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Antidepressants and Faith

Examining the intersection between taking medicine and relying on God.

I take an antidepressant.

Even though I believe it is God “Who comforts and encourages and refreshes and cheers the depressed and sinking” (2 Corinthians 7:6), each day I swallow a pill.

I think of this not as turning from God, but as attempting to manage symptoms while I wait on Him. I hope I am in the company of Paul’s associate Timothy. He had certainly witnessed great miracles of healing in Jesus’ name, yet the apostle urged him to supplement his drinking water with a little wine because of his “frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23).

It is humbling to take a psychiatric medication and humiliating to admit as much on employment forms.

Of course, not all believers take this view. In 1914, John G. Lake declared, “It is just as offensive for the Christian to take medicine as for the drunkard to take whiskey.”

Now, I don’t condemn Lake; he was used by God in a great move of miraculous healings. But I am fairly sure he would disapprove of me.

As Paul says in Romans 14:3, the strong in faith tend to despise the weak, and the weak to criticize the strong. Sometimes we are not even sure which is which.

For me personally, this struggle has become an invitation to humility. It is humbling to take a psychiatric medication and humiliating to admit as much on employment forms.

I suspect every Christian receives such invitations to humility—perhaps in the form of a period of unemployment or a painful relationship. No doubt some of us need more schooling in humility than others. To all of us, though, the Bible says three times, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34; James. 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

Humility and faith coexist in odd ways. In Genesis 23, when Sarah dies, Abraham believes God’s promise that all the land, as far as the eye can see, will belong to him and his descendants. Yet instead of claiming the promise, he pays an exorbitant fee, to people who don’t share the promise, for a parcel of land to use as a burial plot.

Is this a lack of faith? Or is it an example of humility giving faith the strength to believe and trust even when the fulfillment seems to lag?

That depends on the heart, but one thing is clear: it is not humility that hampers faith, but pride. Specifically, my proud desire to exalt or elevate myself. This putting myself forward can masquerade as faith. But it can't keep up the act forever. Repeatedly, Jesus warns us that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11; 18:14; Matthew 23:12). The contexts indicate claiming a place or title or attitude of honor. Similarly, Paul says that his thorn in the flesh, probably a physical affliction, served to keep him from becoming elated or conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Yet we are also encouraged to trust that, “in due time,” God will exalt us if we humble ourselves (1 Peter 5:6; James 4:10). “You bestow glory on me and lift up my head,” writes David; “You stoop down to make me great” (Psalm 3:3; 18:35).

Jesus is, of course, the great example: humbling Himself through long years to the lowest place to be exalted to the highest place (Philippians 2:8-9). But we see the same pattern in Joseph (Psalm 105:17-21) and Solomon (1 Chronicles 29:25), and most explicitly in Joshua: “that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they revered him all the days of his life, just as they had revered Moses” (Joshua 3:7; 4:14). Unlike Solomon, Joshua never suffered the humiliation of a fall from grace, and some of his most memorable words were spoken toward the end of his life (24:15).

When and how did Joshua humble himself? We first meet him as a military leader (Exodus 17), and later he was one of the 12 spies (Numbers 13). In-between, he was Moses’ minister or servant or aide (Numbers 11:28). He endured the 40 years of wilderness wandering. And, man of action though he was, we are told that he did not leave the tent of meeting (Exodus 33:11). He learned the discipline of waiting on God.

Humility is not grasping upward to seize but extending downward to pour out.

In the New Testament, particularly, exaltation is not individualistic, a promotion to honor, so much as it is a lifting up of the name of Jesus in His Body, the Church—paradoxically, by accepting responsibility and bending low to serve. Paul “conquers” by marching in Jesus’ victory parade; he embraces weakness so that others may be strengthened (1 Corinthians 4:9-10; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 4:12).

Humility may be incomplete without service to others, but it is rooted in waiting on God. In the end, whether or not we submit to antidepressant may not be very important. What counts is whether, at one of God’s occasions, we find our way to the lowest chair and sit in it. Because in that chair, all of us—whether or not we take Zoloft—come before God knowing we are broken.

And God, seeing our need, puts us back together. Piece by piece.

Top Comments

John Espy

6

John Espy replied to Stephen Jacob Palmer's comment

Stephen, thank you so much for posting. I write these occasional articles in hopes of encouraging someone, but usually I don’t know who. Your eloquent honesty is very moving.

