Our culture is just beginning to understand the importance of mental health. We are reminded of the consequences of ignoring mental health issues every time we hear about a senseless shooting of innocent people. In reality, there have always been people who are mentally ill. A careful study of the Bible gives some excellent instructions about how to have good mental health and some great examples of both good and bad mental health cases. One great positive Old Testament example is Joseph’s example of good mental health.
In Genesis 37-45. Joseph faced significant problems that could have caused great mental pain, perhaps leading to suicide or at least lashing out in angry retribution. How he dealt with life’s trials gives us a good model. Let’s examine four hardships Joseph faced that could have affected his mental health and how he handled them with a positive result.
#1. JOSEPH SUFFERED BECAUSE OF WHAT OTHER PEOPLE DID. Joseph’s father used bad judgment when he showed a preference for Joseph. That caused Joseph’s brothers to become jealous and consider killing him. Instead, they sold him into slavery, where he ended up as a slave in the household of a wealthy man named Potiphar (Genesis 37:36). Potiphar’s wife made a sexual pass at Joseph (Genesis 39:7), and he fled from her. She lied and accused Joseph of trying to rape her, and Potiphar put him in prison. Joseph managed his imprisonment well, but a fellow prisoner he helped reneged on his promise to Joseph. So Joseph remained in prison for two more years.
Have you had people do bad things to you? Of course, you have! But Joseph didn’t allow bitterness or retaliation to overwhelm him and destroy his mental health. We need to learn from Joseph’s example of good mental health.
#2. JOSEPH KEPT HIS INTEGRITY IN THE FACE OF THOSE WHO LET HIM DOWN. Joseph accepted a better position in the prison (Genesis 39:22-23) and used that to help others. He didn’t dwell on revenge or lose his integrity. We must avoid dwelling on the negatives in our lives and not become obsessed with getting even.
#3. JOSEPH NEVER FORGOT HIS PAST AND THE GOOD HE HAD RECEIVED FROM GOD. In Genesis 41:51, Joseph named his first son “Manasseh,” meaning that he did not dwell on his hardships, and his second son “Ephraim,” referring to God’s blessings. When he had a chance to get even with his brothers, he forgave them and met their needs physically and emotionally. Even though affected by prejudice, Joseph’s example of good mental health (Genesis 32:32) never wavered but maintained integrity and a positive spirit. We need to do the same.
#4 JOSEPH INTERPRETED WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO HIM AS A TOOL OF GOD TO GIVE HIS LIFE MEANING. One of the great benefits of trusting and following God is that it gives purpose to our lives. In Genesis 45:1-5 Joseph saw purpose in all that had happened to him. Atheism, secularism, and naturalism do not provide a meaningful, useful purpose to life.
The story of Joseph’s example of good mental health is just one example of many biblical accounts showing the importance of trusting God to find a purposeful life. Tomorrow we will look at this subject in the New Testament.
— John N. Clayton © 2023