Clarity

It has been brought to my attention that my last couple of posts on depression, This is Serious and Through: not Out, lacked clarity. I apologize for being unclear. I realize that those posts were somewhat rambling in nature and my actual position and views may not have come through in them. To correct that I would like to simply state what I believe about depression and the common approach Evangelical Christians take toward dealing with it.

  • I believe that depression can be caused by physical problems. By this I do not mean that physical problems are a catalyst for depression, as in a person losing their legs and struggling to deal with their new situation in life. I mean that depression can be the direct result of physical problems in the brain that effect the way a person thinks and feels. We know that things like B12 deficiency or severe head trauma can alter a person’s mood and personality. Although the details are unclear about what may be the physical cause for depression, it would not be a big leap to believe that there are physical causes. Many of the symptoms are largely universal and very particular. This fact lends itself to the conclusion that these people are suffering from the same physical problem, and not simply their own particular sadness rooted in their spiritual and emotional life.
  • I believe that depression can cause thoughts and feelings that directly contradict what that sufferer knows is true. Since I believe that depression can be physically rooted in the brain, I also believe that spiritual and intellectual understanding may not be able to remove the effects of depression. From what I have seen, depression can cause completely irrational thoughts and feelings that clearly contradict the person’s rational mind.
  • I believe that the interactions between the brain, mind, and spirit are extremely complex and that neither Christian counselors, pastors, nor psychologists and psychiatrists understand how these things effect each other. This results in either emphasizing the spirit and ignoring the brain (christian approach) or emphasizing the brain and ignoring the spirit (secular approach). Neither of these approaches demonstrate a balance based on an understanding that the brain and spirit are both involved in developing a person’s thoughts, feelings, and personality.
  • I believe that it is possible that a person may have to live their entire life with depression.  While this seems like a negative perspective, it deals with the real possibility that depression can be physically rooted and if whatever physical problem is causing the depression is not found and fixed then it is quite possible that it won’t simply go away on it’s own. This understanding can help people to better deal with depression because it neither creates false hope nor guilt for failing to overcome depression.
  • I believe that faith is crucial to learning to live with, and through, depression. Faith that God loves and is taking care of us is vitally important to fighting the mental battles of depression. While thoughts may be flooding in that tell a person that there is no hope, faith in God’s love may be the only thing that enables a person to keep going in spite of these uncontrollable thoughts and fears. Having someone to lean on through depression can make all the difference. Faith will enable the person to lean on God for strength through depression and there is no one better to lean on than God himself.
  • I believe that sin is not the cause of depression and faith is not the cure for depression. To tell people these things adds burdens to someone who is already quite burdened down. This false notion leads the depression sufferer to feel guilty, confused, defeated, and hopeless. While it may appear to be hopeful because it offers both a cause and a solution, the cause and solution are not real, and therefore when the “proper” steps are taken and the planned result does not actually occur the person feels much worse. This gets exponentially worse when the person is told that the reason the depression didn’t go away is because the sin was not dealt with or the faith was not mustered up. This destructive cycle can go on perpetually.

I hope that makes my understanding a little more clear. Hopefully it didn’t just muddy the water even more. Feel free to share your opinion of my views, tell me if I was unclear in explaining myself, or ask questions about what I have said.

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About Dan Allen

Just some guy trying to figure stuff out... View all posts by Dan Allen

54 responses to “Clarity

  • Steve Scott

    Dan,

    Everybody recognizes physical illness (and injury) as a legitimate problem and that it can be the result of things out of the control of the individual. Not everybody recognizes the same with mental illness, although I think there is a growing awareness in Cristian circles. But, have you ever given thought to the possibility of spiritual illness? Could it be looked at in the same light?

    • Dan Allen

      Steve

      That is an interesting thought. Would you mind explaining a little more about what “spiritual illness” would mean, what it is?

      Thanks.

      Dan

      • Steve Scott

        Dan,

        I might be going down the wrong path here, but here goes. We know about physical illness. And as for the mental aspect, the man who lived in the tombs was clothed and in his right mind. We are also to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The psalmist talks about his spirit being afflicted (off the top of my head I think this is true). I’m wondering if “I believe, help thou my unbelief” might fit a category of spiritual illness. Sin and the fall affect all of us and creation, too. This affect us physically and mentally, so why not spiritually? I’m not talking just about the rebellion of sin, but all the latent effects as well. Make sense? The bible talks about a new creation in Christ, and even though we might be new creatures, we’re still not perfect, and need spiritual healing too. Just thinking out loud. :-/

  • Bobby

    Dan,

    thanks for clarifying. That is very helpful as we discuss this. There is a couple things I would ask: how has the Bible informed the above bullet points? Where (other than scripture) do you get your information from? I’m not offering contention. I’m genuinely curious. If you could point me in the direction of some reliable sources that could broaden my understanding of this matter, I would be very thankful.

    • Dan Allen

      The Bible is central in my understanding of the role of faith. I look at Biblical figures who demonstrated faith, not to get out of hard times, but to endure hard times. Hebrews 11 is full of those people.

      The whole argument boils down to whether there are physical causes for depression, anxiety, OCD, and so on. There is significant research being done in this area and many findings point to this very likely possibility. There are 1,000s of cases, and it is understood as undisputed fact, that something physical can effect a person’s mood, thoughts, and feelings, from hormone imbalances to head trauma to vitamin deficiencies and on and on. Learning to deal with these things is how the Bible applies, but researching the human brain is not the point of the Bible. It is a very real possibility that depression is rooted in some physical problem in the brain. If that is true, we must learn to counsel people from a Biblical perspective how to deal with the situation they find themselves in, just as we would a cancer patient or paralytic.

      I have a lot of information on this subject but you can find it anywhere on the internet. It is simply a matter of looking for it. The very good circular reasoning of nouthetic counseling would nullify all of those sources for their “secular” bias so I don’t know what to tell you about that.

      Let me ask you this: could you be wrong? and, if you are wrong how do you think that affects the person who you have counseled on that incorrect basis?

      Thanks for the continued conversation.

      Dan

      • Dan Allen

        Postpartum Depression is another great example of something physical (hormones) affecting the thoughts, feelings, and mood of the individual, and this is proven to be the result of hormone changes, and it has many parallel symptoms of other forms of depression so to me it seems odd to say that specifically in the case of postpartum, physical changes can cause depression, but in other cases with similar symptoms this is not possible.

