Antidepressants and the Christian faith

In early 2012, my depression had reached its most intense point which caused me to finally cave and go see a therapist. Upon sitting down with my therapist who was a well-respected Christian man, he asked me to tell him my story.

My response was a fairly comfortable one compared to what he was used to from his patients. I unpacked how I had dealt with depression for as long as I could remember. I told him how often times there seemed to be no cause for my depression. I was often merely depressed because I was depressed and for no other reason.

The entire time I spoke, my therapist simply nodded and interjected from time to time to gain a deeper understanding to what I was experiencing. After explaining the length of time I had dealt with depression and the extent that it was affecting me, our appointment had lasted nearly an hour.

Two years later, I still remember the exact words out of his mouth because it is the exact words I have said to some of the people who I have walked with through depression. He asked me a very straightforward question: Do you have any problems with antidepressants?

This is a common question when it comes to the issue of depression, especially in the Christian community. Being a Christian man himself, my therapist understood this. I too understand this, so I want to discuss this very question today.

Many Christians have issues with the use of antidepressants, and presumably a fair amount of those Christians are reading this right now. Therefore, to quote Isaiah 1:18, “let’s reason together.”

Before we think through this controversial issue of whether or not the use of antidepressants is biblical, I want to make something very clear. The answer to whether or not using antidepressants is okay is not clearly written in scripture. There is no passage that states “do not use antidepressants” or “you may use antidepressants” simply because they did not exist during the time frame that the Bible was written.

As a result, the ideas I am going to unpack, while guided by God’s Word, are not themselves God’s Word. As with anything I say, I am open to discussion and debate. With that, let’s begin creating a framework to think through the debate over antidepressants.

I want to begin this by sharing with you my secret to how I approach controversial issues. First, I identify the extreme views that are held. Secondly, I identify the faults in the extreme views and find a middle ground. My basis for doing this in found in the Old Testament from the writings of King Solomon:

“Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.” Ecclesiastes 7:18b (NIV)

Some translations will even say “A wise man of God avoids all extremes.” Simply put, Christians should avoid being extremists in their views. Often times, the middle ground is the biblical ground.

Subsequently, it follows that we should identify the extreme views in the antidepressant debate. There are two:

• Using antidepressants shows you don’t love or trust God

• Antidepressants relieve depression completely

Each of these extreme views must be rejected. At the core of each of these views, an assumption about depression is made. The first view believes antidepressants show a lack of faith; the assumption is that depression is purely spiritual. On the other hand, the second view, that antidepressants will relieve depression completely, assumes that depression is purely physical. Biblically speaking, depression is not merely physical or merely spiritual, but rather a synthesis of the two.

Examine what happens to Jesus in this text very carefully:

“After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him…”

Matthew 4:2-3a (NIV)

Jesus was tempted after he hadn’t eaten for over a month. In other words, Jesus was tempted spiritually when he was weak physically. Let me repeat that for you: Jesus was tempted spiritually when he was weak physically.

To put it simply, the physical affects the spiritual, and vice versa. God has given us both a spirit and a physical body. Subsequently, if we are having issues medically, it’s going to have ramifications on us spiritually. Additionally, if we are having spiritual frustrations, then it can possibly lead to problems with our health.

Therefore, we should never over-spiritualize our depression because we have a physical body nor should we under-spiritualize our depression because God made us to also be spiritual beings.

God has created us with a spiritual being and a physical body. This means that our problems with depression are never simply spiritual or simply physical, but they are a combination of the two. Since this is the case, we must seek to find a physical solution as well as a spiritual solution.

Practically speaking, the physical solution could be a wide array of coping mechanisms. Some people drastically change their dietary intake to be more natural and nutritious. Others create an exercise routine or improve upon their current one in order to cause their body to produce more endorphins.

There are quite a number of people who do all of the above and find that nothing works, so they go to antidepressants. If they have Christian friends and family, they likely receive a fair amount of condemnation upon doing so. This should not be the case.

Consider what Paul the apostle says to the Corinthians:

“‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial.’”

1 Corinthians 10:23a (NIV)

The debate over antidepressants should not be over whether or not it is sinful, but rather over whether or not it is beneficial.

If antidepressants help a Christian to live more joyfully in the life God has given them, then it is clearly beneficial. If antidepressants have no affect or make the depth of the depression far worse, it is clearly not beneficial.

Whether or not a Christian uses antidepressants, they must remember that depression is both physical and spiritual. Therefore, if they do not turn to Christ as their spiritual joy they will never be completely free from their depression. Joy is not found in a mere pill, but in Jesus Christ.

In seeking joy, we should seek our Creator and also make use of the advances of His creation.

Braeden Storkersen is an aspiring pastor with a vision to church plant as well as a student of Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development

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