Why do individuals, specifically Christians, have physical and psychological problems? Through the years there has been much discussion concerning the origination of physical and psychological problems in the lives of believers. Does an individual’s current sin (known or unknown) cause their current physical and psychological problems? Will confession and repentance of sin cure physical and psychological problems? Is there a possibility that some current physical and psychological problems are caused by something other than sin? Could problems be caused by things like genetics or a dietary deficiency? It is important to be able to diagnose the problems and the cause of problems correctly in order to apply the correct medical, spiritual, or psychological ministry.
Herein lies our greatest problem. It is not usually possible to diagnose the source or cause of every disorder, since many conditions result from a combination of sources and causes. Oversimplification may result in mistreatment and increase the misery of the afflicted individual. Many hurting people have been told that they are sick because they are sinning, or that they are not healed because they lack enough faith. This is a travesty upon the church and the wonderful name of Christ. If only we had the insight of Jesus who could always address the underlying problem which caused the abnormal behavior.
We may not be able to perfectly diagnose each disturbed individual, but we can learn how to approach them from a study of the healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus did not cookie-cutter His ministry. He personalized each application to the need of the individual. The church has much to learn from this one point. For example, Jesus did not always share the gospel, cast out a demon, or discuss the individual’s past. He sometimes made it very clear that the psychological or physical problem was not the result of personal sin. We usually aren’t nearly as kind or insightful.
Matt. 9:35, “And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, healing every kind of disease and (healing) every kind of sickness.” Notice the three categories: the healing of the spirit, body, and soul. The gospel obviously heals the spirit; the healing of disease — for the body; and the healing of sickness — for the soul.
The gospel rescues a fallen Adamic spirit from a condition of death and separation from God. The new birth creates a new creature, a new man, a joining of the eternal living Christ spirit with the believer’s spirit. This is a spiritual ministry and involves the ultimate identity of the believer; thus, his quality and quantity of life. Understanding this truth can set a person free from the guilt of sin. However, not all psychological problems are the result of spiritual misunderstandings or personal, unforgiven sin.
The word disease (malakai) means softness, as in disability, aging, and disease. The word implies organic illness. Often the problem comes because of aging, disease, or injury. It is not always directly the result of personal sin or lack of faith. The word sickness (noses) is used of mental ailments and, like kamno (used in James 5:15), includes weariness of mind or psychosomatic (soul) illness. James promises the believer that faith will heal the sick. While God can heal anything, He makes no such absolute promise for the diseased. Soul sickness (that affects the mind, will and emotions) is very often rooted in a failure to trust in God.
We find the self-centeredness of our demand to be in control of our own lives at the root of many such forms of illness. This is the spiritual-psychological root of illness. For others, the root is a guilt complex which encourages the sickness as a form of self-punishment. We must not label a guilt-ridden person as controlling, or a controlling person as having a guilt complex. Why not? Incorrect diagnosis of a problem tends to result in inappropriate solutions or prescriptions.
From this study of the Greek terms, I believe we can see that the etiology of abnormality can be spiritual, physical, or psychological. Accordingly, Jesus applied three different levels of therapy:
1) healing the spirit by casting out demons or teaching the necessity of a new birth,
2) healing the soul or psychological illnesses by forgiving sins and increasing faith,
3) and healing the body by applying medicine, as was necessary for the physical ailment of blindness (spittle and mud was a well known salve for some forms of blindness – see John 9:6.)
So where does a believer’s physical and psychological problems originate?
According to Scripture, the cause of man’s psychological and physical problems always has its origin in the fall of Adam. There would be no psychological problem or physical disease if there had been no sin. The original sin of Adam resulted in our individual, personal sin, sins against us which are often not our fault, and the many diseases and eventual death which are not always the direct result of personal sin.
Non-spiritual causes of abnormality include genetic influences which have been documented to exist, and must not be confused with those causes which are the result of personal behavior and personal sin. Genetic influences are shown to cause a predisposition toward certain physical and psychological ailments. These include the fact that gender influences many mood disorders. Women are known to experience more frequent depression than their male counterparts. In identical twin studies, the bipolar and schizophrenic disorders have been shown to have a very decided genetic influence.
Additionally, the victims of organic disorders (such as brain tumors and disorders resulting from physical trauma, as in the case of accident victims) are not to be held personally responsible for their inability to function at the level expected by society. It goes without saying that a child with down syndrome would not be personally responsible for this condition and should have limited social and spiritual expectations of responsibility. Unfortunately many who do not exhibit physical manifestations of their psychological problem are shown little respect for their non-physical, psychological disability.
