we all have personally faced. Or, if we haven't encountered it personally, we certainly have witnessed friends and family members, or even others who have endured this dark and shadow


experience in mental health issues and disorders. Peter Scazzero in his book entitled The Emotionally Healthy Leader advocates that there are certain aspects of our shadow side that may be sinful. But conversely, he says that other aspects of our shadow side denote the commonplace weaknesses, pain, turmoil, and trauma that come with us being broken people. Even the writer of the Book of Hebrews gives a distinction between sins that cling to us and weights that hinder us. It says in Hebrews 12:1:


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”


The metaphoric image of weights that bring us down is something that we need to address right now. There are some similarities between these and the aspect of our dark and shadow side, namely mental illness, disorder, or challenges. The month of May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month yet yearly, millions of Americans live in the dark shadow of some form of mental illness or disorder that is weighing them down like a boulder. Even today, it is seen unlike other common diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses that are treated with respect. Sadly, it is not so with mental disorders or even mental illness. There are untold stories of those suffering, feeling weighed down and suffocated. People from all walks of life are affected by this potentially debilitating experience irrespective of their socio-economic status, academic or even intellectual attainments, age, race, political perspective, and religion. We are all impacted by this reality in our urban centers and even in rural communities, we witness individuals as they are cast aside where they are left to their own devices.


There's no time available to discuss the millions of real-life stories of those who experienced fatal outcomes and even the large population of those who are alive who are yet and still silently suffering. They live in the dark shadow of seclusion, and when they decide to appear before others, they paint a smile on their face to conceal the hurt, pain, and despair they feel on the inside.


In the Steeple

The book True Blue: Living with Mental Illness in the Shadow of the Steeple by Pastor Tom and Tracy Monteith shows the imagery that all those dealing with mental illness and disorder are not just necessarily outside of the church. But there's a large segment that deals with it in the church. Though we may preach sermons, study Scripture, engage in small groups, pray, have uplifting times of worship, fast, and declare ourselves to be children of God, many are still going through mental health challenges. Even in the church, many are in the shadow of personal darkness. As people of God who love Him and study His Word, we also have moments where life can sometimes become too much to bear, even beyond everyday life experiences.


Many psychiatrists have declared that we are in a mental health pandemic-- the secondary pandemic that is even more intensified in the wake of the devastation of COVID-19. The past two years have caused many to experience anxiety or even depression. The numbers continue to rise, yet there is still a stigma surrounding these conditions.


Where can those dealing with the overwhelming pressures of life seek refuge? Research has suggested that the first go-to place is the church. The church receptionist serves as the triage for the mentally ill or challenged people because the receptionist or whoever is answering the phone is the first person someone talks to when they are searching for guidance. The church plays a significant role and has become entrusted with the enormous responsibility in helping bring hope and healing to those who are broken, which in biblical terms is called shalom.


The American Psychiatric Association Foundation published an interesting guide entitled Mental Health: A Guide for Faith Leaders. Religion and spirituality play a vital role in healing people experiencing mental health concerns. As a result, people often first turn to faith leaders. The faith community, from a public health perspective, are gatekeepers. When individuals and families face mental health and substance abuse


problems, they are the first responders. They can help dispel misunderstandings, reduce the stigmas associated with mental illness, and even facilitate access to treatment for those in need.


As a community of faith, we’ve been called to come alongside individuals, organizations, and community-based groups as we seek to be a system of support in addressing this problem. I’m convinced that one cannot thoroughly study the gospels and not see the heart of God for those who have been cast aside, or those who have been marginalized. When you read the Bible, you will see that God has a heart for those who are oppressed, depressed, and suffering in silence as they’re dealing with life’s predicament. You cannot read the Bible and not see God on the side of the suffering.

Jesus said:



“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,”

Luke 4:18




Jesus is always on the side of the oppressed and suffering. This is why we must talk about mental illness. By way of definition from the American Psychiatric Association, "mental illness are health conditions involving significant changes in thinking, emotion, and behavior. A combination of these mental illnesses are associated with the stress of problems functioning in social, work, and family activities. Mental health involves effective functioning in daily activities resulting in productive activities in the home, work, or school, resulting in fulfilling relationships and the capacity to adapt, change, and cope with adversity."


The very place that people come to for help, hope, and healing can also be where they find the most hindrance and frustration. The subject of mental illness is rarely discussed, as most churches have shied away from seeing it as a priority in their agenda. However, many people are suffering from this issue.


Some people are suffering in silence in our families, friends, and acquaintances and are desperately looking for shalom—hope and help. Unfortunately, when they come to church, they get the impression that they must hold their chin up and simply praise their way, claim their victory, and rebuke the devil. This might be good advice but for those who are experiencing chemical imbalances in their brains, this might require more solutions on top of prayer, personal support, and accountability.


Living in the Shadows

In the story of Jesus and the Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19), we can see why the lepers lived in the shadow and silently lived with their issues. During the days of Jesus and Biblical antiquity, when a person had an illness such as leprosy and other maladies, they were deemed demonized. Leprosy carried a huge stigma that was synonymous with impurity or divine judgment. So many erroneously believed that lepers had a disease due to them being a victim of sin.


This is why many people who are dealing with mental health issues have a hard time coming to church because many resorts to calling out the demon in them and always want to talk about how they are under spiritual warfare. You can’t look for the devil behind every rock. But just like blood pressure, blood sugar, gout, and other health issues, mental health issues should also be medically treated, not demonized and stigmatized. The brain is the most important organ in the body, and it can also get sick just like other parts.


The African-American community have witnessed countless people who have been victims of vicious stigmatization and discrimination that has led to discouragement. There is no shame in having a mental health condition. The true shame is not getting


treatment to have a better life. Our prayer is that our church becomes one of the leading churches in the African-American community that ends the stigma of those who are suffering in silence from mental disorders and mental challenges.


In the story, the lepers had to keep their distance. They never found a place of acceptance and safety. The very place where they thought they could find security is the same place that has rejected them. In our times, many people find no issue with Jesus but with His people. Those who feel the same as the lepers need a safe space where they are welcome even as they seek healing for their condition.


We have to stop theologizing trauma and other mental health issues. Some people who are sick need more than a Scripture. They need a prescription. Stop trying to theologize trauma that needs therapy. Some might need to sit down and talk to a professional who will listen. People who are sick need more than a Scripture—they need a prescription. They need hope that they will be okay and don't have to live this way. They might have to go through treatment, but they need the hope that they can bring their life back together. They don't have to live in the dark and shadow. They can live an active life.


When we see those going through mental health issues, we need to understand that they are still God’s children. Just like how Jesus commanded the lepers to show themselves to the priest, the church and its people must be a place where people should be given hope even as they are healing. One of the greatest mission fields for the church today is the mission field of supporting individuals who are dealing with mental disorders, and we can all come together to help ourselves and others who might be experiencing these.

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