For decades, modern culture has struggled to define and categorize psychological and/or psychiatric conditions. Experts have created hundreds of diagnostic categories that attempt to isolate and classify specific conditions or illnesses so that they can be effectively treated. This has given rise to the term psychopathology, which refers to an illness or dysfunction in the psyche or mind of an individual.
Medical doctors tend to see the disturbance as organic; Behaviorists often describe the issue as a learned or conditioned dysfunction; Psychoanalysts believe psychological problems are due to parental failures, disappointments, and frustrated psychosexual development; Family Therapists view emotional disturbance as a consequence of unhealthy family structure.
But even with all of this debate, professionals still cannot agree regarding the definition, cause, and cure for psychological maladies like depression, phobias, anxiety, addiction, attention deficit disorder, etc. Ask ten mental health professionals and you might well receive ten diagnoses, ten treatment plans, and ten different outcomes. In short, there is still great confusion about why an individual feels and does what he/she does not wish to feel or do.
But long before Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Albert Ellis, and Virginia Satir, the apostle Paul was debating the same predicament. He wrote:
“For what I am doing I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Rom 7:15).
Here Paul describes the human state of sin. He further makes it clear that in spite of his best human attempts, he is unable to change his basic nature. Paul continues:
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Rom 7:18-20).
Clearly Paul defines sin as the problem. He further makes it clear that the source of his problem is his own flesh, mind, and heart. He doesn’t point to a medical condition, although he had some (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), as the cause of his unwanted behavior. Paul didn’t highlight his parents (Acts 22:3), his culture (Acts 22:27-28), or even the trauma (2 Corinthians 11:25) and mistreatment he endured as reason or explanation for his unsettling conduct. No, Paul knew that his human frame was corrupt and sinful. He also knew that he could not change himself.
Jesus spoke of the condition of man’s heart as the source of all sinful and thereby, unhealthy conduct, emotion, thoughts, and desires: He said:
“What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:20-23).
Truly, most psychological illnesses and mental diagnoses can be found in the list Jesus provides in this one passage. And when other passages are considered that pertain to the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), acts of unrighteousness (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), and the nature of a debased mind (Romans 1:28-31), we begin to see the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in full form. God defined psychopathology long before psychiatrists and other therapists were even in existence. God simply called it sin.
Does this mean there are no biological conditions that produce psychiatric symptoms? Are we saying that family, abuse, poverty, and other trauma have no affect on an individual? Not necessarily…
But biblical truth is clear that sin is the core issue that defiles, misleads, distorts, and destroys. But I stated in our book: Wonderful Counselor: A Return To Truth…
If sin is the problem, there is no human remedy…
The only remedy for sin is Jesus Christ
As Biblical Counselors we must begin with the core truth, defined in Scripture, and not allow ourselves to be misdirected into the psychological waters of speculation. There is a great deal that is unknown about the organic and mental elements of life. But biblically we know volumes about the sin of humans and the redemptive, cleansing, mercy, restoration, and empowerment of Christ. In any other scientific debate, the issue would be closed.
But the question with which we grapple is complicated indeed: “Are Psychology and Psychiatry Scientific?” Put another way, are the conclusions we draw from within the psychiatric and humanistic models measurable and do they lead to verifiable answers?
The secular community clearly considers these professions to be scientific and medically relevant. Much of the Church today expresses the same sentiment as we have embraced the explanations and remedies offered by this approach.
Integrationists explain that due to scientific evidence we are compelled to merge biblical, medical, and psychological approaches to human suffering. A failure to consider this self-proclaimed “evidence” is thought to be unsophisticated and perhaps even unethical.
The avoidance of psychiatric treatment is often likened to the refusal of insulin for diabetes or surgery for heart disease; resting instead on faith alone that God will heal. Advocates point to parents who allowed their children to die while refusing readily available and scientifically proven, treatments.
But is this claim true? Have science and medical research produced compelling evidence that supports the claims made within our culture, hospitals, and examining rooms? Do we in fact know that depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and psychosis are directly linked to biological/biochemical abnormalities in the brain?
