Of all the organs of the body, the brain is by far the most mysterious. It is mysterious because it is fantastically complex. It is hard to research the brain because if you manipulate it, you'll most likely kill or injure the patient. Many of the reactions in the brain are chemical and electrical and difficult to observe, if not impossible. It is a strange, wonderful organ, and I am so ignorant of how it works that I do not even fully understand the things that doctors do not understand, if you follow me. I do not even know the correct questions to ask!
To further complicate matters, there is the issue of the human soul. Is our soul in our brain? If so, how does the soul affect the brain? And how would you study such a thing in a lab to get conclusive results? The answers to these questions can not be answered simply by biological study.
This gets to the heart of the problem of depression and its cure. The question that I am wrestling with, and the question which ultimately I cannot answer, is this: Is depression a purely spiritual issue, or is it also a biological one? Or, is it both? Though I cannot concretely answer such questions, I think that we may make some helpful observations.
Let's take hypothetical number one. That is, let's assume that the source of depression is a purely spiritual problem. Though the problem's source may stem from a spiritual source, it will never be contained there. Spirit inevitably affects the body. A depressed spirit will have negative consequences to a physical bodies. Nevertheless, the hope here is that if the spirit is cured, the body will follow. How should you deal with depression if it is purely spiritual in nature?
First, and most obvious, the cure for depression would be to counsel the gospel. The gospel, after all, is "good news." It is the best news. It gives us hope, and hope is a balm for depression. The Bible teaches that "hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life" (Proverbs 13:12). If a shattered hope brings depression, then the antidote would be fresh hope.
This is no simplistic answer. It could be that the hope lost is the death of a fiancee, a parent, a child, a dream of life with someone coming to an abrupt halt. The regret over the loss of virginity, or the betrayal of a spouse, or any other such thing that seems to place all hope beyond recall. These are the things that the gospel has an answer for.
You have to begin counseling by determining if the person depressed knows and trusts in Christ Himself. Counseling begins with Jesus Christ, our Wonderful Couselor. Teach them the beauty of the gospel, and if they do believe, then teach how God's promises guarantee that in the end, we will be satisfied that we do not suffer in vain. (For brevity's sake, I will not go into that here because I want to address the other two concerns first and if a blog post goes too long, no one will read it.)
Here is where a decision has to be made after counseling. If the source of the depression is spiritual, is it appropriate to give medication that only affects the physical body? I believe that the answer can be yes, depending on the seriousness of the depression. Though medication will not cure such a problem, it may help to affect a cure.
If we knew someone who is a smoker, and they contracted lung cancer from smoking, would we refuse to treat them until they gave up smoking? This would be absurd. One may argue that treatment would be futile, and that the real problem is the smoking. But we will still treat the patient. The same goes for high blood pressure. Maybe a person's excessive worry is causing the stress leading to high blood pressure. Do we refuse to medicate until that get worry under control? Certainly not. We can still treat the side effects, even when we haven't cured the source of the ill. I am not arguing for medication every time someone has "the blues," but in some instances people, even Christians are so overcome with depression that you cannot even speak reasonably with them.
The real problem of a depression that stems from a purely spiritual source is a lack of faith in God. What a scary thing to say to an evangelical Christian! If we are depressed because of a past sin, then are we not doubting God's promise in Christ to absolve us from all sin? If we overly mourn the deceased, do we not deny the exhortation of Scripture that we will see our loved ones who died in Christ again? And if they we not believers, do we not demonstrate doubt in God's integrity to be fair and just, and that when we witness their trial, we will indeed believe God to have done right. Who among the Church of God has not wavered in such doubt at some point in time?
For a person who does not know Christ, such depression is even more dangerous. For one, they do not have the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives to uphold them in dark times. Further, they are defenseless against demonic manipulation, a factor which should not be discounted. This is, after all, spiritual war. We know from Scripture that demons certainly have the ability to affect physical bodies. Would we deny then that they have the power to affect brains, perception, and mental well-being? In Luke 13:11, Jesus encounters a woman who is hunchbacked due to demonic oppression. Is it not possible that with modern medical technology that surgery could have corrected this affliction? I think that we would have tried such treatment despite the fact that it was a purely spiritual problem with physical consequence. Why not with depression?
This post is already longer than I anticipated, and my own writing has spurred more thought in my mind. I think that I will stop for now and leave room for comment before I post more on the subject.
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