Thursday, August 19, 2010

Q&A: drugs and the Bible

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective. 

Q: What is the proper biblical view of psychoactive drugs particularly in the treatment of mental disease? Sometimes I am concerned that we over-diagnose and over-medicate when the root cause is spiritual. What does the Bible say about the intersection of medicine, the soul, and the brain? --Matthew Pittner

A: Matt, you get the prize for the most out-of-the-blue question! Yet, like you, I am concerned that the all-too-often solution for life's difficulties is a prescription. To be sure, there are some chemical problems in which responsible diagnosis and prescription are necessary.

There is very little about medicine mentioned in the Bible. In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul encouraged Timothy to use "a little wine" as a digestive aid. Similarly, the Good Samaritan used wine to help an injured traveler. He "bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine" [Luke 10:34]. A "balm" is mentioned in Gilead [Jeremiah 46:11] and the leaves of some trees are noted for their healing properties [Ezekiel 47:12; perhaps the same tree in Revelation 22:2?]. However, beyond a handful of references, the Bible doesn't tell us much about "the intersection of medicine, the soul and the brain."

Fortunately, the Bible does give me some other principles that help to determine the "outer boundaries" of my convictions on this topic.

First, since all sickness has it's root in the spiritual, our first regimen should be prayer. In James 5:14-15, we read, "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven." When Jesus' disciples found a man afflicted by a demon, Jesus said, "This kind can come out only by prayer" [Mark 9:29]. So, it seems to me that all kinds of human ailments should be addressed with spiritual resources first.

Second, we must have proper respect for our bodies, made in the image of God and worthy of special guardianship. Paul writes that our bodies are "temples of God's Holy Spirit" and, as such, we should "glorify God" with our bodies [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. In the context of this passage, the Apostle is speaking specifically of rejecting sin. The larger implication is that we should be wise with what we join ourselves--whether it is drugs, drinking or debauchery.

Third, second opinions are good ideas. A multitude of counselors produces great wisdom [Proverbs 15:22]. So, in matters of significance [and, our mental health is pretty significant], it's important and wise to seek additional information and insight. Second opinions are good stewardship.

Finally, give God a chance. All too often, we rush to quick fixes for the complex challenges of life. But, the most basic prescription of the spiritual life is: Faith. Proverbs 3:5 urges us to "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." This verse applies to every part of life: financial, relational, occupational, material...and psychological. This doesn't mean that a person should never take medicine for mental illness. But, every life decision must be weighed in the shadow of God's sovereign leading of our life.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Q&A: the problem of evil

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: In reference to today's sermon: It seems to me that the unanswered question of the message was where does evil fit in? How do we reconcile that Jesus is the creator and hold all things together and yet evil still get a foot hold? --Matt Benton

A: Matt, I appreciate your question and so will a numkber of others who have talked with me in the last 24 hours, all wondering the same thing. Reconciling the sovereignty of God and the presence of evil isn't a new discussion (as you know) and is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to belief for many.
The problem is a simple one, actually: Either God isn't Creator of all things and/or lacks soveriegnty over all creation, conveniently taking the problem of evil out of His hands...or...God is Creator and is soveriegn and appears to be the author of things like floods in Pakistan and African genocide. The answer, isn't so simple.
As I've modeled in other posts, let's begin with what we know for certain. First, I know that God is "first cause." That is, He is the starting placeof all creation. Our Bible opens with the words, "In the beginning, God." He is the creative genesis behind everything. As we heard in yesterday's sermon, Jesus Christ brought "all things" into being [John 1:1-2, Colossians 1:16].
Second, I know God created Satan. That's right. Satan  isn't self-existant; he is a created being [Ezekiel 28:13]. He was created perfect and beautiful as a high-ranking angel in the order of the Cherubim [angels that guarded the holiness of God; Ezekiel 28:14]. God not only created Satan, but appointed him to serve God.
Third, I know that Satan brought evil into the world. His heart was filled with greed and pride and said "I will" have God's place [notice the number of times the phrase "I will" is mentioned in Isaiah 14:12-15]. In his effort to overthrow God's rightful place of rulership, Satan violated God's commands and led the world into evil.
Fourth, I know that love permits freedom. Someone may ask, why did God allow Satan to bring such violence into His perfect creation? The answer is "love." God could have created a world that had no choice but to love and serve Him. In that condition, we would be nothing more than automatons, pre-engineered to live only one way. However, we would not be able to express true love any more than if I forced my children to love me. True love gives another the freedom to love. This means that it necessarily gives another the freedom to hate. This is what Satan did, and the world after him.
Fifth, I know that sin set the world off-course. Sin isn't just a moral disruption in the hearts of people. Sin had creation-wide implications. All of God's creative order was set on tilt and longs to be redeemed [Romans 8:19-23]. This principle of sin in the world is what causes monsoons and cancer. Someone might ask, "Then why doesn't God simply eradicate sin?" The answer is that sin begins in the hearts of people--those deeply loved by God--and to destroy sin is to destroy people [see "on suffering" post below]. Strange as it may seem, God's grace allows evil to exist because of God's saving purposes to rescue people.
So far, we have determined that God was not the original author of sin. He did, however, create Satan who, in turn, because of divine freedom, asserted his will and led the world astray. The whole of creation is perverted by Satan's fall. As such, God is not the immediate cause of natural disasters and human sickness. The principle of evil, launched by Satan, is the cause.
But, this doesn't answer the whole question. Someone may wonder, "If God has the power to prevent a tornado, and nothing comes into being apart from His decision, then isn't God ultimately responsible for the tornado." Surprisingly, the answer is "yes." While sin is the immediate cause, God is the ultimate cause. Tornadoes can't form without Him.
The difference between immediate and ultimate cause might best be understood in the following illustration. Suppose a teenager finds a handgun, loads it and robs a corner store. Who is responsible for the robbery? The police will charge the boy. Moreover, the police will definitely not charge Smith and Wesson, the maker of the gun. But, of course, had Smith and Wesson never manufactured the gun, the robbery could not have taken place as it did. The gun maker is the ultimate cause; but the teen is the immediate cause of the robbery. Only one of them is responsible for the act.
This limited illustration breaks down in several places, of course. The main point is to help us appreciate the sovereignty of God who is behind all things and the culpability of Satan and sinful people who propagate the principle of sin in the world.
I can only hope this answer begins to help...