The claim that chemical imbalances now are to blame for various psychological and relational difficulties is interesting indeed. If this claim has merit, then we are not responsible for chronic emotional states and dysfunctional conduct that undermines our life, family, work, and service to Christ.
The proof of chemical imbalances would even threaten the argument that we contribute to other medical conditions through sin, because sin would be excused and accepted as a disorder for which we have no choice or control.
The trouble with this assertion is that chemical imbalances are yet unproven. While medical imaging can reveal a blocked artery and a blood test can detect the probable presence of cancer, we have no such tools of evaluation that prove a variance in brain chemistry. Few would begin taking medication for hypertension or high cholesterol without a verifiable need. The need is determined through simple lab results or measurement of blood pressure.
Yet countless people begin taking psychotropic drugs (antidepressants, tranquilizers, bi-polar medication) without any diagnostic measurement other than experience.
Physicians speak of chemical imbalances in part, because they have no other explanation for depression, social anxiety, obsessive thoughts, or loss of reality. But the Bible addresses each of these troubling issues and more!
There also has developed a true intolerance for even normal experiences of grief, sadness, distress, fear, and confusion. While these and other states occur routinely in the lives of humans, our desire for immediate relief interferes with other approaches of reconciliation and peace.
Even well meaning Christians do not turn to prayer, Bible study, or godly counsel, seeking the Lord’s truth about their pain but readily seek out a medical prescription. This approach often divides us from God’s remedy and excuses us (mentally) from evaluating our own culpability as sinners before Christ.
If the despoiled tarnish of sin on this world can produce diseases that affect the kidney, pancreas, heart, and lungs, it is entirely possible that the brain also can be compromised. Because of this, we cannot confidently say that biology plays no part in extreme issues the world deems psychiatric. But again, our caution must come in the lack of scientific evidence.
One must wonder why the Lord has allowed certain medical advances and understanding of disease, but has brought no clarity to matters pertaining to thought, emotion, relationship, conduct, and human will.
Beyond the identification of brain maladies such as tumors or genetic malformations, little is truly known about how the brain’s chemistry influences the human life. Even credible secular research questions the direct link between brain chemistry and psychiatric conditions.
Dr. Kenneth Kendler (2005), a psychiatrist and co-editor in chief of the journal Psychological Medicine said: “We have hunted for big simple neurochemical explanations for psychiatric disorders and have not found them” (p. 433).
In his book, Blaming the Brain (1998), Elliot Valenstein , professor emeritus of neuroscience wrote: “Although it is often stated with great confidence that depressed people have a serotonin or norepinephrine deficiency, the evidence actually contradicts these claims” (p. 292).
Stanford psychiatrist and researcher David Burns is quoted as saying: “I spent the first several years of my career doing full-time research on brain serotonin metabolism, but I never saw any convincing evidence that any psychiatric disorder, even depression, results from a deficiency of brain serotonin. In fact we cannot measure brain serotonin levels in living human beings so there is no way to test this theory” (as cited in Lacasse & Gomory , 2003, p. 385).
The only way to measure brain serotonin levels in the human brain is upon autopsy. Most would not submit to this level of inquiry and no insurance plan would cover the test!
Obviously, there is much we do not know about this matter. But Christians must be cautious not to blindly accept the claims of drug manufacturers and well-intended doctors, who claim science where none exists. The use of medications for heart issues must be approached as a last resort, and should not be considered routine.
Biblical people need only look to Scripture for evidence of conditions like these, knowing that God’s intervention was sufficient. Examine the following biblical examples of what today would be deemed psychiatric:
- Job’s distress and despair (Entire book of Job).
- The lament (grief) of a prophet (Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations).