      • Dan Allen

        Other cases of note are those of biological parents and children, especially when the children have been adopted and do not know their biological parents yet demonstrate many of the same depression symptoms, or when twins (especially identical) are separated at birth and have similar depression symptoms. These cases make me think that there may be something biological going on there.

      • Bobby

        yes, I could be wrong. Like you, if I err, I choose to err according to my convictions because I want to do less harm to those I counsel. Nouthetics isn’t a cut and dry diagnosis leads to treatment plan. I’ve never (nor would I) told someone that their depression is sin. If someone comes to me and they are battling with depression, my role is to listen, love, and comfort them with the surety of God’s faithfulness on their behalf in Christ. In doing that, I do not think I am in error.

      • Dan Allen

        “my role is to listen, love, and comfort them with the surety of God’s faithfulness on their behalf in Christ” I completely agree! I don’t think that this approach requires you to believe that there are no physical causes for depression.

      • Bobby

        I’m glad my approach doesn’t scare you. I suppose it’s not necessary to begin as I do (thinking in spiritual terms rather than physical) but I don’t have a prescription pad, all I have to offer is myself and God’s Word. Those I plan to give freely with truth, grace, and love…even if that means I don’t fit very nicely under the “nouthetic counselor” label. Minister and servant are the descriptions I am after.

  • Bobby

    Dan,

    you may be interested in this article. It is written by Jay Adams who many would say is the father of modern nouthetic counseling. It’s a little lengthy but if you have time to take it in I’d love to know what you think. Email me at ceeking underscore truth at bellsouth dot net and I’ll forward the pdf to you. I can’t get the link to work here in the comments.

  • Stephanie Allen

    Bobby, I read this Jay Adams article (not sure if it is the one you were referring to) and noticed several disturbing ideas. He not only minimizes what depression is and the suffering that is entailed, but he blatantly blames the person suffering. The entire article wreaks of arrogance and completely lacks fact. It was patronizing. It’s one assumption after another with a finger pointed at the one who is seeking help and answers. It’s outrageous to think there are individuals out there who believe they have the right to throw guilt and shame into the faces of the wounded, all because they have their name on a degree from a Christian College. No offense, Bobby, but I will be praying for the people who turn to you for counsel.

    • Bobby

      Stephanie,

      thank you for your response. In light of your perspective I plan to revisit that article and my notebooks from school and look at them with a different lens. I appreciate your honesty and your prayers. The last thing I want to do is hurt someone who needs healing.

    • Steve Scott

      Stephanie,

      I notice this article is from 1975. I’m not sure what has changed in all this time, but, wow, that was a tough pill to swallow. The presumptions are…well, I can’t think of a word right now. There’s no room whatsoever for difficult circumstances. Is stunning a good word?

  • norma j hill

    Thanks, Dan. Clear! both the post and your comments. I agree. This post has helped me to more clearly understand, and pull together, what I have learned and experienced.

    • Dan Allen

      Norma

      Thanks for the encouraging comment! I do not profess to be any expert on this subject and much of what I have been saying is simply thinking out loud, but I genuinely fear for people who may be misled to even more guilt and defeat then they are already experiencing through this difficult problem.

  • D

    While I am in NO WAY dismissing the reality of the physiology of the brain, I am thoroughly convinced that the vast majority of what modern medicine treats as “mental illness” or “depression”, are not related to brain chemistry or a physical cause at all, but rather are spiritual in nature…

    Bear in mind, virtually EVERYONE in the scientific/medical field who are “researching” these issues are approaching it all from the assumptive basis of scientific materialism, i.e., they do not believe in the spiritual realm… Therefore, to them, everything must have a physical cause at some level. They cannot comprehend things of a spiritual nature, because they cannot put such forces or realities into a test tube and study them in a lab…

    However, even if what many people are experiencing as “depression” is related to physiological causes, I would further argue that in the vast majority of those cases, the problem is not a “chemical imbalance”, (prompting the need to put “medication” i.e. poison into your body…) but rather the negative chemicals we are already introducing to our systems through foods, technology, environment, etc….

    • Dan Allen

      D

      thanks for sharing your understanding of this. I would suggest reading the comments by Tommy and Adam on my post This is Serious who are both Christians and medical doctors. Adam even admits to working for a Conservative Baptist institution so you may find his comment particularly reliable. Nevertheless, what one believes about God is largely irrelevant when there is demonstrable proof (such as MRI scans) demonstrating variations in brain activity. I can agree with an atheist about cancer and accept his diagnosis and treatment. I think helping a person deal with his spiritual needs while struggling with depression is important because it will be a very difficult trial for him to face, but if that person has problems with his brain it will certainly not help to assume those problems are not there and that the affects of those problems are merely a failure of that person to trust, obey, follow God.

      you say ‘I would further argue that in the vast majority of those cases, the problem is not a “chemical imbalance”’ I wonder if you could explain why you believe this? Have you done research on this and could you share with us where we can learn more about this.

      I appreciate the comment and look forward to further dialogue.

      • D

        Well, for starters, the assumption that both yourself, and physicians Tommy & Adam, seem to be leaning on is the assumption that “variations in brain activity” is somehow tantamount to “proof” that such varations are the actual source of the “disorders” in question, as opposed to being merely another symptom…

        Again, this is a throwback to the presuppositions of scientific materialism, which assumes that the brain itself is the starting point for all human behavior and experiences…

        I do not hold such a view, but have come to believe that the brain is merely a conduit, an interface, between the part of our being we would describe as the “spirit” and the physical body…

        The other assumption that seems to be going around is the one that seems to react to any mention of “spiritual factors” being involved as though this merely involves questions of sin in the person’s life, but this was not what I meant to imply.

