The following is a brief exposition of Ed Welch’s pamphlet on bipolar disorder. Most of us experience unremarkable highs and lows. In the case of those with bipolar disorder, however, moods fluctuate from extreme lows (depression) and extreme highs (mania). Scripture is as relevant to bipolar disorder as it is to anything else. It is important to note that neither mania, nor anything else, can make you sin or keep you from obeying, even though it may indeed create obstacles for the latter and unique opportunities for temptation in the case of the former. In the words of Ed Welch:
“Psychiatric theories tend to see human beings are merely physical. Scripture portrays us as both physical and spiritual. Physically, we consist of brain, bone, muscles, and an amazing array of biochemicals. Spiritually, we are made in the image of God. We can know him and imitate him. We know the difference between right and wrong, and we are responsible for our moral decisions. Brain problems cannot erase these essential features of human nature.
What brain problems can do is cause our minds to race, leave us sleepless yet energetic, and make our thinking chaotic. But notice that these are not explicitly moral problems. They are neither commanded nor condemned in Scripture. Brain problems cannot force us to ignore advice, live autonomously and impulsively, or move outside God-ordained sexual boundaries. They cannot cause us to follow our own desires at the expense of loving God and neighbor because these are either commanded or prohibited in Scripture.”
Ed Welch does concede that there is a physiological basis for mania. This can cause us to have impaired judgment, self-centeredness, irritability, and can make it difficult to resist engaging in impulsive, reckless or risky behavior with sex, drugs or money, but mania is never an excuse for these things. Welch takes the orthodox Christian approach of admitting to God that we are undeserving of his grace but in desperate need of it. He has promised to give grace to those who ask for it. Indeed, asking for grace is itself a grace from God, since he takes the initiative in causing us to repent. Welch insists that this should be done even before medication is attempted. We must ask God to forgive us of our sin, regardless of whether or not sin was committed during a normal or pathological mental state.
Admit whatever sins you may have committed against loved ones while in a manic state and ask them to forgive you for those particular things. Welch also advises to ask them how they felt during those periods. You need to know how they experienced your mania just as they need to know how you experience yours.
“Mania can be very confusing. When you look back on it, you’re afraid you said and did many embarrassing things. If you ended up in a psychiatric ward, your embarrassment is coupled with shame. You’d prefer to avoid any discussion of it. Those who love you are also confused by it, and they also might want to avoid raising the issue.It’s in this context that you need to put words on distressing events. While you take responsibility for your moral choices, you also should describe the other changes you experienced – the racing and fragmented thoughts, the energy that made it hard for you to stop and relax. This will help you and your relationship with others. For yourself, the more you understand mania, the better you can manage it and even grow through it. For others, the more they understand the more helpful and patient they will be. Your challenge is to find everyday words for your experiences that are very difficult to put into words. If the words aren’t coming, get some help. There are resources in every bookstore and on numerous Internet sites. Each story will be unique, and you won’t find many stories that bring a radically biblical perspective to mania, but in those stories you will find words for yourself.”
Finally, Welch advises thoroughly exploring wisdom literature such as Proverbs and James, in order to acquire divine advice on the painful and destructive consequences that can come from impulsive behavior.