- The suffering and grief of King David
- Death of his child born of Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:13-23)
- Death of his son Absolom who had become his adversary (2 Sam 18:31-33)
- The attack of enemies (Psa 22)
- The discipline of God (Psa 32)
- The fear and paranoia of Saul due to sin leading to rage, a desire to murder David, and eventually Saul’s suicide (1 Sam 16:15, 17:57-31:4)
- Elijah’s fear and depression (1 Kings 19:1-14)
- Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity (Dan. 4:32–34)
- The pain of Mary and Martha in the death of Lazarus (John 11)
- The demon possessed boy in the tombs (Matt 17:14-21)
In each incident we see the Lord’s will and sovereignty. Job suffered spiritual attack under the authority and limitation defined by God. He was appointed to suffer for the glory of his Creator and was eventually restored.
Jeremiah was appointed to speak the truth in the midst of a rebellious people; an assignment of challenge with an eternity of glory. King David bore the ramifications of sin, yet in his repentance and service, he was found faithful. David was called to obedience even in the face of great suffering. His repentant heart, and zeal for God, brought good in the midst of chaos.
God came to regret the appointment of Saul as King because of his sin and rebellion. Saul fell to madness, despair, and death because he failed to repent and yield to God’s authority. While Saul at times regretted his choices and superficially understood his sin, his fear of David was greater than his fear and reverence toward God.
Often our suffering is similar in that we sustain a disobedient position, refusing the remedy of confession, repentance, and surrender to the Lord’s correction. Like Saul, we struggle to control and manipulate our relationships and circumstance, seeking relief for our fear and pain, without ever truly understanding and submitting to God’s overarching plan.
Elijah had just seen the power of God working in the destruction of the prophets of Baal. God, working through Elijah, had dismantled the pagan worship of false gods and undermined the integrity of Jezebel’s rule. But when the queen threatened Elijah’s life, he lost sight of God and forgot His power, running and hiding in an effort to sustain his own life.
In his isolation his despair was great. He was angry and divided from God, feeling abandoned while he was the one in retreat. In fact he prayed for his own death.
But even while Elijah was fearful and depressed, God sent an angel to minister to his physical and emotional pain. God provided food and water, strengthening and nourishing his body and soul.
Soon after God encountered Elijah in a cave, asking “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9). God confronted the prophet that he was out of place, apart from his calling. Then God revealed Himself to His servant, demonstrating His glory and power. God then restored Elijah and gave him assignments (1 Kings 19:15-16) to complete and later a servant/student (Elisha) as his aide (1 Kings 19:19).
Often in Scripture, God uses suffering to demonstrate His strength and sufficiency, bringing a deeper understanding of His Person. Elijah had become distracted by the threat of the world requiring a return to the Source of power and purpose, evident only in the Living God.
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and asked Daniel to interpret its meaning. In the dream the king saw a grand, powerful, fruitful tree that was chopped down and destroyed by “a holy one.” Daniel warned Nebuchadnezzar the tree was the king himself and that he was facing the removal of his kingdom and the subordination of his power, being made like one of the “beasts in the field. “
Daniel counseled the king: “…break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Dan 4:18-27).
But the king did not heed Daniel’s word and after twelve months continued to proclaim his greatness, boasting in pride for the accomplishments of his land. His sin was immediately answered with the fulfillment of the dream’s warning, and Nebuchadnezzar was made to live like a beast of the field, because he failed to acknowledge: “…that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses” (Dan 4:28-32).
God answered the king’s sin with madness, taking away the kingdom he claimed as his own. God had warned Nebuchadnezzar through dream and counsel of Daniel. But as his sin advanced, the Lord eventually intervened in order to teach the king the source of all glory, power, and authority. With repentance and understanding, Nebuchadnezzar was restored to sanity and position, as he proclaimed the true source of life and abundance:
And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;
He does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down (Dan 4:34-37).
Finally, the demonic in the tombs was a “lunatic” (Matt 17:15 NASB). Jesus’ disciples had tried to heal him but to no avail. But when the afflicted boy had an encounter with the Messiah, he was “…cured from that very hour” (Matt. 17:18).