        When we talk about the “spiritual realm”, this would of course involve the matter of sin in our lives, but also encompasses the entire matter of Faith itself, as well the realm of spiritual warfare…

        If we are to talk about something like “anxiety”, for instance, then we are forced to acknowledge that it is a concept that has an entirely different context and ramifications if being addressed by a person who believes in a loving, personal God (who says we are to trust Him with everything), vs. someone who does not belief in God at all, and simply believes that we humans have to somehow go through life on our own and fend for ourselves…

        So, in that sense, it is quite distinct from say, diagnosing a tumor, which both the theist and atheist can equally see, feel and believe in…

        Tumors are comparatively tangible things to define and diagnose. By contrast, “Depression” is a vastly more subjective and vague concept, a fact which the manufacturers of anti-depressant pharmaceudicals have pounced upon quite opportunistically…

  • tommyab

    @D

    you make some really good points

    there is definitely a problem in our society with over-diagnosis of mental illness: “your mother just died, and you feel bad… get some antidepressant, It’s just not normal to not be ready to go to work after 1 week”
    I see it regularly. People sent by their boss to get “a paper from the doctor”. And the insurance companies will quickly send the patient to a “good” doctor if after 1 month of being unable to work the patient is not already on a medication.

    … I sometime feel that I’m working in nazi Germany or stalinian USSR…

    In old societies, grief was something very important. The Egyptians and the Hebrews were mourning their dead 40 days. Publicly. Not hidden in your room in a fetal position, crying alone. But crying loud. Wearing funeral clothing.

    We are more and more making normal struggle a medical problem. I see people coming to me because of anger outburst. They want a pill to fix it. More than 1/3 of the “career women” that I know, and who have kids, end up with some anxiety pills before reaching 45 years old. The DSM-5 who just has been released (the “bible” of psychiatry diagnosis) is very controversial. Every slight divergence from the average behavior is becoming a disease.

    ______

    what I strongly not agree with though, is the false distinction between the “soul” and the “body” which is a greek/gnostic/platonic one. The Bible is not so clear-cut about this matter. It contains many words to describe the “inner-world”, the “heart” the “soul”, etc… But our “parts” are deeply interwined in ways that nobody really fully understand. I don’t think there is such a thing as an “immortal soul”. I rather think that God will resurrect us. (I’m not totally set about those things… just thinking)

  • tommyab

    @D

    you write about environment

    … I would say that it has some effects

    In fact, it is proven that for “usual” depressions, physical activity is as useful than medication.

    I’ve found that many patients are so “unbalanced”. Just go to bed early, get up in the morning, eat good food, not too much, not too much coffee, not too much alcohol. Physical activity most of the days of the week. etc.. (again… I’m not talking about severe mental illnesses here)

    100 years ago people were working with their body. So they mostly had “body” work-related diseases.
    Today, most people work more with their brain. So “brain” disease are more and more prevalent.

    another difference is our skill to deal with struggles:
    100 years ago, almost every people did experience dead many times before the age of 30 (many mothers, aunts, sisters were dying from pregnancy/delivery, many men were dying at work or war, many babies were dying from pneumonia/enteritis/infectious disease epidemics,…) … today I see tons of teens being depressed because their girlfriend left them, and girls attempting suicide because a boy left them. And I know tons of people who never experienced dead closely before reaching 40 years old. It seems to me that each generation is less and less skilled to face tough time in life.

    I call my generation the “Walt Disney World generation” … “everythings always end well” “just put pink glasses, and be happy”. We really need a reality check. We really need to raise our children so they can face reality, and not get depressed when they fail that exam, or when their cat die. To mourn, but to go through. To learn to suffer.

    If mental disorder/suicide is related to life difficulties, why is it that there is no suicide epidemic in Haiti or Africa ?? There is not… (and I almost hear here the triumphant christians saying “because they believe in God”… NO. That’s not that simple. There as much or more believers/population ratio in USA than in most third world countries)

    another point about modern life: our standards of life are often too much high. How many burned people do I see every month, just because that mother “ought to work” (most of the time just because of social pressure, not really because of money), even if she has 3 toddlers at home; or because that man “needs” that new car every 2 years so he had to work 60 hours/week for the last 10 years. And the kids “should” participate in this sport team, and have this music course, and this spanish evening course, etc making daily life so much stressful just because we want to be as cool as our neighboors. Why is it that even with all the technological advances that we got in the last 50 years (microwave, birth control pill, washing machine, cars, internet, etc) we run more and more ? Could it be that we want too much? We want to live 10 lives within 1. And we wonder why we have a burn-out epidemic.

  • tommyab

    @ D

    when it comes to compare “physical” disease with “psychiatric” disease, many have the assumption that physical diagnosis are always “tangible”. So they must be true… isn’t it??

    That’s not always the case.

    One of the most perfect exemple of this is low-back pain. It is bread and butter for every family doctors in this world. 85% of the population will experience it one day or another in there life. For some of them it will become a chronic condition. And for some of these “chronic” patient, it will mean to be invalid for life.

    As for any “subjective” experience as pain, there is always in these cases various things that has some effects. Anxious patient are usually more “painful”. Depressed patient tend to be also. The patients that are the most insisting to me about returning to work are often the one who won’t. There is sometime uncounscious will to “prove” that they are sick to insurance companies. There’s nothing “tangible” here.

    If we do magnetic resonnance imaging to 35-45 years old patient. Whether or not they suffer from low-back pain, we will discover “abnormalities”. So imaging exams are really not so good. Many “painful” patients have normal exams, and many very healthy and pain-free patients have big “abnormalities” seen on these imaging exams…

    we can say the same about post-wiplash cervical pain, or irritable bowel disease, or many types of headaches,…

    … so physical/psychological… no clear-cut division.

  • tommyab

    @ D

    having said what I said about medication, I must say that I know many people that get very much help from medication. I know many others who would simply be in hospital for all their life if they were not taking medication. I know many who would never had return to a “almost-normal” life without it.

    many christians “counselors” are just plain charlatan who I would compare to some people who want to fix cancer with some tea and massage…

  • D

    @ Tommyab – Wow, you make a lot of interesting points too (I particularly agree with your points about our materialistic culture which compels us to live in a frenzy of activity and consumption…)

    But, (even though we totally agree about so many of the contradictions and hypocracies within the medical industry and our society as a whole), since you admit that you do not believe in any mind/body distinction, that does effectively mean that we approach this broader subject from two rather distinct perspectives…

    I do not know the reasoning for your conclusions about their being no spirit that is distinct from the body, for me, since I believe in the Bible as the Word of God, that makes it pretty clear-cut for me, since the Bible, and Jesus’ own words, make it clear there is a spiritual element to our existence which exists independantly of our physical form. (However I DO believe in a physical, bodily resurrection as well…)

    My comments about the “tangible” nature of things like tumors was not an attempt to state that their is no ambiguity or subjectivity involved in medicine! I was simply responding to Dan’s example about being able to agree with an atheist about the existence of something like cancer…

    But I would propose that there are elements involved in people’s “depression” which go beyond even the cultural insanity which you outlined so beautifully. I agree that grieving is something that our society has all but lost the ability to do, because we try and live our lives as long as possible without even pondering our own mortality, but grief is just the beginning.

