My first article on suicide in the Church entitled, “A Biblical Response To Mental Illness and Suicide In The Church: What Should We Conclude…” garnered a lot of attention and I am grateful for your response and comments. To say that this is a controversial issue is a great understatement, as readers have expressed very strong opinions on the matter.
I agree that lots of mental illness is the result of guilt, unconfessed sin, rebellion, bitterness, anger, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that there are not true physiological reasons behind mental illness. We must be careful not to blanket all mental illness in either one camp or the other. The very reason some Christians have not sought medical help is because of the belief that if they were ‘Christian’ enough, they shouldn’t really have these problems. That is just not true. As I said, there are many factors contributing to mental illness and unless you have personally suffered with it, you cannot understand.
We must FIRST seek our help in the Lord! The danger is “explaining away” sin. Again, not all depression is rooted in sin, but often times it is simply falling into discouragement – a heart and mind that has dropped its guard, fallen away from fixing on Truth.” That is a danger.
I believe that some mental problems can and are Biblical. BUT there IS messed up Chemicals in the brain. I am a strong Christian who knows the Word. I KNOW sometimes I am depressed cause I have disobeyed, but then I repent and am better. BUT there are times when I am so depressed for NO GOOD REASON. AND I get suicidal at times. My medicines have helped me tremendously.
And finally, Brian had this to say:
Thank you for writing so clearly and concisely. I was deeply perturbed when I read the articles you are responding to. I am deeply grieved by the Warren’s devastating loss and then was angry over the ill informed articles I also read and to which you refer to. Men of such influence need to think more biblically before they put pen to paper and not be swayed by pop culture.
Many others answered the article with resounding support and others with harsh criticism. After reviewing the responses I was left with one burning question: Why do we (Christians) believe what we believe?
Practically every defender of biochemical impairment reported experience with depression, suicidal thought, or other mental issues, either personally or within their families. Because of their personal encounters with pain and suffering, the matter becomes highly charged and emotional for some.
In reality, one cannot trust that his/her assessment of experience and emotion is correct. Humans are very biased when it comes to personal diagnosis and accountability. To ignore how the Word addresses complicated issues like mental and emotional pain, is dangerous and leaves one vulnerable to his/her own conclusions based upon the fleshly experience of life in a fallen world. As God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah:
The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9).
It is hazardous to base one’s theology (belief and knowledge of God) on emotion, circumstance, people, and experience. Only the Almighty can explain Himself and He alone defines what is true and holy. The human rendition of reality is always tainted by personal desires and agendas. Absent the Scriptures and the teaching of the Holy Spirit, we are destined to “go astray” (Is 53:6).
Conversely, many who oppose the use of medication and refuse to consider biological causes have never experienced emotional problems, nor do they have associations with people who have. Blindness to the experience of others is treacherous. In fact the Church is called to answer suffering with compassion and personal introspection. Paul wrote:
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:1-2).
Take notice: “…you who are spiritual” are called to the task of restoration with gentleness. There is a tendency toward self-righteousness in matters to which one does not relate. Paul warns the believer to examine him/herself “…so that you too will not be tempted.” Any of us are vulnerable to sin and disobedience. Even if one rejects the theories of medical causation, he/she must approach the broken believer with an eye on his/her own heart. Paul continues:
For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another (Gal 6:3-4).
To clarify, Paul is saying the helper must not think too highly of him/herself because a particular issue is alien to their life. Instead one must “examine his own work” and “not in regard to another.” In other words, test your heart against the mandates of God and not in contrast to your brother or sister. Do not adopt a stance of superiority, but commonality, even when the trial is considered sin.
Many readers claimed that science has validated the presence of a biochemical cause in most, if not all, mental illness. Yet none cited a single study or report that give veracity to this stance. In fact, no evidence is offered because it does not exist.
Even Dr. Michael Emlet (M.Div., M.D.), a faculty member of the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF), and a supporter of psychiatric medication, gave the following responses to questions asked in his article “Listening to Prozac…and to the Scriptures: A Primer on Psychoactive Medications”:
Are we treating true chemical imbalances?
“We don’t really know—maybe” (Emlet, p 15).
Are psychoactive drug effective?
“…we do not know exactly how these medications work in humans”(Emlet p 14).
Thirty-five percent (35%) of individuals who are given a “placebo” drug, report improvement (Emlet p 15).
“So, at the end of the day, of those 100 patients who got the active drug, 30% did not respond, 35% may have responded by virtue of a standard placebo effect, and 35% may have responded due to the actual effects of the drug itself” (Emlet p 15).
“At this point there is no way to predict who will respond best to which treatment” (Emlet p 15)
Are drugs more effective than counseling?