Depression definitely makes it difficult to hear from God, sense His presence, believe in any sort of purpose, or experience joy and peace. On my bad days, I try to remind myself of some fundamentals:

1.Jesus calls us to “the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10), including mental and emotional pain. In Scripture, Job, Moses, David, Elijah, Jonah, and Jeremiah (among others) all experienced such pain that they wanted to die. Yet, as we see most clearly with David and Jeremiah, they were entering into and expressing the pain of God Himself. Just as Hosea’s marital problems draw us into God’s own unrequited love for His people, so Jeremiah’s laments give voice to the sorrow and yearning of God. So may yours.

2.We are not disqualified for His service. In fact, 2 Cor. 1 suggests that we bless others by passing along God’s comfort, and we receive that comfort only after we “despair even of life.” Sometimes it is through deep inner struggles that believers have rediscovered important truths. In "Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther," Roland Bainton writes, “What Karl Barth said of his own unexpected emergence as a reformer could be said equally of Luther, that he was like a man climbing in the darkness a winding staircase in the steeple of an ancient cathedral. In the blackness he reached out to steady himself, and his hand laid hold of a rope. He was startled to hear the clanging of a bell.”

3.We are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1). Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Samuel Johnson, William Cowper, Soren Kierkegaard, Charles Spurgeon, J.B. Phillips, and Elizabeth Sherrill are just a few of the great Christians who have grappled with depression. Many have left inspiring and helpful testimonies.

One of my favorite books on depression is "A Lifting Up for the Downcast" (1649) by the Puritan pastor William Bridge. It is available as a free download at http://www.digitalpuritan.net/williambridge.html (see vol. 2).

I hope that you will post again, and that others will weigh in with their comments.

John Espy

Don

2

Don replied to John Espy 's comment

John, this was a very moving article.. thank you for being so honest. And Stephen too. I have also gone through times of depression after having lost two family members very close to me. I know how all-consuming and debilitating it can be. But I also know that that is not how it is meant to be.. God's promise to us is Life. Life with a capital 'L'!! Life filled with joy and laughter and hope and peace! And, sometimes.. we have to fight for that joy... for there is an enemy who is more determined than ever(!!) to destroy us, to rob us of that 'Life', to make us doubt God's goodness, His sovereignty and His love. I have learn't to praise God in the midst of my heartache - knowing and trusting that He is in control, that He is sovereign, that He is good! Trusting that there is a grander purpose in what each of us has to endure... that nothing we go through is ever in vain. He can and He will use whatever we're facing for good. I think it's knowing that, which fills me with such Hope every day. So Stephen, keep running to Him, keep surrendering yourself to Him, keep praising Him - for He is a good God who loves you and wants to use you incredibly through all of this!

18 Comments

Michelle Ravens Czarnecki

1

Michelle Ravens Czarnecki commented…

Yep. I take antianxiety and OCD medication and let me say that to have those medications in my life is a blessing. Such chemical imbalances are real and one needs to acknowledge that such can happen with sin and imperfection in the world. Those who remain ignorant may suffer more themselves as well.

collin

2

collin commented…

I can relate to this article personally, however i think a rising problem in the church and in the culture is the dependency on pharmaceutical drugs. I wouldn't say its lack of faith to take anti-depressants but prozac like drugs reap havoc on the brain. Theres a lot of studies to show the psychological problems linked to anti-depressants. Quitting cold turkey though is extremely dangerous so if you feel led to stop you should slowly cut back your dosage over a long period of time until you completely stop. Depression is normal for Christians just read the psalms every other psalm seems like it was coming from a distraught, lonely, and depressed David. However even though Davids entire world was falling apart around him he was able to stand firm in the faith. I don't think this life will ever be easy and if you can get one thing from the entire bible its that we will suffer in this life its a guarantee. Were called to persevere through Christ in trying circumstances and were in good company, famous Christians like Martin Luther and Charles Spurgen suffered from intense depression and im not using that term lightly. I think if your on any type of drugs you should really pray about it and see if that is the place God wants you in.

Tina

5

Tina commented…

I often find myself at church whenever I feel anxious or sad. After spending a few minutes, or even an hour, in there with God, I find myself 50% more happier and calmer than when I walked in.

sami t

9

sami t commented…

Some misguided info on this article. Should check into bipolar depression, and how it affects people. It's not about picking bible verses to make people bad who are trying to deal with a difficulty. God is the Healer. Not a Judge.

Corrie Pace

1

Corrie Pace commented…

As a follower of Christ who has been on Prozac for 20 years, I am very thankful to read this wonderful article. I tried getting off of it a couple of times thinking that with God's help I could "do" this. My family disagreed. I stopped trying to take "breaks" from my Prozac and just accept the help that God had sent to me. I have been able to lead a normal life and God has used me in some really neat ways.

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