    I would argue that millions upon millions of people, in our country and around the world, are wrestling with what I suppose we would have to call despair… It is the difficut times in life, death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, etc., that so often slam us back into the reality of asking the “tough questions”… “Why am I here?” “What is the purpose of my life”? “What is the point of everything?”

    These are not questions that we expected to be able to ask, and then definitively ANSWER in our society. We live in a day of relativism. Everyone is encouraged to believe whatever makes the most sense to them. There are no absolute truths, there is no absolute morality. We are collectively encouraged to be our own little gods, and this undoubtedly has a “ripple effect” on our overall “emotional health”!

    Do doctors feel authorized to navigate such philosophical realms of a patient’s thinking? I would say not, and this is the crux of the disconnect… A patient can come in and say something like, “I just feel down all the time, I’m not happy, I’m lethargic, I don’t have an interest in things…”, but the medical doctor standing there has to come up with some sort of response that is completely divorced from asking all the core questions that revolved around the Truth of the Gospel.

    That is also why so much “Christian counseling” is equally powerless and inneffective, because is simply modeled after the standards of the world… The fact is you cannot get to the heart of a person’s despair and inner brokenness without asking the personal, “touchy” questions, and challenging the “depressed person” to take all of their inner pain and turmoil to the throne of God…

    I’m sorry if that sounds dismissive, but I really see no way of reconciling the belief in the God of the Bible, who gives us HIS SPIRIT and new life in Him, with putting drugs into your brain in order to numb oneself from what they are truly feeling. It is a matter of dealing with a symptom instead of the cause…

  • D

    According to the bible, this world, this life, is temporary, and those of us who believe in Jesus are told that we are to live as though this world is not our home…

    How completely opposite from the way that the world lives today, and the vast majority of Christians are running right along with it…

    The Bible tells us that it is not your job, it is not your house, not your family or eduction or even your church that gives us meaning, gives us our purpose and identity. It is Christ Himself. Everything else is temporal, it is passing away.

    But we stubbornly insist on continuing on as though all those temporary things are what life is all about (even Christians…), and then we wonder why we’re not as happy as we convinced ourselves we should be… Something must be wrong with our brains… What else could be the reason? Never mind that no one within the medical community stops to answer WHY there is all of a sudden a “chemical imbalance” in your brain in the first place… It amazes me that doctors and researches will flatly admit that they do not understand the “mechanics” of the brain, and even though they believe that the mechanics of the brain is all their is when is comes to human behavior (scientific materialsim…), they charge ahead and prescribe all kinds of chemical cocktails to try and “restore balance”…

    This is like if your car wasn’t running very well, and you took it to a mechanic and they said, “Well, I actually don’t understand everything that goes on under the hood of your car, but hey, we’ve come up with this concoction of stuff that seems to get your car working better if you pour it in the gas tank…”

    It is the pandemic shift towards turning ourselves into willing guinea pigs of the pharmaceudical industry. It is insanity. It is not “science”, even if we WERE approaching the subject as pure materialists…

  • Alan Knox

    “D”,

    I’m not Dan or Tommy or Adam, so I’m not trying to answer for them. I don’t know you (I don’t think), so I only know what I’ve read in your comments.

    When I read your comments, they come across as caustic and antagonistic. However, I’m assuming that you did not mean them to come across that way. (I’ll assume it has to do with the limitation of this type of electronic discussion.) I’ll assume, instead, that it’s your desire to help those who are dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental/emotional issues.

    I have known several people who were committed followers of Jesus Christ and who have been dealing with these issues for a long time – their whole life in some cases. What would you say/do to help someone in that situation? (I ask this to try to better understand your position.)

    Thanks,

    Alan

    • D

      Alan, I’m not sure why my comments would come across as caustic or antagonistic, but perhaps it is simply due to the contrary nature of the position I am presenting. What I am essentially saying that at the very least, the vast majority of situations that we currently label “depression” or “ADHD” or whatever else, are simply not “medical” issues at all. It should not come as a surprise that this would offend those who have accepted the line of reasoning which characterizes such things as “medical” in nature…

      I’m sorry if that offends people. I know it puts you in a very difficult position having known people who have wrestled with feelings of anxiety, or depression, or other things for most of their lives. Please understand that I am in no way dismissing the reality of their experiences, I am simply saying that they are being done a disservice to be told that they are merely experiencing a physiological phenomnenon which can be alleviated by the right combination of fabricated chemicals…

      I don’t think I could answer your question about your friends or individuals who have dealt with “issues” their whole lives, unless I suppose I were to speak with that particular individual and find out what that actually means. Otherwise we are simply talking in hypotheticals all day long…

      I know from experience, having personally experienced lengthy periods in my life of despair and thoughts of suicide, that these experiences are very real, and very troubling, but ultimately the answer is not to put oneself on a regimen of mind-numbing chemicals… My wife has been through these experiences as well, and actually went through the whole process of being “diagnosed” and put on meds, etc. She would tell that they do “work”, in the sense that you don’t really feel of the negative feelings that you were previously struggling with, but that is only because you don’t feel anything at all, you simply are expected to float through life as a zombie…

      And that is all it is, you are simply numbing the person so that they do not notice the feelings anymore. That is not “curing” anything. That is not “compassion”. It is the same as if you went to a dentist for a rotten tooth, and he simply prescribed pain medication for the indefinite future. You go home satisfied because now you may feel like you can “function” again, but at the price of living the rest of your life being doped up.