In these examples we see biblical accounts of depression, grief, anxiety, fear, panic, paranoia, rage, suicide, and madness. In our current psychiatric vernacular, we observe Dysthymic Disorder (chronic biochemical depression), Major Depressive Disorder (more chronic and intense), prolonged grief, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Paranoid Personality Disorder, Suicidal Ideation and action, and Psychosis (Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression with Psychotic Features, etc.).
Well before there was a Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, there was God’s Word. Scripture presents these conditions as:
- Normal emotional reactions to threat, loss, and hardship requiring dependency on Christ as our cure
- Consequences of prolonged, willful sin and rebellion requiring repentance and surrender as its remedy
- The enactment of God’s sovereign will that requires obedience in the place we are stationed, as we bring glory to His name through faith and obedience
- The residue of protracted sin, that while forgiven, still impacts lives and relationships
Throughout these examples we see God at work. Sometimes He imposes correction and other times He uses our self-induced impairment as opportunities to draw us unto belief and salvation or to provoke godly sorrow, repentance, and renewed relationship with Himself.
In each case, God’s hand seeks to restore and grow the afflicted individual. But God is always working to address the spiritual ahead of the physical (Paralytic…son your sins are forgiven). Only when there is a rejection of God and the unbridled continuance of sin, do we see the destruction that is the end byproduct of disobedience (Jas 1:13-15).
WHATEVER BECAME OF SIN?
In 1973, Karl Menninger, a world-renowned psychiatrist, wrote a book entitled: Whatever Became of Sin? Now I am not even sure if Menninger was a believer, but he writes like he might have been… In his book projected that the day would come when sin would no longer be an element of the human vernacular. He speculated that the explanation of sin and wrongdoing would be replaced by explanations that excused one’s accountability.
The term “sin” would be replaced with illness, disorder, dysfunction, syndrome, etc. Our condition would be excused as a product of biochemistry, environment, experience, trauma, etc. Even crime, he said, would go unpunished as criminal activity would be explained and minimized as a result of some medical abnormality for which one could not be held accountable.
In short, the day was approaching when everyone would be considered sick and their conduct excusable. Aren’t we just about there? Menninger was a pretty good prophet!
Remember the woman in Tennessee who shot her preacher husband in the back with a shotgun while he was sleeping. After his death she claimed mental and physical abuse had produced “abused wife syndrome” and she was “disassociated” and “confused” as at the time of the murder…thereby unaccountable. In fact, it was the victim’s fault she killed him. And “abused wife syndrome” isn’t even one of our so-called medical conditions…that’s one the attorneys made up!
Now this preacher might have been an evil man. Maybe he did hurt his wife. We will never know because he is dead. But the Bible calls this woman a murderer and does not justify the return of “evil for evil.” But after nine months in a psychiatric facility, she was free. After a few more months, her children were returned to her custody…and, she apparently is cured from the telltale effects of her “disorder.”
By refusing to speak of sin we ignore a key biblical truth…we are all sinners living in a fallen world. This is a recipe for corruption, undisciplined and unhealthy living, toxic emotions, evil expressions of crime, and physical decay.
But to focus only on the undocumented medical, humanistic, and convenient claims of impairment ignores a second biblical reality…all things are spiritual.
ALL THINGS ARE SPIRITUAL:
The Bible tells us that all things are spiritual. This means that even when we cannot relate sin to condition, there is still a spiritual component at play. Whether it is the sinful state of this world and its corruption, the expression of evil against us, or the call for godly response to an unthinkable physical affront, followers of Jesus Christ are spiritual people, called to holiness even in the face of adversity. We are also instructed to arm ourselves with weapons of spiritual warfare that strengthens our response to the unfathomable.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor 10-3-6).
Yes, one can be sick, sinful, or both. But clearly the Bible teaches us to view all things through a spiritual viewfinder. No matter what is happening in our flesh, we are sustained in the knowledge of God, adherence to His call, and the peace of His presence. Even when there is the presence of true physical disease or injury, we must be about tending to the spiritual aspects of life, so that God will receive glory through all situations we encounter.