In a similar way, we often show little respect for the person who has suffered damage due to family dysfunctions. Should we expect the same behavior from a person who had an ideal family experience as from one whose family psychologically disabled them as innocent children? [Even addicted persons deserve special understanding in that they are often using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate their unusual pain.] And yet, many in the church today tend to automatically equate dysfunction with personal responsibility, while harshly labeling it as sin or unbelief.
Obviously, Christians cannot excuse sinful behavior, but we can learn to better understand its source and not condemn those who struggle with sinful behavior or debilitating personal problems which are not their fault. Like Jesus, we should share the grace-filled message, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.” Christians seem to feel that they cannot try to understand the cause of sin for fear that they will be condoning continual sin. Understanding the source of sin, however, does not necessarily cause the continuation of sin, especially if the struggling Christian is encouraged to see that it is their behavior which is wrong, not themselves as Christ ones. If Christians see themselves as wrong, it leads to shame and hiding from God. Hiding from Him is not a good idea!
Christians tend to think of all sin as the same and worthy of the same response. Again, the Word of God gives us guidance in this matter. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament provided varied requirements for differing infractions of the holiness required by God. The words translated broadly as sin differ in the original language. English equivalents include: iniquity, wickedness, rebellion, sins, faults, personal weaknesses, and human mortality. I believe that God varies His response to our infractions of His holiness based on the intent of our heart. Intentional evil, such as iniquity, brings the wrath of God, but He understands our unintentional weaknesses. Again, should we not treat people in the same way?
Sometimes the organic disability is so great that medical help must be sought before the individual is able to make application of counseling, ministry, and/or biblical wisdom. In most cases, it is advisable that the Christian counselor or lay minister continue counseling these clients as soon as the thinking and emotional status of the client is stable enough to appropriate this help.
The question often comes up concerning the passage in Galatians 5:20 listing the deeds of the flesh. This passage reads as follows: “idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions . .” Sorcery is the Greek word pharmakeuo (to administer drugs); the use of medicine, drugs or spells (5331 in NASB Exhaustive Concordance). Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says “Pharmakia (English pharmacy, etc.) primarily signified the use of medicine, drugs, spells; then, poisoning; then, sorcery. . . In sorcery, the use of drugs, whether simple or potent, was generally accompanied by incantations and appeals to occult powers, with the provision of various charms, amulets, etc., professedly designed to keep the applicant or patient from the attention and power of demons, but actually to impress the applicant with the mysterious resources and powers of the sorcerer.” The use of medicine is not the same as sorcery. If it were, Jesus could be accused of performing sorcery (see John 9:6). Drugs used in the process of sorcery are not being used to cure anything, but are being used for devious means. So what is sorcery? The following is a description of sorcery:
“The term sorcerer, from the Latin sors, “a lot,” “one who throws or declares a lot” would assign it initially the more circumscribed sphere of augural prognostication. But the term, as commonly employed includes one who practices in the whole field of divinatory occultism.” Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary.
The term sorcery has more to do with magical spells than with drug usage. The term sorcery is referring to a system that is contrary to Biblical teaching, but is not referring specifically to medical treatments of illnesses using medication. Unger again expands on what medical practices were being practiced during the time of Christ.
“In the time of Christ the Jews had become enlightened by contact with; Egypt, Babylon Greece, and Rome. They certainly cultivated philosophy, law, and medicine. In the New Testament these illnesses are mentioned dropsy, canker (cancer, or better, gangrene), bloody flux (dysentery), palsy, and lunacy. Physicians were a regular profession (Matt. 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 4:23; 5:31). Luke was the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). Physicians were numerous (Mark 5:26; Luke 8:43). They doubtless practiced according to the system then in vogue in the Greek and Roman world. But the vast number of the unrelieved stands out on every page of the gospels and gives to the ministry of Christ its peculiar hold on the people. The following animal and vegetable substances used in medicine (in Jesus time) are : Anise, balm calamus, cassia, cinnamon, cumin, dill galbanum, gall, hyssop, leech, mandrake, mint, myrrh, stacte, wine.”
What are the general applications of medications?
1. Those that mask or deaden but don’t cure. (i.e. pain killers, the “old” style psycho tropic drugs)
2. Those that supply a chemical which adjusts for a normal body dysfunction resulting in the lack of production of a needed body chemical. (i.e. insulin, thyroid hormone, etc.)