      I believe that we serve a more powerful and loving God than that. I believe that the God who raised Christ from the dead and loves us so much that He did not spare His Son, would not be resigned to let His children deal with their feelings of despair and anxiety and insecurity by putting toxic substances into their body. I guess I just find it sad that we who claim to believe in the power of the Spirit of Christ would buy into the world’s concept of “depression” as merely the result of a chemical imbalance in your brain. Such a mentality is really to stray down a path whereby all of our thoughts, all of our feelings, all of the things we experience internally (what we would call our hearts and minds) is really nothing more than the combined effects of the complex chemical soup inside our bodies… If we really stop and allow this to logically play itself out (although I admit we do not do this, but prefer to hold a position of self-contradiction) we would arrive at the place where everything the Bible says about human behavior is utter nonsense. The two perspectives are really diametrically opposed. To try and hold them both simultaneously makes about as much sense as trying to believe the Bible while adhering to the position of Darwinian evolution. Modern psychology/psychiatry is effectively inseperable from the starting point of Darwinian evolution and scientific materialism, and it really stretches the imagination that we as Christians would think that this is really a solution that we should embrace…

      We live in a fallen, wicked, painful world that is marred by sin. This is a fact that the Bible plainly teaches, but yet the World fully denies. That is why they have to try and come up with ways to cope with the array of painful feelings we experience as human beings in this fallen place. The fact that you have encountered many people in the church who have carried burdens and pain for most of their lives does not surprise me in the slightest. There are scores and scores of people who carry around the burdens and bondage of things like abuse, loss, uncertainty, and so on… But if you think this amounts to proving that faith in God is insufficient, and we need to supplement the Spirit of God with drugs, I would respectfully and whole-heartedly disagree.

  • Alan Knox

    “D”,

    It seems that (at least in the cases that I know about) we’re talking about different things. In the situations that I know, none of the people took medication to the point that they felt nothing at all. I agree that that is a misuse of medication.

    I also know that in many of the situations (I can’t say all, but at least in many) the person tried medications only after many, many years of seeking help in other ways. In other words, they did not feel depressed or anxious then run to the doctor for medication.

    Also in many of the cases (again, I can’t say all because I’m not certain), the people involved did not depend on the medication, but were instead trusting God. It is similar to me taking antibiotics when I have an infection or wearing glasses/contacts for my vision. I don’t have faith in those things; I trust God. He chooses to work through them.

    By the way, in EVERY case (and I can say all in this instance) when some Christians found out the person was taking medications (not over medicated), they person was questioned, ridiculed, and even condemned. I hope, even if we disagree on the effectiveness of medication, we can agree that this is not the way to respond to people taking medication.

    Thanks for explaining your position.

    -Alan

    • D

      I would absolutely agree that it is completely wrong to pick on the person experiencing difficulty, as though they are the one responsible for the modern drug industry and “clinical psychology”.

      However, I don’t think you can dismiss what I am trying to say by simply clarifying that the people you are refering to didn’t meds “to the point that they felt nothing at all”. You don’t seem to understand the point I am making… In the end, the drugs are simply a way of helping the person cope with internal pain. It is not that different than how I would assume you would approach a person who is dealing with long-term despair and seeks to deal with it with alcohol or drugs. It doesn’t make a lot of difference in the end whether or not that person was a massive, binger drinker/user, or relied on these substances in a measured, restrained manner. Either way, they are still seeking a chemical answer to the problem, and while I’m sure you wouldn’t villify that person for struggling with it, you would also try and point out to them that such a life is not what God wants for them…

      The fact that the same scenario plays itself out millions of times over in doctor’s offices doesn’t alter the reality of what is actually happening. It is no different, it only has the veneer of scientific respectability and corporate validation to make it feel more “legimate”. We as Christians should not be sucked into this mindset…

      I was actually waiting for someone to make an argument from something like antibiotics or eyeglasses, it was only a matter of time. The simple answer is that you are comparing apples and oranges. You cannot use that as a applicable example since the very thing we are debating here (or at least what I am debating…) is whether or not “depression” is just another medical condition like a sprained knee or cancerous tumor.

      I continue to argue that it is not, and that the entire premise of “medical depression” is reliant upon this unproven assumption… Unfortunately, the nature of this assumption (which is based on a materialistic approach to everything) is such that I cannot “prove” the existence of the human soul using the methods of science, since science itself is limited to the realm of the physical plain. It is like when someone demands that you scientifically prove the existence of God, or heaven, or angels, etc… Such things are beyond the realm of science, and so it’s a self-defeating expectation…

  • tommyab

    @ D
    you make some good points
    I have in fact known many patients that were clearly just in the midst of an existential crisis (why life? why i exists? who i am? etc). There is definitely a problem with many people who come to doctors to fix there difficulties to deal with normal life struggles. But that’s not the majority. In fact, most people wait for years before seeking medical help, and most of us deal with tough time with usual means (we seek for support from family/friends, we take some vacations, we cut here and there in our schedule to allow us to rest a bit more, some of us may find relief in sleeping a bit more, other in increasing our amount of physical activity… most people have “normal” ways of coping with struggles that are not necessarly rushing to the drug store to get numb…)

    … I’ve known a 88 years old man at the nursing home. The social worker (not a good one…) was suggesting to me that I put him on some antidepressant because the guy was speaking about death… Come on ! I hope I will speak about death at this age. He was not depressed at all. He was just living in reality. And death is clearly less in our reality for the last 50 years.

    ………
    again, we ought to make the distinction between 1-mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, anxiety disorders) and
    2-coping with tough times…

    seeking medical help is almost always the thing to do in the first case.

    And it should be almost never necessary in the second case (but in fact, there is a lot of unnecessary medicalization of the second categorie because we live in a somewhat work-slavery culture…. people need a diagnosis to take a break from work… so they have to see a doctor because their child just died and they are not able to work for a couple of months… that’s just crazy and contribute to an innapropriate medicalization of normal life.)

    there is also the race for academic performance that is really a plague and contribute to the ADHD epidemic (attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder). There are kids (especially boys) that are simply not built to sit 6-8 hours/day and listen to boring stuff. I would even say that it is the minority of boys who are like that. ADHD was not an issue before the 20th century because there was almost no schools, and physical inactivity was really not an issue. There are some case of real ADHD, but a great part of this epidemic is simply a social construction. Again: we are slaves to social standards that make us sick. Is there any necessity in that??

    • D

      @Tommyab – I would heartily say “amen” to your take on ADHD and our completely unrealistic expectation that children (especially boys, who are naturally active and learn best by being active) should sit still all day and act like robots…

      But…

      You have also now put your finger on the other, touchier side to this whole conversation, the category of “mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, anxiety disorders)”, and to be honest I have been quite hesitant to go there, because I fear that it might be more controversial than anything I have said thus far…

      In the gospels, a boy is brought to Jesus, who suffers from foaming at the mouth and violent convulsions. Jesus drives and evil spirit out of the boy.

