“Why did God give me mental illness?”

19 12 2010

This is Chabad.org’s answer to the difficult question of “Why did God give me mental illness?,” a subset of the age-old question of, “Why does God cause good people to suffer?” or the slightly easier, “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”

If we think that this–“Why did God give me mental illness?”–is a good question to ask (see below for an alternative), then their answer isn’t bad. It boils down to:

1. God gives each of us both challenges and the means to overcome them. So God isn’t setting you up for failure any more than he sets anyone else up for failure. You may just have greater challenges than others, but that also means that God gave you better skills and talents for overcoming them. I found this thought very comforting when I was younger. I learned something similar about the Akeidah [binding of Isaac] when I was studying that in school–God tests those whom he is sure can pass the test. God only asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, his “only” son, Isaac, because he knew that Abraham wouldn’t.

2. God hopes that we’ll use these challenges and our talents at overcoming them to help not just ourselves, but also others. We may help others who don’t share our problems, as well as those who do. That was a huge motivation for me to start this blog and it also motivates each and every infrequent post. I need to take my pain and suffering and use it, as much as possible, to (a) show others that they aren’t alone and (b) show others that hope is possible, when I am feeling hope. (I only feel hope sometimes, but such is life.)

Of course, this answer is only good if we think that God gives us mental illnesses for a reason, as opposed to a more laissez-faire attitude towards theology, which is more like: God may be ultimately in charge, but he doesn’t make small decisions like deciding why I got depressed instead of my neighbor, Ms. Perfect. Good things happen and bad things happen and that’s how God wants the world to work, but he doesn’t muck around in the details. I have mental illness because of a combination of biological vulnerabilities and a crappy childhood, and it really sucks, but that’s just how it is. God lets bad things happen, but He doesn’t do them to us. (Likewise, God lets good things happen, but He doesn’t personally choose us to be the recipients of dumb luck.) Sometimes, it is easier to think this way. Certainly, when discussing the Holocaust or why innocent children die, it’s easier to think that God just kind of lets the cards fall where they may, based on human agency, in regards to the little details.

I am pretty sure that both attitudes towards God’s intervention in the world are defensible from a traditional Jewish perspective, but feel free to disagree.

Do you have other answers to “Why did God give me mental illness,” or think that Chabad.org’s answer is good, bad, or neutral? How do you deal with theology and your struggles in life?