Generally, our world operates within a medical model. That is, science and society tend to view problems of the heart from a physical or biochemical perspective. In general medicine, this approach is understandable. For example, we know there are diseases, injuries, and conditions that clearly affect life function and longevity.
A diagnosis of cancer is not always related to personal sin, yet it does relate to the sin and corruption of a sinful, fallen world.
Additionally, diseases like cancer can be a product of life choices (sin) that have a deleterious affect on the body. Smoking, poor diet, and toxic emotions have all been shown to contribute to diseases like cancer, heart disease, Type II diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and others.
According to research submitted by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation:
- Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress
- Seventy-five to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints
- Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, or arthritis in addition to depression and anxiety
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually
- The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions (www.WebMd.com).
Contrary to human opinion, prolonged negative stress is not inevitable. Scripture denotes the importance of dealing with negative emotions, proper maintenance of the body, peaceful relationships, and proper communication and conflict resolution. Consider these few scriptural examples:
“Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Eph 4:26).
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:31-32).
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-13).
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor 6:12).
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord…” (Heb 12:14).
These are but a sampling of God’s truth as it relates to health, emotion, relationship, consumption (gluttony, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking), and the sufficiency of God in all circumstances. What might our health prognosis be if we are effectively tending to God’s instructions in this regard? How might our health be maximized and our healing fostered by obedience to His structure of emotional, relational, and physical health?
In contrast, we know that even people with biblical lifestyles do become ill. Some contract terminal illnesses. Others experience tragic car accidents or other injuries that are not a product of sin. This is the residual of a fallen world that confronts both the believer and non-believer. Biblical truth remains our source of enlightenment, encouragement, and strength, even when there is not direct correlation between our lifestyle and illness.
A BIBLICAL COUNSELOR’S RESPONSE:
If you are counseling someone under medical care, taking medication of any kind, do not encourage him/her to stop! With few exceptions, we are not medical doctors and have no authority or training to direct such a decision.
This article is not a directive to forsake medical treatment. Instead is it a challenge to examine all issues in biblical terms, contrasting God’s work in the Bible with the world’s actions today.
If there is concern that a certain counselee has taken a medical approach to a spiritual problem, it should be discussed and tested against the template of God’s Word WITHOUT prescribing a medical change.
Should the conviction of the Word and the stirring of the Spirit prompt your counselee toward transformation…the medical aspects must be addressed through a physician. Your job is to address the biblical infractions and discord in the vertical relationship.
Please remember, just because we do not have scientific evidence to support the claims of the psychiatric community, does not mean the brain is unaffected by a defiled world. The use of medication is a very personal choice. At times it may be a necessary choice in order to sustain life in the moment.
But even if medication remains a portion of one’s response to the problem, consider always the spiritual dynamic to be addressed biblically. Even if there is a medical component, the heart of every human is yet sinful and wayward. Medical treatment does not preclude the importance of belief and salvation, repentance and restoration, in every life.
Connie was 51 when she first sought biblical counseling. By the time she came in for her first appointment, she had suffered for over ten years with severe and chronic depression, strong feelings of paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and extreme guilt. At one point she had been admitted to a psychiatric facility for her own protection, since her desire to take her life was incredibly intense.
Connie’s guilt related to her Christian life. She felt that if she were doing the right things and staying close to Christ, her depression and other problems would be extinguished. Connie had become a believer in her teens and had lived a very fruitful Christian life until her late thirties when she began to encounter fear and depression related to her employment as a nurse. Increasingly she felt estranged from her co-workers, and suspicious of her supervisor, believing she wanted Connie terminated.
Over the next few years, her capacity to work in the health profession waned as her depression deepened and her mistrust grew. Eventually, she believed everyone at work “hated” her, and she saw no hope but to take her own life.
When Connie came for counseling she had been taking an antidepressant medication for several years. After her hospitalization, she resigned her job and had not worked outside the home for three years. But even with the medication and her removal of herself from the environment she deemed threatening, Connie still held feelings of anger and bitterness for her past employer and co-workers and further believed they has spoken of her throughout the community. As a result, she felt on guard everywhere, thinking now, the whole town knew of her “failure” and believing she had become a source of ridicule and distain. Additionally, Connie felt great remorse for having “too little faith” and relying on “doctors and medication” to survive.
