According to John Piper “[w]e will find mental health when we stop staring in the mirror, and fix our eyes on the strength and beauty of God.” His tweet on Twitter got plenty of likes and retweets. But is it this true? No, not at all! For a number of reasons.
For one, I’ve tried to put into practice Piper’s advice for many years and it turned me into a neurotic self-shaming bigot. However, once I let go of the spiritual straightjacket, the unhealthy expectations, and the impotence of God’s strength and beauty to change me into an emotionally healthy person and once I learned to sin boldly (Luther) I was able to accept myself with my own personal history, my own damage, as the conclusion of my own narrative loved and accepted by God. That is where change started to happen. In spite of—I’m sorry to say— the glorious and mighty beauty of the sovereign God in heaven.
In spite of John Piper’s biblicism that bases itself on a so-called inerrant Word of God and thus claims to produce a theology free from human flaws, it is more probable that his ideal of looking at a glorious God has more in common with the beatic vision of the neo-platonic theology of early Christianity than the Bible itself. John Piper makes the beatic vision something that is immanent and present, thereby doing violence to the eschatological and transcendent nature of the doctrine. Apparently we can all reach spiritual perfection in the here and the now, he seems to suggest. Unwittingly, this theology actually ends up doing grave harm to the real-life existence of human beings in this world.
You want a glorious God? Fine! The only glorious beauty of God that is given to us human beings in this mortal enfleshed existence is that of the suffering Christ. The only divine power that we see at work is the one that is revealed in weakness, in particular in the flogged, sick, and dying body of the Christ. As we stare at the crucified Christ we find a god who is one of us and dwells among us; a god who is familiar with our sufferings, both mental and physical. Piper’s glorious God is as far removed from the world as he is from God’s self-revelation in Christ.
If you want to insist on a spiritual focus in dealing with emotional and mental issues you better look at Jesus Christ crucified, because it is there that you find a God who suffers with those who fall short of the gloriousness of God and it is there that you find a divine affirmation of life that is worthy of (and does justice to) the psychological complexity of human existence.