Meloncholy and the Infinite Madness: Tucson’s Horror and the Brokenness of Mental Illness
The horror from Tucson is unlikely to leave our minds anytime soon. Fine public servants—including a Democratic congresswoman and a conservative judge—were despicably shot by Jared Loughner in broad daylight. Though bad enough, these casualties did not encompass the entire carnage. A sweet little girl also fell to this man’s gunfire, never to rise again, at least in this life.
The gunning down of fellow citizens and of public servants presents us with evil as old as Cain’s killing of Abel. That we as human beings possess such an ingrained tendency toward the destruction of our fellow men is appalling. Murdering human life attacks not only the murdered nor even humanity as a whole. Murder comprises an assault on God. Humanity is God’s creation and the destruction of innocent life attacks life’s Creator. Even more, each person killed in Tucson was created in the image of his or her Creator. I do not pause enough to marvel at the majestic thought that we possess the divine image, that God is pleased to grant us such a magnificent privilege. Nor do I often enough recall the wonder such a privilege conveys upon every person I meet, regardless of class, ethnicity, rank, religion, or politics. The divine image should raise our view of human beings every bit as much as sin lowers our understanding of fallen human nature.
Thus we must take this time to weep with those who weep. We must now re-assert the God-based dignity of our fellow men. Even more, we must proclaim our love for the image-bearer that mirrors our love for the Image-Giver.
We should not use this tragedy for crass ideological gain. The attempts to score cheap political points have been as predictable as they have been pathetic. Loughner does not appear to represent ideology and rhetoric gone over the line. His YouTube rants about mind control through grammar, his love for works such as The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf, and a friend’s description of his political views as left-leaning all point not to a coherent political view coldly carried out but a derangement that knows no party. Though we should use this moment to reiterate our common humanity and to plead for civility in our disagreements, we should not raise this killer to even the low-level of ideological hack.
Instead, I hope this tragedy will begin to focus on one more issue of which I’ve heard too little thus far: mental illness. Our world is one of tattered relationships. These broken bonds include those of family, friendships, and with the natural world. Yet often the antagonism lay within the self. Too many of us fight melancholy, paranoia, and other emotions that sometimes seem beyond our control. Whether these be caused by our own sinful deeds, chemical imbalances, or a combination of both, such feelings can become the impetus to tempt us toward actions destructive to ourselves and those around us. We become isolated from loved ones and from the world in general. Loneliness then only feeds our growing hatred of self. Such hatred and hopelessness whispers the most terrible things in our ear, giving the most deplorable solutions, solutions spoken from the depths of Hell.
From the early picture of Loughner, Hell seems to have whispered from his darkness. Paranoid and rejected, Loughner listened to the hopelessness that sought forced company in his own escape by means of murderous destruction. Such melancholy is not foreign, at least not to me. I have seen depression all too close. Like murder, it denies the goodness of man, both as created by God and as made in his image. Like murder, it ultimately seeks to destroy this good, created image. It does so because it sees lies in the place of the truth. It sees hopelessness where there is hope. It sees the irredeemable where salvation is offered.
In depression and mental illness, the justification offered in Christ is shown to be so much more than a legal term, a manner by which to categorize persons’ status. Justification presents the deepest declaration of peace and acceptance to an embattled, lonely soul. It becomes the basis toward healing the broken relationships within the self and with the world around us because the ultimate relationship has been restored. In union with Christ, in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and in the Christian community that creates, true healing can occur. I pray for such restoration in Loughner’s life just as I pray for comfort for the families of his victims. May God use this time for many purposes. Yet I hope among those purposes is a call to those broken by their own internal strife, a call to the healing victory of the Cross over all that haunts us.
Amen and thank you for writing this Adam. I think you bring up two incredibly important points. First the insensitivity and immaturity on both sides for using this tragedy for “ideological” (though “political” might be a better word–“ideological” assumes people are fighting for ideas, sadly that often is not the case). Second, that we as believers ought to desire ultimate mercy even for someone like Loughner, when we need to remember that apart from the gracious restraining hand of God we are all capable of what he did and we too can only find peace in this life in the justification offered us in Christ. When we see ourselves above someone like Loughner, we reveal that we have, at that moment, misplaced the gospel.
Indeed, a very poignant write-up. One of the most powerful things you touch on is that though Loughner must be held accountable to the law of the land, he can still be redeemed. He is still alive, fortunately, and he is not beyond God’s reach and power.
Thank you both for your comments. Drew, good point with ideology. I also heartily agree that we should be more thankful of God’s work in our own lives than to think ourselves superior to Loughner.
Ezra’s point is very good because it captures a tension in our lives as Christians. We live within political communities whose God-declared duty is to honor good and punish evil; thus Loughner must be held accountable before the state for his evil actions. On the other hand, we do pray for redemption iand healing in his life that transcend the honors and punishments of human governments. It tests our capacity to love; I hope we rise to the moment.
Adam, I think you make helpful points overall in this article, but I’m concerned that discussing Loughner’s behavior in terms of “melancholy” or “depression” is too simplified, and could lead to further stigmatizing of those who do live with depression or other mental illnesses of one type or another.
Depression in itself does not lead people to slaughter strangers in broad daylight. Loughner’s drastic actions and the types of rants he made public online and the testimonies of people who encountered him indicate that while depression and paranoia were among his symptoms, his mental illness is far more severe, pathologically anti-social to an extreme. His illness (unlike some forms of depression) probably was not *caused* by, though it was surely affected along the way by, sinful deeds he has done. It is most likely genetic, or caused by brutal sins against him at a young age (though we haven’t heard about a history of abuse yet). It is tragic that in Loughner’s 22 years, his family and community were insufficiently educated about mental illness to recognize that he was not simply experiencing painful emotions, but was in the grip of a devastating sickness of the mind with a large constellation of conspicuous symptoms. I think it’s important to clarify that Loughner’s actions are in no way characteristic of those experiencing depression or of most sufferers of most mental illnesses.
Indeed, regardless, we should pray for his healing, as you said, as well as wisdom for those who must judge him in months to come.
Rachel, I appreciate your insight. Certainly, there are many differences regarding mental illness. Loughner’s situation likely is not relegated only to severe depression, though of course as you point out we do not have a full picture of his mental state or history. Where the path toward these actions began, whether with depression, sin, schizophrenia, abuse, and/or some combination of these and more we do not know. Depression certainly seems to have been a part of it but is almost certainly not the whole story. Of course Loughner’s case, therefore, should never make us think most persons struggling with mental illness are threats for mass violence. I never intended such a thing and hope the reasonable reader would not take the piece that way. Just as arguing for greater political civility should not stigmatize a political party or ideology, so I hope seeking greater help and understanding for mental illness will not equate all such persons with this heinous act.
But since mental illness, including depression, seems to be involved, I think we can take this time to consider how to think about and help mental illness in all its forms, including types and severities that don’t directly include Lougher’s case. Doing so is not intended to simplify the reasons for Loughner’s actions but to take this time to reach out to a much wider group of those who either struggle with forms of mental illness or who are doing the painful and often unsupported act of loving of those persons in their darkest times. The reasons and results behind each case of mental illness are complex and unique; however, I think sin and Satan can and do speak into such situations with lies like the ones I mention in the article.
These lies are most fundamentally refuted in the Gospel. I pray that the fact Christ’s offer of healing can reach someone as troubled as Loughner should be added encouragement to those who either know someone or themselves struggle with less complex or extreme forms of illness. God, through both direct means and through intermediaries can heal even the most terrible troubles that we face.
Thanks again for your comment and I hope this is clarifying and helpful in addressing your concerns.
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