As we met in counseling, it was clear that Connie did indeed have heart issues that were affecting the quality of her life and the depth of her relationship with Christ. Toxic emotions of anger, fear, and unforgiveness were prevalent. She was preoccupied, even obsessed with thoughts and meditations about people and imagined injustices. She had stifled her testimony, becoming something of a recluse. She punished herself with fears that she had “lost her salvation” believing “God could not save a person like me.”
Did Connie require medication? I did not know at the time, nor did I advise her in this regard except to encourage her to make no changes unless directed by her doctor. Instead, I explained to Connie no matter what her medical vulnerability may be, she had choices about how she deals with matters of emotion, thought, and conduct that could be biblically addressed. How the resolution of these matters would ultimately affect her biochemistry, we did not know. However, we agreed scripturally, that no matter her circumstance or physical condition, the Lord still desired relationship, obedience, and faithfulness to His Word.
Connie indeed could be sick. Science could not provide a full answer in this regard, nor could we as we worked together. But we did know she was sinful. However, her sin was not what she imagined it to be. The sin was not that she was under medical care, nor was it necessarily the taking of medication. Only time would fully disclose the necessity of this approach. Her sin was imbedded in unbiblical positions she held with regard to herself and others.
So while Connie could be sick, according to Scripture, she was definately sinful. And with time, we may find that she was both. Our role in helping other Christians requires a focus on the spiritual matters at play. Resolution of these may lead to the resolution of what has been named medical or, the medical may continue to be a challenge even as matters of sin are addressed.
In counseling we began to challenge Connie’s heart toward a biblical alignment with truth. Her heart had become defiled and therefore, the whole world appeared corrupt. We looked at Scripture that defined the source of her defilement as the heart (Mark 7:14-24) and confronted the idea that others were responsible for her emotional and cognitive sin.
We examined how a “root of bitterness” (Heb 12:15) causes trouble and how the maintenance of impure thoughts and emotions makes everything (including her mind and conscience) defiled. In this state, “nothing is pure” (Titus 1:15). We explored Connie’s obsessions and challenged her to look to Scripture for a correct orientation:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil 4:8).
“The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe” (Prov 29:25).
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom 12:2).
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”(Phil 2:5).
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7).
We studied God’s sovereignty, grace, and sufficiency:
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9).
We acknowledged the presence of spiritual attack and the importance of fighting the right battle with the right weapon:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph 6:12-14).
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Of course these are only a few of the directions taken as the Lord led us to address her anger, malice, wrath, evil speaking, bitterness, and unforgiveness (Matt 6:14-15, Eph 4:26-31, Col 3:8). We looked at biblical characters who dealt with similar emotions (Abraham, Moses, Job, Elijah, Naomi, Peter, etc.).
And we spoke of the consequence of emotions that are unrepented. Judas (Matt 27:5), Saul (1 Chr 10:4-5), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), Sampson (Jud 16:30), and Ahithophel (2 Sam 17:23), all committed suicide.
The corrected shift in focus from self and the impact of others, to a focus upon God and His likeness, was transformational for Connie. As she saw her situations, feelings, and actions in the context of God’s Word, God granted her “godly sorrow” which brought repentance and restoration. Had she continued only in the “sorrow of the world” (worry, fear of humans, bitterness, pride, and shame), she would eventually have known death. Paul wrote:
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor 7:10).
Now, after tackling God’s instruction to her heart, Connie is truly transformed. She is deeply involved in ministry within her church, teaches the Bible to young women, and enjoys a full and vibrant life with her husband, adult children, and grandchildren.
She now addresses her heart with a proper discernment, in a climate of self-examination and repentance instead of self-condemnation and punishment. As her heart has become pure, her perspective has as well, restoring good reality testing and the capacity to identify real versus imagined threat.
