“Dolores told me she…she had an insect living inside her brain. She could feel it clicking across her skull, just…pulling the wires, just for fun.”
– Teddy Daniels, Shutter Island
Every day, Teddy wears the external perception of a temperate, earnest federal marshal. Every day, Teddy staggers around the internal landmines of alcoholism and PTSD. Every day, Teddy’s hit by the shrapnel of his deceased wife’s memory. These infected, invisible wounds decay his mind, developing a hive for mental illness to thrive. Teddy is a POW.
Like Teddy, Christians with mental illness feel like prisoners sentenced to life on an island surrounded by oceans of anger and misunderstanding. Caged by guilt, sadness and confusion are like wardens. Pestilence purges feelings of Christ abundant life. Followers of the way aren’t supposed to feel this way.
Friendly fire from some Christians affirms guilt’s cage. From their misinformed viewpoint, mental illness springs from sin. These spiritual problems should be solved by prayer plus faith. Some Christians refuse to believe the church is under siege from mental illness.
Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) believed an elaborate role-playing game bringing Teddy’s labyrinth of delusions to life would help. Dr. Cawley never blamed Teddy for his mental illness. In the same way, Jesus never stigmatized those suffering from any illness. It would be cruel to heal people from physical ailments but leave those afflicted with psychological aches untouched like lepers.
If Jesus can’t understand and identify with those with invisible wounds, than human infirmities make His saving grace finite. However, by embodying our fragility and flesh, Jesus bridged divine infinity with human infirmity. Before Jesus pressed on in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, he stated in Matthew 26:37-38:
“He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he began to be filled with anguish and deep distress. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.”
David Seamands elaborates on this in his book Healing for Damaged Emotions:
“Because He never sinned, because He never yielded to the temptations unlike the Old Testament priest, He never had to make a sacrifice on His own behalf. But since He was tempted, since He was tested at every point as we are, we have a great High Priest who understands the feeling of our infirmities (page 39).”
Rather than live with his invisible wounds Teddy snuffed out his last gasp of grace, becoming his mind’s permanent prisoner. However, Christians with mental illness should not feel trapped within a cage of guilt or on an island of isolation. Jesus knows, He still loves and sets us free.