Is Depression Sin?

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Part Two - Is Depression Sin?

 

There are few subjects in the area of Christianity that stir up as much passionate debate and dogmatism as the matters of depression and anxiety. On the one side of the debate you have those who call themselves “Nouthetic or Biblical Counselors.” Though there is some variation in this movement, as a whole they believe that depression and anxiety disorders have at their root sin or sinful behavior. One well known pastor recently proclaimed on the radio that all depression and anxiety is the product of the sin of self centeredness. “Get rid of self-centeredness and you get rid of all depression and anxiety.” On the other side of the debate are those who believe that depression and anxiety are purely chemical disorders that can be treated with medication and counseling. Those Christians who hold this view also claim they are also following a biblical approach and are not followers of Fraud.

So what is the answer to this perplexing problem? Before I seek to tackle this question let me share a few details about my life and why I feel qualified to bring truth and light to this matter. I was born into a family that has experienced the problems of depression and anxiety. It goes back as least as far as my fraternal grandmother. Likewise my father has had to deal with it, I have had to deal with it and one of my children has it. Therefore I can approach this problem from the perspective of one who knows what it feels like to look down the long dark tunnel and see no light at the end. This I believe is a very important advantage and perspective that is so commonly missing from many who are so dogmatic in their evaluations. They are looking at this matter purely from the outside. They have not walked where I have walked and yet they claim they fully understand what I have been through. That is a bit like me telling my wife I fully understand what it is like to have labor pains and to give birth to a baby. I can understand it to some degree but can not fully appreciate it without going through it myself. Neither can someone who has not experienced depression fully understand or appreciate the pain and suffering that this inflicts on an individual.

Secondly, I feel qualified because I hold both a BA and Master’s degrees in Bible and Biblical languages along with 30 years of Bible study as a full time pastor. This, I believe, makes me well equipped to determine what is and is not taught in the Scriptures and is extremely important as both sides of this debate claim to take a biblical approach. Since both sides arrive at differing views of “what God teaches,” we can only draw one of a couple conclusions. Either one side is right and the other is wrong, both are wrong, or both are partly right. 

Thirdly, God has given me many opportunities to work with those going through these problems and I have learned much from these experiences. I am amazed at the number of people who have gone or are going through depression and deal regularly with anxiety attacks but have kept it hidden for fear someone will consider them “mental”, backslidden, or a weak Christian. I have personally experienced the stigma that comes from well meaning but misinformed Saints when I have had to struggle with it myself. For this reason I openly share what I have gone through and in doing so it has caused many to “come out of hiding” in order to seek help. 

To cover this matter adequately is going to take several weeks. I would ask that you do not judge what I have to say until you hear all that I have to share. My conclusions will be based on the record of the Bible as well as medical research. A good starting point would be to answer the question of what is depression and anxiety. As I do this, I am purely looking at the condition itself and will not be dealing with the causes and cures. This will come later. 

Depression and anxiety disorders are in essence a chemical imbalance of the body. We know that our bodies are dependent on various chemicals and hormones for normal function. If the chemistry gets out of balance the body no longer functions properly and this can have an impact on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimension of the individual. For example, the diabetic suffers from an illness in which not enough insulin is produced resulting in high blood sugar levels. Those who suffer with this illness know all too well the results that happen when the sugar levels are not kept in check. Too high sugar levels cause physical damage to many organs of the body including the eyes, liver, kidneys, and heart. High blood sugar levels are also known to affect the emotional condition of the sufferer making them irritable and very lethargic. On the other hand low sugar levels create a condition in which the individual gives all the appearances of being drunk and may lead to comma and even death.

No one seems to doubt the fact that chemical imbalances of the body do cause serious problems for the individual. However, is there proof that chemical imbalances can also be traced to depression and anxiety? We have already shown that other chemical imbalances can effect the emotion and mental states of individuals. Likewise, it has been proven that chemical imbalances play a role in depression. At this point some will say that there is no medical evidence to support the idea that depression and anxiety are chemical imbalances. In reply to this objection let me share some important facts they are not taking into consideration.

1) Yes, it has been difficult to determine if depression and anxiety are chemical imbalances of the brain because medical science has been limited in its ability to scan and study the chemistry of the brain. However, this has begun to change as newer and better machines are now making it possible to better explore this realm of the body and as a result more and more research is coming out that appears to confirms the idea of a direct link between depression and chemical imbalances.

2) Even though it has not yet been definitively proven that depression and anxiety are chemical imbalances in the brain, it must be noted that there is no medical research that would prove the opposite. This is one fact that those who oppose the idea of a chemical origin seem to ignore. They speak dogmatically that it is not a chemical imbalance yet there is no medical research that would back up their position. Before we can say dogmatically something “is or is not,” we need medical research to support our positions. The Bible does nor lend any help in this aspect of our study. The Bible does mention chemical imbalances so its testimony is left to the realm of medical study.

