If anyone claims that Jesus was mad or delusional or are looking to dismiss arguments that he was, they should read this book. Written by two psychiatrists who hold true to Jesus being both fully God and fully human at the same time, this is a thorough investigation into the life and claims of Jesus from a psychiatric perspective to see if he really was mad or God. The authors believe this is an important issue to address, especially as the insanity of Jesus is one of the arguments put forward by New Atheists to mock the Christian faith. Martinez and Sims have the ability to use their profession to defend the mental health of Jesus Christ. They were inspired by the famous words from C.S. Lewis and sought to address if he really was a lunatic:
‘A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.’ C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity
The first part of the book (chapter 1-3) goes through a series of tests to examine Christ’s mental health and aims to show that Jesus suffered from no mental illness. The second part (chapters 4-9) then examines how he actually has ‘the healthiest mind of all’ through his character, his life (by what he says and does), his relationships with others, his reaction when facing adversity and his influence on people – these aspects can provide an accurate and complete assessment of their mental stability.
Throughout this book the author’s use examples from the Bible to illustrate Christ’s interactions with other people and actions. They also use psychiatric case studies throughout to help explain different mental illnesses and what they look like in reality.
It’s important to look at the evidence to see if Jesus was mentally ill because he offers a message of ‘meaning, trust and credibility, authority, and a relationship built on love’ – if he is mad, then this all disappears and he could be discredited.
The authors define what mental illness is and then look at what Jesus said about himself and some of his teachings. They note that a lot of what Jesus said has been misunderstood because he often contrasts the spiritual with the physical. Moreover, Jesus brought trust and confidence to those he encountered where people’s lives were completely transformed and some literally left everything to follow him. If Jesus had been mentally ill or emotionally unstable, this level of trust – even with their lives – would be unheard of.
There are recordings in the gospels of how Jesus was considered ‘out of his mind’ by members of his own family who did not understand him and religious experts of the law who said that he was possessed. Today, we might consider this to be ‘psychosis’ and once again, the authors use their psychiatric understanding to see if Jesus was suffering from delusion, hallucinations or thought disorders, examine the evidence portrayed in Scripture and what he says in context, and they conclude that he was not.
The third chapter considers depression and anxiety, obsessive disorder or personality abnormality or disorders. They have a look at Jesus’s emotions and personality traits and conclude that Jesus has ‘the healthiest mind of all’. In chapter four, Jesus’s character is tested by its level of maturity found in five traits: humility, gentleness, love, responsibility and patience where the author’s state they ‘find their maximum expression in Jesus’ (pg. 56).
Chapter five looks at Christ’s consistent life revealed through their words and deeds. Jesus knew his purpose in life, he had a full and fruitful life and he was balanced. He demonstrated ‘a constant balance between opposite poles, an amazing blend of authority and humility, depth and simplicity, firmness and tolerance, mercy and justice, meekness and courage, passion and serenity, tradition breaking and submission’ (pg. 79).
‘Jesus was not only a man with a balanced personality, but he also lived a totally righteous life. If his character makes him attractive, his words and deeds make him unique. We find no discrepancy between his being and his doing. The words and deeds of Jesus plainly indicate extraordinary mental health and unequivocal moral uprightness.’ (pg. 93).
Chapter six tests Jesus and how he relates to others – individuals in public and a smaller group in private. Jesus interacted with all kinds of people from all backgrounds, cultures and ages. He served them, he didn’t use them. Most importantly those he encountered were transformed by him. He brought fullness and purpose to lives.
In the seventh chapter, Martinez and Sims look at how Jesus responded in times of adversity as ‘it is easy to run with the wind at our back, but our real strength is tested when we have it in our face’ (pg. 112). Jesus faced the pain of rejection from his disciples, agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, shamefully judged and scorned in the courts and the cross and even on the cross itself.
For me, this chapter was the most powerful because it brings to light the true love of God in the face of evil and it reveals the state of the human heart. Here are a selection of some of my favourite quotes from this chapter:
‘If Jesus was nothing more than a ‘crackpot’, then why did he arouse such hostility in the Jewish religious leaders?’ (pg. 122)
‘A person with serious mental problems, especially psychosis, awakens in others a desire to protect, not eliminate them.’ (pg. 122)
‘If Jesus had been psychotic, most likely he would not have died nailed to the cross as a malefactor, but instead would have been abandoned in the streets.’ (pg. 122)
‘What led Jesus to the cross was not insanity on his part, but the hatred of others. The problem wasn’t in his head, but rather in the hearts of his enemies.’ (pg. 124)
‘…Pilate sums up who Jesus is: the Man, the true man, the most real and sublime expression of humanity. Even in the midst of his humiliation, bleeding, a crown of thorns girding his head, derided, Jesus remains the human being par excellence. Herod’s brutal soldiers had seriously damaged his body, but could not extinguish the radiance of his soul.’ (pg. 126)
In chapter seven, the influence of Jesus is considered. From generation to generation, millions of people have shared how Jesus has transformed their lives and this continues today. There are stories given in this chapter of how Christ has transformed people and situations. The authors say that Jesus responds fully to life’s basic questions and human needs: the need for identity, purpose, hope and truth. This is a brilliant chapter to follow adversity, because we can all relate to the pain and suffering of life, and here it demonstrates practically how Jesus meets us in that and all that can be ours is met in who he is.
The concluding chapter reflects back to the reader to make up their mind of who they say Jesus is. It’s not enough to just have the evidence – what are we to do with it? It examines his claims of who he says he is and if these claims are true, and he is not mad (as proven by the psychiatric tests in previous chapters), then the conclusion is that he is who he claims to be: God. Therefore, what are we to make of this?
‘This conclusion, however, presents us with a radical challenge: his demands clearly require not only intellectual acceptance, but personal commitment.’ (pg. 159)
There is an opportunity to respond to this with a short prayer at the end – it can be a prayer for someone who is responding to Jesus for the very first time or perhaps to someone that just wants to recommit their lives and heart before him in light of what they have read.
This book took me into a subject that I am not too familiar with and to a deeper level which at times made it hard to review because it was so thorough and filled with brilliant information. However, this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to walk away even stronger in their faith or for someone who wants to really investigate Christ – his mind and his life for themselves.
Pablo Martinez is a psychiatrist, author and international speaker from Barcelona Spain. He is Honorary President of GBU-IFES and author of several books including Why I Am Not An Atheist.
Andrew Sims is an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry with the University of Leeds, and Past President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He has authored 12 books, including Is Faith a Delusion? Why religion is good for your heart.