Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Spirit, Mind, and Depression

I do not trust much to psychology. I am in agreement with those who believe that it has become a sort of 'secular priesthood.' What pastors have done in counseling for hundreds of years has now been usurped by a discipline forged in the furnace of naturalism. I have no doubt that this is true, and I lament with others in the pastoral ministry that pastors, out of fear and intimidation, forsake the counseling ministries and send their sheep to such secular humanists.

Having said that, the old addage still holds true: Even a blind hog will sniff out a nut. Sometimes, through observation and medical research, great strides are made in understanding the human mind. This is where things get more complicated.

Whether you understand the human being as three part (body, soul, and spirit) or two part (body and soul) makes no difference. The fact of the matter is that one affects the other deeply. Pastors are called on to diagnose or discern spiritual maladies, psychiatrist are called on to deal with the biological. When one of these attempts to play the part of the other there are sad consequences.

Many pasotrs today rail at the very idea that something could exist called 'bi-polar disorder' or they teach that chronic depression stems from sin. After all, the "joy of the Lord" is our strength (Neh. 8:11). Naturally, if you are feeling blue, all one should have to do is meditate on the greatness of God in Christ to make oneself more joyful. Sometimes it is that simple. But I am convinced at other times it is not.

Think of it like this: Are you more irritable when you do not sleep well and therefore more prone to anger? When mothers birth children, do you think that 'post partum depression' is a matter of unbalanced hormones or the sign of a spiritually sinful new mother? When the disciples fell asleep in the garden, was it simply because they were lazy and couldn't pray, or could exhaustion have been a factor? When a young boy cannot sit still and listen, could it be that he simply lacks discipline in the home, or is it that he really has a disorder?

A hundred more examples could be given. The difficulty is that sometimes the answer could be one or the other, or perhaps both. In the coming week I am going to explore the issue of medication in treating such problems, and the issue of biological versus spiritual disorders. In the mean time, let me start you thinking on these verses:

"Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'" (John 9:1-2).

The disciples assumed that physical malady was caused by sin, but Jesus denied such a claim. As we enter into this discussion, let us take caution in deciding that all depression is rooted in sin. Further, remember the the human spirit is not yet so strong that it is unaffected by the body. And if you separate the two into such a distinction as to deny that one is bound up (Trick Word! By 'bound up' I mean so intimately related in this body that it is impossible to harm one without affecting the other) in the other, then I will flatly accuse you of gnosticism.


julie said...

I just talked to a mom a couple of weeks ago that told me her son, who is now around 20 years old has only one working kidney because of side affects from a medication for ADHD. As for depression, I do think some people do suffer from it, but I believe alot of it is brought on by sin in someone's life. When you separate yourself from God, selfishness takes over and most often selfishness is the root of depression and an undisciplined lifestyle. It is ashamed that most people seek to treat this with medication rather than turning to God. Our son was was diagnosed with ADD at a young age and when we finally started to raised him in the way that God instructed us, his ADD suddenly disappeared. Althought some people do have chemical imbalances, that can be corrected by medication. I think a vast majority of these have a spiritual imbalance that can only be corrected by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Sue said...

Hmmm... well nobody these days thinks that physical illness is caused by sin, other than a few specifics like hepatitis from too much alcohol, or STDs, but even then it's not totally clear-cut why some people succumb and some others. Moreover there are some obvious sinners who never have a day's illness, physical or mental, and some great saints who suffer depression. Why should illness of the mind be considered different from illness of the body?

If you look in the Bible, David, Elijah and others suffered depression. Sometimes it was an alienation from God due to sin, other times it wasn't. Elijah had just won a great victory over the priests of Baal when he became depressed, after all. It just seems to me that his metabolism was such that he was affected in that way. Another person might have developed a migraine after so much stress and excitement. Essentially they're no different.

God made us all unique individuals, and some are prone to depression just as some are prone to hay fever or bronchitis. Yes, we do what we can to avoid the triggers and - in serious cases - consider medication. We might consider nutrition solutions or other natural ways of helping, but in the end we have to accept who we are with our strengths and weaknesses. And we definitely shouldn't judge those who are different. To anyone who considers depression sinful (or a result of sin), I'd quote, 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone'. Or perhaps the analogy of the log and the speck.

Sojourner said...

No doubt over-medicating the American population may be a serious problem. However, would you say that ADD or ADHD actually does not exist? Or, with depression, do you think that it is always caused by sin without biological factors?


Wow! You're in Cyprus? I have always wanted to visit. Thank you for the comment. I think that you are onto something with the nature of illnesses. Yes, we no longer think that they are all brought on by sin anymore, but as you said, sometimes they are. Could it be that many times depression is rooted in the inability to believe God's promises? If so, should we medicate people until they have the faith to recover?

julie said...

I do believe that alot of kids have ADD and ADHD. But I do believe today that a lot of doctors do not even test kids to see if they have it. They just automatically give them medication. I must admit it also seems that more and more children have been diagnosed with this in the last 15 years. I guess doctors didn't know what it was years ago. Sorry if it sounded like I did not believe kids have this. The parent I talked about at the beginning of my comment-her child did have ADHD. As for depression, I did say I do believe some people suffer from depression. Thay may need medication and is not caused from sin. But I do believe a large amount of people are suffering from sin in their lives and no relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone dies, I know people will be depressed because they have lost someone they loved. There are lots of other things that one could not help that may bring on depression. I have experienced depression because of living a sinful life and I know a lot of others who have too. The ones that have turned to Jesus have saw what God has to offer and how great it is to live your life for Christ.