3) It has been proven that chemical imbalances in other parts of the body can cause depression and anxiety. For example, it has been proven that depression can be brought by a malfunctioning thyroid gland. This is one of the first things they check for when dealing with a depressed person. Another cause of depression is diabetes. More and more has been written about the direct connection between diabetes, a chemical imbalance of the body, and depression. Since chemical imbalances of the body do cause depression and it is documented, the possibility that this can happen in the brain as well should not be ruled out. 

At this point let me add that those who resist the idea that depression can be the result of a chemical imbalance of the brain treat the brain as different from the rest of the body. They will acknowledge chemical imbalances and their effects any where else in the body but when it comes to the brain they say it is not so. Their thinking is a result of viewing the brain as the source of thinking, emotions, decision making, attitudes, and etc. and is thus different from the rest of the body. However, the Scriptures would imply that this is not true. The brain is not the center of thinking, emotions, attitudes, decision making and etc. This is accomplished in the soul or spirit of man is. The brain’s purpose is to allow the Spirit to interact with its physical body and the physical world. This must be the case as indicated in James 2:26 where the definition of death is the separation of the body and the soul. Jesus indicated that even though the soul is separated from its physical body and the physical realm, yet it goes on thinking, feeling, making decisions etc. A good example of this can be seen in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. Yes if the brain suffers damage it can effect thinking and emotions but it is not because these are formed in the brain, but rather the brain has become an inadequate communicator of the will of the soul and its ability to interact with the physical world. 

The brain than is like every other part of the body. It is made up of flesh and blood as determined by DNA and it functions like every other organ of the body. It is dependent on blood supply, can be influenced by various chemicals and medications, and can be injured and at times repaired. If there are chemical imbalances in every other part of the body why can we not accept that this is possible in the brain as well?

4) Depression and Anxiety do respond to chemical treatment. Depression and anxiety can be effectively treated in most cases with medicines that either seek to replace what the body is lacking or seek to increase the body’s production of certain chemicals. Therefore, these drugs do not alter moods but rather they restore the brain’s natural chemistry and in the process restore the individual back to a normal state. 

When I landed in a hospital in June 1985 with clinical depression I was in a desperate state. One minute I could laugh and the next I was crying. The doctors put me on a medication and told me that it would take about two weeks before I would start to feel the difference. Right to the day of my second week I suddenly started pulling out of my depression and everyone could see the difference. Was my mood altered, no! Was I returning to being who I was before, yes! I had tried the route of Nouthetic counseling prior to admitting myself to the hospital. At that point was I was close to suicidal and I knew I needed help. However, having listened to all the misinformation about medical intervention and modern psychiatry, I sought out some Nouthetic counselors who promised they could treat and free me from this depression. In the two weeks I worked with them my condition worsened. It was the intervention of medical treatment that brought me back the state functioning again. My brain was ill and it needed to be treated and I am not ashamed of this fact. I am no more ashamed of this then if I had a thyroid condition that forced me to take medicine the rest of my life.

5) Depression and anxiety conditions are often genetic in nature. This is shown in the fact that these conditions run in families just as other illnesses do. The body’s DNA does not order the body to produce enough chemicals need to keep the individual functioning properly during stressful times. Therefore these individuals are at greater risk of becoming depressed and in a state of anxiety. We recognize this fact with other illnesses. Some families have a weakness toward diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and the list goes one. Why then can we not accept that depression and anxiety could be inherited medical conditions as well?

6) Finally, if depression and anxiety are the products of sin in a person’s life, why do we not treat other physical symptoms caused by sin in the same way? Sin can be responsible for stomach ulcers, cirrhosis of the liver, lung cancer, heart disease and the list goes on. If a man is abusing his body with too much food and no exercise and he ends up with clogged arteries in his heart, why do we treat this problem medically? After all, he has refused to follow God’s commandments and therefore is medically ill. Why do we not say to him, the problem is not a physical one it is a spiritual one. You do not need medical treatment but good, biblical counseling? You say that is ridiculous and yet that in essence is the way many are trying to treat depression and anxiety. 

I will pick up more on this next week. The reason my passion has come out in my writing is because I have seen the needless suffering that has been caused by well meaning Christians who believe that depression and anxiety disorders are nothing more than sin in the life of the individual. In doing so they cause others to suffer needlessly for months if not years because they have neglected the medical aspect of this condition. I am of the persuasion that if we could take these misinformed counselors and let them go through the depths of depression or the torment of anxiety, they would quickly find that it is more than a spiritual issue!