“Individual studies have revealed that even in moderate to severe depression…counseling was equal to medication at four months of treatment” (Emlet pp 15-16).
Science is beneficial to the Church and only God could reveal the mysteries of the human body (Ps 139:13-14). Graciously, the Lord has provided many medical resources to our physical gain, and as a result there now are answers and treatments for many previously fatal conditions. But this reality does not permit leaping assumptions in other areas (like mental health) where clarity, proof, and medical protocol are yet lacking.
The craving for a medical solution conveys the urgency of one’s need for relief. But as spiritual people, we must not allow pain and a lack of understanding to prompt an adherence to theories that may indeed lead us away from the biblical truth God extends. The Church must be cautious in its blind reception of humanistic notions and medical conclusions that may well provoke disobedience. Paul wrote:
You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough (Gal 5:7-9).
The leaven of unsubstantiated theory is quickly spreading throughout our “lump of dough.” We must not allow our urgency for help to become our hindrance to the truth.
Yet in the course of history, God has brought many truths into view and He has given many “perfect gifts” (Jas 1:17). Our Creator knows our construction and that in the flesh “nothing good dwells” (Rom 7:18). The heart of man is set upon “evil continually” (Gen 6:5) and physical death is inevitable (Heb 9:27).
God has consistently revealed Himself as the Great Physician throughout Scripture (Matt 9:12). History records His work through spontaneous healing and the use of people and medicine to advance His will. Every believer who accepts and utilizes medical treatment must also consider the possibility of God’s intercession with issues as complex as mental illness.
But we must acknowledge that healing, as it occurs in Scripture, always carried a spiritual intent that was primary to the physical cure. God will often use the physical to expose and treat the truest need, which is the spiritual heart of His child.
Remember His first words to the paralytic; “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk 2:5). Only later, to prove His deity and to bring glory to the Father, did Jesus physically heal the paralyzed man: “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home” (Mk 2:11).
And while we hold out hope for greater clarity, we must agree that God never does anything that contradicts His Word. God will not provide an alternative truth. Instead, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). For this reason, every human experience must be tested through Scripture rather than the shadowy heart of sinners saved by grace.
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 Jn 1:5).
Grace and Mercy
Most devoted to biology state that any other response to a mental issue is harsh, judgmental, and even condemning. With righteous indignation they cite the scriptural tone of mercy and grace as the only relevant truth for hurting individuals. Claiming biblical correctness, they offer half of the admonition to counsel in “truth and love” (Eph 4:15).
Increasingly, the Body of Christ is rejecting the presence, or even the possibility of sin. The very word has come under attack and its remedy (repentance) is soundly rejected. I assume this is due to the fact that in order to repent one must acknowledge sin…and acknowledgment of sin has become unacceptable. Have we forgotten the base doctrine of sin?
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us (1 Jn 1:8-10).
Truly the awareness of sin, as defined by the law of God (Rom 3:20) prepares the heart to receive grace and mercy. Grace is not the endorsement for misery but the answer for sin and suffering. Paul wrote:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2).
In reality it is unkind to suggest there is no remedy for mental anguish, thereby condemning a believer to a lifetime of coping rather than transformation and spiritual healing. To extend the endorsement of biochemical imbalance without a proper spiritual assessment is tantamount to biblical malpractice!
Should we not inquire as to the salvation of the suffering individual (Jn 3:3)? Do we ignore the deleterious effect of sin, which is progressive and eventually leads to death? (Jas 1:15-16). How can we reject Hebrews 12 and discipline of God for willful, unrepented sin, of which the Bible states “…seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (Heb 12:11)? And finally is Satan real or is he a myth (1 Pet 5:8)? Should we take Prozac as a legitimate defense to the attacks of the evil one?
Has the Body forgotten that we are dealing with eternal matters? Our work as fellow believers and Biblicists does not rest in the endorsement of experience or the comfort of emotional pain. We are to be purveyors of truth, with compassion, perseverance, diligence, and love. To excuse one to the medical arena without offering Christ, is the cruelest of all interventions.
Many argue that biblical truth, and the discussion of sin, places a yoke of shame and defeat on the depressed and suffering person when the opposite is true. God’s Word is filled with hope and restorative power offering again and again the sufficiency of “grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).
Most have ignored my statement in the previous article that reads: “People can be sick, sinful, or both.” But even if God, in His providence, has allowed a medical condition to reign, we are called to respond without sin, bearing fruit (Gal 5:22-23) in the face of adversity. Even when speaking of Jesus Scripture records:
Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Heb 5:8).
Is it possible that a sovereign God would use suffering and the administration of grace to His glory? Is this truth not evident in the trying of Job (Job 1:8), the sifting of Peter (Lk 22:31-32), and even the crucifixion of His only son? (Mk 15:34).