      Today, if such a child were to be diagnosed, he would most likely be called “schizophrenic”.

      Similarly, today anyone who claims to hear voices, see strange beings or creatures, have conversations with people that no one else can see, suffer from terrifying nightmares, or experience whatever other unexplainable phenomena is routinely diagnosed with “shizophrenia”…

      Simply put, we have mental hospitals that are filled with people who see things and hear things that do not come from within their own minds. This is a very real, and very serious issue. I know that perhaps it is a position that is regarded as laughable, but nevertheless I must testify to what i know to be true.

      Demons are real, and they persecute people in all kinds of ways.

      These things are also on the rise, and while I hope you hear me in saying that I am NOT attributing all “mental illness” to spiritual affliction, I am saying that it’s reality is FAR beyond what most people are willing to accept.

      For example, the medical community will take a child who displays violent ticks, or involuntarily mutilates themself, or spews random obscenities, and take such extreme measures such as inserting electrodes into the center of their brain (an essentially experimental procedure), before they would ever consider the possibiliy that some external entity could be affecting the patient…

      Other people suffer from things like “sleep paralysis”, where they feel as though someone or something enters into their room while they are in bed, and they are unable to move, feeling helpless and terrified. Of course, if you refuse to believe that evil spirits exist, you will be forced to try and conceive of some sort of psychological explanation once again…

      I realize that even to infer such things is enough for people to totally disregard me altogether. But I assure you, these wicked beings are quite real, they have been around throughout all of human history, and now, they have the perfect cover because modern medicine has developed a materialistic/physiological explanation for virtually any type of affliction they might impose on a human being.

      But again, the answer to this is the power of Christ, who has complete authority over all the dark forces in the spiritual realm. And, not only that, but He has granted this same authority to all of us who believe in Him. Of course, that authority is useless if we refuse to recognize the reality of the Enemy in the first place…

  • Alan Knox

    “D”,

    We both agree that there are physical maladies which can be helped with external substances. Our difference is that I also think there are psychological (from the word for “soul”) maladies which can be helped with external substances. Many of the substances that help physical maladies were discovered by trial and error, not because a scientist understood how that substance helped. The same can be said of substances that help people with psychological maladies.

    We obviously disagree on the point about issues related to the soul. I believe that just as a person’s physical body can be damaged (even if the person has strong faith in God), a person’s soul can also be damaged (even if the person has a strong faith in God). Plus, I believe that the two (physical body and soul) are connected to a point that one can and does affect the other. Thus, physical ailments can lead to psychological maladies and vice versa.

    -Alan

    • D

      I suppose I would add that we also differ in how we define the word “help”…

      I do not deny that the body and soul are unquestionably connected… When my I hit my thumb with a hammer, it hurts, and sometimes it makes me want to say things in anger that are contrary to the Spirit of God living within me (a decision that is ultimately made in my spirit…)

      But if I hurt myself and curse God, I undoubtedly do “damage to my soul”, but this damage is not reversed simply by nursing my thumb back to it’s original, pain-free state. I heal my soul by seeking His forgiveness and love. So yes, they are connected, but there are limits to how physical stimuli can heal spiritual wounds…

  • Alan Knox

    “D”,

    Yes, “there are limits to how physical stimuli can heal spiritual wounds.” Absolutely. But, physical stimuli can be an aid to the person who is suffering psychologically. We do see this in Scripture. Is it the final answer? No, of course not. But, neither the pain reliever nor the bandaid are the final answer to the physical wounds when you hurt your thumb.

    -Alan

    • D

      Ok… But now we have to back up and ask if that is really the premise that “medical depression” and medication, etc. is built upon… (the assertion that physical stimuli can be an “aid” to the person who is suffering psychologically…)

      Is that what they are saying? That they are simply offering you an “aid” to the stuff you’re going through? Actually no, they are claiming to be dealing with the actual source of the problem. They have no concept of “spiritual pain”, such a concept is nonsensical in the strict realm of science and medicine. It is, by definition, incomprehensible to them. That is why we, as Christians, are playing this strange game of jumping back and forth between two contradictory starting points, and trying to cobble together some sort of intellectual reconciliation between the two. That is essentially (it seems to me) the whole motivation for these types of articles in the first place. That is why there is all this controversy to begin with. After all, people don’t sit around and debate whether or not God approves of us putting band-aids on our thumbs (at least not that often I wouldn’t think…)

      But now, we are not talking about smashed thumbs, or fuzzy vision, we are talking about the realm of human emotion, free will, faith, trust, fear, anxiousness, despair, etc., etc., which, (if you believe the Bible and take it at face value) scripture claims falls under the jurisdiction of the spiritual realm. But once you start creating this little category which effectively allows to define them as primarily of a physical nature with a physical origin, you are taking a very opposite view…

      So we can’t speak out of both sides of our mouths. Is it a spiritual issue, or a physical one? We can’t just duck behind a position comprised of endless circular reasoning…

    • D

      (sorry, one more addendum to my last comment…)

      You said: “But, neither the pain reliever nor the bandaid are the final answer to the physical wounds when you hurt your thumb.”

      I actually completely and totally agree, as this has essentially been my point from the beginning. They are no final answer. Meds are no final answer, they are just a band-aid, no less than if a person resorts to “self-medicating” with a bottle of wine every evening, or a pitcher of beer, or smoking a joing, or whatever else. It is simply another temporary “band-aid”, only it has the more sophisticated packaging of being perscribed by a physician. But I fear that we Christians are so terrified of being labeled as “backwards” or “unscientific” that we dare not say anything in contradiction to moder medical practice. That is why we can disaprove of drinking and drugs without batting an eye, but then turn around and feel compelled to affirm the claims of the “scientific” community which continues to develope all these amazing, patented products with which to medicate our depressed and anxious selves…

  • Alan Knox

    “D”,

    You asked, “But now we have to back up and ask if that is really the premise that “medical depression” and medication, etc. is built upon… (the assertion that physical stimuli can be an “aid” to the person who is suffering psychologically…)”

    For the people that I was talking about earlier – the people that I actually know who are dealing with emotionally issues like depression, anxiety, etc. – the answer to your question would be, “Yes.”