Connie still takes medication at a lower dose. In fact, the dosage has reduced every six-months for the past two years. When her doctor tried to remove the medication entirely, there was an intensification of her depression and the beginning of anxiety and suicidal thought. Does this prove the presence of a medical condition? No it does not. Nor does it nullify the great spiritual gain evident in Connie’s life and the potential for ongoing growth and sanctification. But whether sick, sinful, or both, Connie is alive and serving the Lord with enthusiasm and zeal. Her remedy came in Christ not medication. She may, or may not, always require pharmaceutical support, but her heart is centered upon her Savior and her fruit is abundant. It is her desire however, to one day end the use of medicine completely.
Teddy was 15 when he experienced his initial break with reality. While attending a sports camp in the summer, the paramedics were called to restrain and transport him to the psychiatric unit of a local hospital. In the middle of the night, Teddy had become agitated, hyperactive, and out of control. He removed all of his clothing and began running around the camp screaming, threatening others with physical attack, and proclaiming that God had spoken to him in a dream.
Standing naked outside his cabin, he began to tell everyone that the judgment of God was coming and that all were going to burn in hell. When anyone tried to approach him he threatened to hit him/her with a club he was wielding. Eventually, he ran into the woods screaming “God is coming to condemn the world.”
When the authorities arrived, it took several hours to contain Teddy and transport him to the hospital where he was immediately medicated and placed in a secluded, locked room. In spite of very large doses of tranquilizers, Teddy continued to rage on, shouting about the wrath of God, pacing back and forth, and remaining agitated for hours on end. His preaching of condemnation was interrupted by crying and praying for his own forgiveness for sins he had committed.
Teddy’s mother phoned and asked me to see her son in the hospital. When I arrived and met with Teddy in his room, he was anxious; walking back and forth in the room; stopping only to whisper: “God is talking to me…He is angry…He is going to punish everyone…He is going to punish me.”
The psychiatrist diagnosed Teddy with Bi-polar Disorder while continuing to rule out the possibility of Schizophrenia. He was viewed as psychotic with paranoid delusions and grandiose religiosity. The parents were cautioned that Teddy may never fully recover and would need psychiatric care for the rest of his life. This was an incredibly dire prediction based upon only two days of evaluation.
Eventually Teddy was restrained on four different medications and released from the hospital after three weeks. I met him at a church office following his discharge from the hospital.
In the weeks that followed, the young man was very sedated, sleeping much of the day, unable to function in school. He stopped talking about the condemnation of God, but he did not stop thinking about it. The doctors had warned Teddy’s parents not to make mention of religious themes, as these would only worsen his obsession and intensify his struggle with reality.
When I met with Teddy I asked, “Are you still hearing from God?” The young man looked shocked that I remembered and dared voice the question. He said, “No one lets me talk about that. They say that I am just manic or crazy. What do you think?”
I encouraged Teddy to explain how he hears from God. He replied, “Mostly I hear His voice in my head. But the doctors told me this isn’t real.” I assured Teddy that God does communicate with His children but suggested that anything God conveys would be consistent with Scripture. I asked, “Do you know much about the Bible?” Teddy answered that he did not. He said the only time he heard the Bible read was in church.
As I began to show Teddy some of the attributes of God along with His mandates, promises, and teachings, he was no longer sure if he was hearing from God or not. In fact he said, “The voice I hear doesn’t sound like the God in that Book.” The Bible tells us we must be discerning of spirits:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
As Teddy and I tested the spirits, challenging them with God’s Word, he said: “Now I am confused. If I’m not hearing from God then who or what is talking to me?” I explained that sometimes we mistake our own voice and wishes for God’s voice. Other times we hear the desires of the world in our mind and try to make them fit God’s plan for us. Then there are times we apply what others have told us about God and His nature, and believe that to be true. I showed him this statement from Jesus:
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me…” (John 10:27).
Teddy thought for a moment and said, “So if I am one of His sheep, I hear His voice and I will go to Heaven?” I told him: “Yes. The question is: Are you one of His sheep? Looking confused Teddy replied, “I think I am…how would I know?”