Too often excuses and relief are given when study, prayer, counsel, and biblical assessment is needed. Medication has become the first choice rather than the last resort. It has replaced proper spiritual inquiry and clouded the view of the Church to the point that even expectable emotional experience, in response to trial and hardship, is medicated before it can even be processed.
That being said, even though the Word is our sword (Eph 6:17), it does not give Christians the right to use it as a weapon. God’s Word is a precise surgical instrument that is curative in its application. It is not an instrument of war used to cut and harm.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12).
The Holy Spirit must the direct use of the Word at all times. The counselor is only a tool in the Surgeon’s hand. Well-meaning helpers must be attentive to their own spiritual lives and not allow personal sin to bias their response. Paul speaks of the spiritual preparation of God’s vessels for service:
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Tim 2:21).
The Endorsement of Church Leaders
In reality, most Christians are not students of the Word. Rather they rely upon preachers, teachers, friends, and family to interpret spiritual truth for them. There now is a multitude of voices in the Christian forum. If one searches long enough, he/she will find one who says what the heart longs to hear. And without verifying the teaching through the lens of Scripture there will be nothing to gauge the validity or application of what has been written or spoken by man. Remember Paul’s warning to Timothy:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:3-4).
Today, more than ever, disciples of Christ must digest the glut of information as the Bereans did in the Book of Acts:
“…for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
Given our current climate in the Church, there is no other filter to use. Everything we read and hear through the media must be sifted through the template of God’s Word to validate its truth. Impulsive adherence to any teacher is dangerous. As John exhorted the Church:
As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him (1 Jn 2:27).
Certainly God has appointed prophets (preachers) and teachers throughout the world (1 Cor 12:28) and they are gifted for our edification. But any appointed servant will teach in agreement with God’s Word and Spirit, without contradiction, addition, or subtraction. Believers must turn to Scripture, and the teaching of the Spirit, in order to discern agreement with the Lord. The Bible provides this warning:
Do not add to His words
Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar (Prov 30:6).
In this day of immediacy, thoughts and opinions are posted and disseminated often without proper prayer, study, and prompting of the Lord. Leaders, regardless of viewpoint, must no allow the flesh to write their instructions…even when the flesh is grieved and motivated by compassion.
My earlier article was written for this reason. It was not so much to adopt or advance a position, but to confront and encourage our influential leaders to examine their hearts and cautiously review the Word before making sweeping proclamations.
Every opinion a teacher offers should be presented within a properly researched, exegetical, and scriptural context. All are vulnerable to emotion. Any can fall prey to bias. For these, and other reasons, God provided the unchanging Word that is unlike any worldly reference.
The Bible always points true North and differs from the magnetic North. In the world there is the magnetic draw of humanism, intellectualism, and emotional appeal that is sometimes only slightly off point. Regrettably, the very best kind of lie is the one that gratifies the need for comfort (humanism), seems reasonable and pragmatic (intellectualism), and agrees with one’s feelings about a subject (emotional appeal). For these reasons everyone empowered with a pen or voice must look to the truth and resist the pull of compromise.
As Mark Twain once wrote, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Scripture bears this out as Paul wrote:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene (2 Tim 2:15-17).
I regret if, in my earlier article, I offended anyone. I certainly did not mean to covey a harsh or unloving tone, nor do I encourage scriptural brutality in response to any sin. I am surely an imperfect writer and a flawed administrator of Scripture.
But if the Word of God has offended you, this is another matter. None can be at peace when he/she is in rebellion to God and His perfect exposition of truth. God’s Word teaches the fullness of God’s nature along with His commandments, examples, promises, provisions, judgment, and grace.
No matter one’s physical condition, the status of human existence will always be undermined by sin and spiritual need. As stated in our textbook on biblical counseling: Wonderful Counselor: A Return to Truth:
If sin is the problem there is no human remedy.
The only remedy for sin is Jesus Christ”
“The Theology of Experience: The Deceptive Support of Psychiatric Medications” by Ab Abercrombie, 2012, BCI Website.
“Psychotropic Medications: In Search of a Biblical Context” by Ab Abercrombie, 2012, BCI Website.
“Listening to Prozac…and to the Scriptures: A Primer on Psychoactive Medications” by Michael Emlet, 2012, CCEF Website.
Wonderful Counselor: A Return to Truth by Ab Abercrombie and Kerry Skinner, 2007, BCI Publishing.
“Psychopathology or Sin” by Ab Abercrombie, 2006, BCI Website.
Christian Shrinks Answer ALL Your Questions… by Ab and Karen Abercrombie, 2005, Xulon Press.