    -Alan

  • D

    Wait… “Yes, they believe they are relying on a physical ‘aid’ for what is essentially a spiritual problem”???

    Or they believe they are addressing a physical problem with a physical aid?

    That is, and continues to be, the crux of the discussion…

  • Alan Knox

    “D”,

    Again, I can only speak for the people that I know personally – and actually, the doctors that I’ve talked with – the medication is an aid to help the person so he/she can then deal with the emotional/psychological issues. Medication is not seen as the answer to the person’s problem.

    -Alan

  • D

    Um, ok… But again, you just continue to respond with these sorts of vague, “clinically-approved” terms…

    What exactly are “emotional/psychological problems”?

    Dan Allen is quite clear of what he thinks when he says “I mean that depression can be the direct result of physical problems in the brain that effect the way a person thinks and feels”.

    He is clearly saying that he belives that in at least some cases the “emotional/psychological problems” are the direct result of physiological causes in the brain. Even though I disagree with a statement like that, at least I fully comprehend the point he is making…

    At this point I don’t know if you agree with that kind of statement or not…

  • Alan Knox

    “D”,

    Yes, like I said before, I believe there is a connection between the physical body and the soul. The two affect one another. Therefore, I believe that physical issues can affect us psychologically and emotionally. Are physical issues the cause of all emotional issues? No. But, I do believe that physical issues can be the cause of emotional issues, and I believe that psychological/spiritual problems can cause physical problems as well.

    -Alan

  • tommyab

    “D”

    I didn’t read all the comments, … I just want to adress your point about demonic possession.

    My point of view about this is that I don’t think that a schizophrenic patient or severly depressed patient(catatonic, in bed not moving not eating, delusional) is more under satanic influence than any dishonnest (but well-functionning) and businessman full of greed. In my mind, there is more demon-possessed people in the office towers of Wall-street than in psychiatry hospital. For me there is as much demon possessions and influence even in the “well-functionning” people of our society.

    would you say that Alzheimer disease is a demonic-possession?? I hope not. But did you know that schizophrenia has long been called “precocious dementia” ? Alzheimer patients may become delusionnal and have hallucinations. Are they possessed? We tend to say no because it’s more “normal” for an old person to be weird. That’s just plain ageism (discrimination based on age…).

    I would invite you to get to know someone who work with mentally sick people and to visit a psychiatric hospital. You would be surprised. Read a bit about syphillis epidemics in Europe before the 20th century. Get to know how mentally distressed and disabled could get someone after a brain trauma.

    Are a brain traumatized delusional patient, suffering deep depression and having hallucinations is demon-possessed??

    I can produce hallucination in any patient by intoxicating him with alcohol. So please: let us not be so impressed by this weird symptom.

    I tend to think that the way to describe many disease in the gospel is simple descriptive. The authors use the words and language and knowlegde that was currently accepted at that time. There is some truth in the notion of demon possession in the fact that diseases are often caused by the devil in the Bible (see Job). But not only mental illness. There is a man in the gospels who was said to be demon possessed who was not able to hear and talk. There is also a woman that was suffering from severe kyphosis (curvature of the upper back). The boy your talking about as suffering from schizophrenia was probably in fact suffering from epilepsy.

    to have the assumption the demonic influence or possession is equivalent to mental disorder is just not biblically grounded. That’s just false.

    Jesus and the gospel’s authors didn’t talk and write to bring exact scientific descriptions of disease (it would not have been understood anyway… we know a bit of things about bacteria for less than 150 years now… )

    ____________

    sometime in the Bible, God healed people.
    sometime, the same God didn’t.
    why?? Ask Him! read Hebrew 11.

    ____________

    (maybe I’m not so much unconfortable with “craziness” in psychiatric patients,… because I know that I am myself somehow a bit crazy… 😉 )

    ___________________

    I would finally say that we as christians ought to be soooo humble about those issues. Our history is so mad. So humbling. So terrible. So not Christ-like. So horrible. All the “witch” that have been burned by christians were probably in many cases mentally sick people. And it’s not only the “glorious” heritage of catholic inquisition. It has sometime happened right here in North America.

  • tommyab

    “D”

    do you know someone who is suffering from severe mental illness ?? or even just has more trouble than others just to cope with life??

  • tommyab

    “D”

    if we make the hypothesis that many mental and physical disorders are caused by demonic possession. Then, what do we do??

    as I said earlier, in the New Testament, there are situations where God heal, and there are similar situations where He doesn’t.

    so, what do we do when God doesn’t heal??

    I ask it again: even if it would be true that many diseases are demonic possessions, then what?? What if God doesn’t heal that time?? What if instead of praying for Timothy, Paul say to him to drink wine?

    we let those people suffer alone?
    we let them destroy themselves and their family?
    we let them in the street? (in fact, at least 1/2 of homeless people are in fact mentally disabled or mentally sick people…)

    no. we just try to deal with the situation the best we can. And maybe you got your “triumphant materialistic medicine” ideas from pharmaceutic marketing, but the reality is very different from triumphalism. We somehow “deal” with those issues.

    500 years ago, the inquisition was burning them.
    100 years ago those people were put into jails or psychiatric hospital.
    Today, we try (I insist on that: we TRY) to get them some (SOME) relief with medication, and psychotherapy. (I’m talking about severe mental illness here, … not coping with a dog’s death)

  • Stephanie Allen

    Man, all these comments are making me depressed!

  • Steve Sensenig

    It has been mentioned here that sometimes in the New Testament people were not healed. Can someone list just one example of anyone coming to Jesus asking to be healed and Jesus choosing not to heal them?

  • tommyab

    @ Steve
    I didn’t say the gospels, I said the New Testament

    2 examples:
    1 Timothy 5:23
    2 Corinthians 12:6-10

    anyway, even if everybody in the New Testament would have been healed,… this is just not the case in the history of the church. And all the “healing” movements until now have just been a shame from my point of view. Yes, God heal often. No, He doesn’t always heal. And, not being healed is never a sign that someone lack faith.

    why would God heal more “mental” disorders than physical one? Again, we make a false distinctions here between two categories of phenomenon that are far more interwined that most western(greek/platonic/gnostic) christians would even begin to be aware of…

  • Steve Sensenig

    @tommyab,

    I was hoping to discuss the issue at hand from a biblical point of view, but it honestly seems that you’ve already made up your mind that pragmatic experience outweighs any progression of biblical evidence that I was inclined to give.