3. Those that allow the normal functioning of a natural chemical process. (i.e. low level diabetic medication)
Christians who feel that all of a person’s problems come from sin often see medications as indicated in number one above. They believe that drugs mask or deaden. Also there can be the belief that an anti-depressant is an “upper” which artificially changes someone’s mood instead of seeing the anti-depressant as either supplying a chemical which is deficient or correcting the natural body process that produces the chemical (number two or three in the above applications of medications).
For Christians the problem often is not taking a pill or shot, but the problem is of taking an identity message with each pill. Every time they take a pill they take a message. Some of those false messages are: “Jesus is unhappy with me! If Jesus loved me I wouldn’t have to take this pill! If I really trusted Jesus I wouldn’t need this medication. Jesus can’t bless me until I get off this medication. I must really be sinning in some way!”
Another earthly test is the street test. The street test goes like this, “Is this medication being stolen and sold on the street as an illegal drug?” Why such a strange test? Because, to my knowledge, no one sells antidepressants like a street drug. The medicine will have no effect unless the person is truly chemically imbalanced. When someone questions the legitimacy of taking a medication like Prozac, Zoloft, etc. for emotional pain caused by depression, it is interesting to note that often they have no problem taking a pain killer like aspirin or Darvon for their physical pain.
In conclusion, it is our desire that no believer have to be on any unnecessary medication. Sometimes individuals do need short-term medication to enable them to trust the Lord and, with His guidance, deal with the problem. When one is in deep depression his ability to trust is hindered. They can occasionally wean off the medication after a short period of time. Others may have a genetic deficiency and their bodies are not sufficiently producing the chemical needed for “normal” brain functioning. These may need to be on medication for a much longer time period. Let’s not shoot our wounded brothers and sisters in Christ, instead let’s encourage them to trust Him and walk humbly with Him, dealing with physical problems by using medicines when necessary.
I barely knew what depression was until I was 31 years old. After my first child was born I had severe post partum depression along with obsessive thoughts. I had been in full-time ministry for years and was married to a minister and was myself leading women’s Bible studies, discipling young women, and daily walking with God in the Word and prayer. My first response was to fix the depression the way I knew; I tried spiritual warfare, pleading with God, searching my soul and searching my past, counselors and physicians. I also tried changing my diet and using vitamin supplements, but I did not get any relief. One day I was attending a conference on the Exchanged-life. The author of a number of books on the topic was the speaker. I sought counseling from him and learned about how Christ was indeed my life, which was an element I hadn’t realized. I appropriated those truths by faith. The symptoms still didn’t diminish. I was in a real fix.
Finally after about 10 months my symptoms seemed to get better, but then I gave birth to my second child. My severe depression was back, except this time it was much worse. My physician tried to help; I even went to a PMS (Pre-menstrual Syndrome) specialist who put me on progesterone and a special diet. Still there was no relief. Finally my resistance wore out and my family physician put me on an anti-depressant. Gradually I began to get back to my “old self” (not in the old self/new self sense!) I felt much better without the nagging obsessive thoughts and the constant depressive attitude. I discovered that I had a new problem: I was so ashamed that I had to take medication! I believed a Christian should not have to take medications. I believed all they really needed to do was to trust God more. How could I be a witness to anyone? If they knew I was on medication they would not believe the message. Whenever I had to fill out a health history form I was so ashamed to write down the name of the medication I was taking. I felt like my witness for Christ was shot. I was ashamed to let friends or family know (even though I found out that many of my relatives on my father’s side had to take medication). Taking medication reminded me of my inadequacy and failure as a Christian. Why couldn’t I just depend on Jesus? Because I was so ashamed, I occasionally tried to quit taking medication. The depression and irrational obsessive thoughts returned.
God began to show me that as much as I didn’t like being on medications, He had allowed me to have this physical deficiency in my brain, and it was His best for me to take medication. My mind didn’t function properly without the medication. He convinced me that I was like a diabetic who needed insulin to be “normal.” Because there is a chemical imbalance in my mind, all the soul searching, spiritual warfare, hormones, diets, and counseling were not going to change my need for medication.
I have been on medications for over 10 years. I am so thankful that the Lord provided medications such as the one I am taking. I know that God loves me just as I am, is happy with me, and sees me as adequate in Christ. He is not disappointed with me. I am now able to apply Christ as my life.
I personally know of Christians who have refused to take medication (even though they have a physical need for it). Their personal lives and their families lives are suffering greatly. Poor theology is a cruel taskmaster.
I believe many cases of depression can be resolved by good Christian counseling, spiritual warfare, proper nutrition, growing in relationship to Christ, etc., but some individuals require medication. The Lord is indeed Sovereign in all things, including the use of medication.