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.


Pilgrim said...

Thank you so much for your thoughts. As I have dealt with some issues for a number of years, I have been on some medications. Thankfully, as I've grown closer to the Lord the past 2 years, He has helped me get off a couple of the medications I was on and I am so grateful. As I've been able to trust God more, my need for anxiety meds has disappeared.

I always enjoy reading your posts.

The Batman said...

I view these meds, like many other medical advances, as merciful gifts from God: healing agents that He uses in addition to the work of His Spirit. They have helped "lift me out of the miry clay" and allowed me to grow closer to the Lord. I don't regret taking them for a minute. YMMV.