    I would simply say that it is very, very interesting to note just how many times Jesus said, “Your faith has made you whole” or in some other way referenced the faith of the one being healed (see partial list at the end of this comment).

    Furthermore, I asked for examples of people who asked to be healed and were refused, and you gave two passages. The reference to Timothy’s illnesses gives no indication as to whether or not Timothy asked to be healed.

    Now, that may sound petty and an argument from silence, but considering what I asked for, I think it is a significant omission of the passage.

    The second passage you gave, I’m sure you would be willing to admit, is highly debatable and much is frequently read back into the passage. First of all, the passage is not clear that a physical (or mental) illness was in view. In fact, Paul says very clearly that it was “a messenger of Satan”. The word “messenger” in the New Testament is never used in the NT to reference physical ailments, but is always in reference to a personal being (i.e., most often an angel of some sort). Not to mention that, despite the insistence of many, the answer to Paul’s request is not “no”. It is quite possible that what God is telling him is that his grace is sufficient to take care of the situation, and Paul need not ask for something that he already has available to him.

    However, I realize that all of that means nothing because you have chosen to write off the biblical record as being subservient to your own observation of history. By its very nature, your decision to do so removes this discussion from the realm of faith completely. And you have shut down anyone who dares to suggest that faith might be an element of value in the discussion.

    I would strongly encourage you not to be quite so dismissive of the scripture, especially in such a topic as this. Don’t read your experiences back into scripture, but rather let the scripture inform your experiences. And don’t ignore many clear passages in favor of two that are not nearly clear enough with relation to the subject at hand.

    As I said, Jesus did very clearly draw a parallel between faith and receiving what one asks for (whether healing, or anything else that we ask for). Would you dare to discount the very teaching of Jesus himself??

    (For some of the numerous examples of how Jesus ties faith with receiving: Matt 6:30; 8:10; 8:26; 9:2; 9:22; 9:29; 14:31; 15:28; 17:20; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25; 8:48; 12:28; 17:6; 17:19; 18:42 … The apostles continued this theme: Acts 3:16; 14:9 to name two places.)

    • Steve Sensenig

      For the record, the paragraph which begins:

      However, I realize that all of that means nothing…

      and ends:

      …an element of value in the discussion.

      came across with a tone much, much different than what I intended, and I would like to officially retract that paragraph from my comment. I think the rest of my comment can stand, but I did want to publicly apologize to “tommyab” for that paragraph which I feel may have sent a message far different from the one intended by me in my heart.

  • tommyab

    @steve

    you make a lot of assumptions about me that are just plainly false

    i won’t answer them

    but i ask again the question:
    what will we do with sick christians?
    if i follow you, we just have to ask them to have faith and ask God to heal them…

    what if faith does not always heal, but many times give the strenght to go through sickness?

    do I dismiss faith and the Bible when i ask this question??

  • Steve Sensenig

    @tommyab

    Not assumptions, my brother. Just observations. And questions. And I would gladly retract anything that you found assumptive, as that was not at all my perspective. I chose to respond to your comment at face value.

    What do we do with sick Christians, you ask? The New Testament (specifically the book of James) gives instructions on what to do if “anyone among you is sick.” It is not a question that you need to ask me, but rather to ask the Bible itself. You said, “if I follow you,” but it’s not my answer. It’s the Bible’s. Isn’t that worth something in a discussion such as this?

    “What if faith does not always heal”…which brings me back to my original question. Does scripture give any indication that faith fails? Did Jesus’s instructions about faith ever come with caveats? “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘be cast into the sea’, and maybe, just maybe it might happen, if God really wants it to. Or maybe the mountain will just stay there, and I’ll give you the strength to climb it.” That’s not what Jesus said, is it? 😉 (And I intentionally exaggerate to make the point.)

    “Do I dismiss faith and the Bible when I ask this question?” Respectfully, and I really do sincerely mean respectfully, I would suggest that it does. It dismisses faith as something that we can’t really count on (more on this in a minute, regarding the OBJECT of our faith, which is really what this is all about), and it dismisses the Bible as some ideal that we can’t possibly trust fully in what it says because what it states as certainty, we think may only be a possibility.

    Faith is not based on the merit of the one having the faith, but rather on the object of the faith. When James says that any sick among us should call for the elders and let them anoint him with oil and that he should confess his sins, it says that the prayer of faith WILL heal him. It does not say, “but only if God desires it” or any other loophole. It says that it WILL heal him. What do we do with this strong language? How do we explain that away? Was James wrong? Was he, himself, exaggerating? Or was he telling us the truth? Was he telling us that the object of our faith cannot fail us, and so therefore, we can be fully confident of the result (the very definition of faith, according to hebrews 11 is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen).

    I humbly submit–NOT to be argumentative, but in sincere appreciation for the revelation that we have of the Father through Jesus–that taking the Bible at face value, taking the words of Jesus at face value, taking the writings of the rest of the New Testament at face value, we do not see all the loopholes and “what ifs” that we western 21st-century people put on the issue.

    And so, again respectfully, I would submit that to take a position that introduces doubt into the equation is by its very nature contra faith, and one must be able to explain the basis on which we now introduce alternatives to what Jesus taught.

    Jesus taught over and over again that faith DOES bring results. He says over and over that if you have faith, mountains WILL be moved at our command. As I referenced in my last comment, there are myriad references to faith in Him being THE sole basis for healing. And to frame your “what if faith…gives the strength to go through sickeness” question in a different way, did Jesus ever put his arm around someone who asked for healing and say, “I don’t want to heal you. Instead, I’m going to give you strength to get through this”? Was that ever his response to someone who desired healing?

    Listen, brother. I do not desire to be argumentative. I do not desire to be negative towards you. And I’m not feeling that way toward you at all! But I sincerely do not understand why we would want to stand on a position other than what Jesus himself taught. If we believe the words of Jesus, we should live by them and follow them. Not seek to explain them away by introducing doubt where faith is necessary and even desired.

    Please consider my answers carefully and do not let them put you on the defensive. Reason with me from scripture, as I attempt to reason with you from scripture.

    Humbly your brother,
    steve 🙂

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