Opening the Bible I explained the scriptural plan for salvation:
- We are all sinners (Rom 3:23)
- The consequence of sin is eternal death (Rom 6:23)
- Salvation is a gift (Rom 6:23) and cannot be earned with good works (Eph 2:8-9)
- Christ became our sin and suffered on our behalf (2 Cor 5:21)
- Christ is the only way one can inherit eternal life (John 14:6)
- The recognition of sin, confession, and repentance is necessary to understand the gift one is given (Rom 2:4, 2 Cor 7:10, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 1:9)
- Confession of Christ and belief in one’s heart is the foundation of our salvation (Rom 10:9-11)
- Salvation transforms one’s life so that we no longer live for ourselves (2 Cor 5:14-15)
- God is drawing us to decision (John 6:44)
In reviewing these passages, Teddy concluded he did not have a personal relationship with Christ. As he began to contemplate his sin, he became very emotional, crying and saying, “God can never forgive me!” Even as I pointed to the Scriptures that convey His grace and gift of salvation, Teddy could not see how God could redeem him. He said, “When I was shouting that everyone was going to hell, I was really shouting at myself. I’m the one who deserves hell…I am the one!”
At the core of Teddy’s fear was his own shame and self-punishment. He was overcome by the nature and context of his sin. With time, he told of a longstanding problem with pornography that kept him glued to the computer for three to four hours each afternoon, before his parents came home from work. He described illicit sexual fantasies, fueled by the imagery he had ingested. But the breaking point for Teddy came when his imagery crossed over into real life.
The day before his psychotic break down, Teddy had kissed another teenaged boy, as the two acted out what they had viewed together on the computer. Following this encounter, he became overwhelmed with fear and panic, believing he was now without hope. He did not sleep the entire night before going to sports camp, nor did he eat or drink. After a long day of athletic drills, with no nourishment and extreme fear, shame, and conviction, he could stand it no longer.
His panic led him to literally lose his senses for a time. But in that time, he was placed in the hospital and given a premature and inaccurate diagnosis, which without the Light of Scripture, could have damned him to a life of psychiatric treatment. But worse, he might never have come to have a personal relationship with Christ, without which, there would be no remedy for his sin. Indeed the condemnation he preached to others would have been his own without the grace of his newfound Savior.
With confession and repentance, Teddy came to accept the gift of salvation that cleanses all unrighteousness. As he received the grace that covers all sin, there came a renewed since of reality and energy. Over time, his psychiatrist reduced and eventually removed Teddy’s medications because they were overly sedating and seemed to serve no further purpose. The doctors continued to warn the parents that it would only be a matter of time before his bipolar condition reasserts itself. Many years later, Teddy remains free of symptoms and free of psychiatric treatment.
Teddy needed a saving relationship with Christ so that he could discern the voice of his Shepherd. He needed the remedy of grace only Christ could provide. Repentance was key to understanding his sin and receiving the Holy Spirit that provided truth and empowerment for his future walk.
Teddy’s chemical imbalance was in truth, willful, unrepented sin. Again, he was never told to stop medication, and the parents maintained him under a doctor’s care for as long as necessary. But in the end, repentance and grace set him free.
“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
As one compares the two cases (Connie and Teddy) we see that while one remains on medication and one does not, both have been delivered. The possible presence of a medical issue does not prevent Connie from having a fruitful and obedient spiritual life in Christ. To the degree her problem related to sin and disobedience, it is addressed in a repentant and surrender climate before the Lord.
The point to be remembered is this: All things are spiritual, even if they are not spiritual only. We as Christians are called to examine ourselves against the template of Scripture and to find peace and production in all circumstances. We do not know if Connie will ever cease the use of medication, but it is her desire to be well pleasing to the Lord, praying in proper connection and surrender, for His ultimate physical healing as well. But remember none of this would be possible without Christ, the working of the Holy Spirit, and adherence to the truth of Scripture.
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