Antidepressants and Faith
Examining the intersection between taking medicine and relying on God.
I take an antidepressant.
Even though I believe it is God “Who comforts and encourages and refreshes and cheers the depressed and sinking” (2 Corinthians 7:6), each day I swallow a pill.
I think of this not as turning from God, but as attempting to manage symptoms while I wait on Him. I hope I am in the company of Paul’s associate Timothy. He had certainly witnessed great miracles of healing in Jesus’ name, yet the apostle urged him to supplement his drinking water with a little wine because of his “frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23).
Of course, not all believers take this view. In 1914, John G. Lake declared, “It is just as offensive for the Christian to take medicine as for the drunkard to take whiskey.”
Now, I don’t condemn Lake; he was used by God in a great move of miraculous healings. But I am fairly sure he would disapprove of me.
As Paul says in Romans 14:3, the strong in faith tend to despise the weak, and the weak to criticize the strong. Sometimes we are not even sure which is which.
For me personally, this struggle has become an invitation to humility. It is humbling to take a psychiatric medication and humiliating to admit as much on employment forms.
I suspect every Christian receives such invitations to humility—perhaps in the form of a period of unemployment or a painful relationship. No doubt some of us need more schooling in humility than others. To all of us, though, the Bible says three times, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34; James. 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).
Humility and faith coexist in odd ways. In Genesis 23, when Sarah dies, Abraham believes God’s promise that all the land, as far as the eye can see, will belong to him and his descendants. Yet instead of claiming the promise, he pays an exorbitant fee, to people who don’t share the promise, for a parcel of land to use as a burial plot.
Is this a lack of faith? Or is it an example of humility giving faith the strength to believe and trust even when the fulfillment seems to lag?
That depends on the heart, but one thing is clear: it is not humility that hampers faith, but pride. Specifically, my proud desire to exalt or elevate myself. This putting myself forward can masquerade as faith. But it can’t keep up the act forever. Repeatedly, Jesus warns us that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11; 18:14; Matthew 23:12). The contexts indicate claiming a place or title or attitude of honor. Similarly, Paul says that his thorn in the flesh, probably a physical affliction, served to keep him from becoming elated or conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Yet we are also encouraged to trust that, “in due time,” God will exalt us if we humble ourselves (1 Peter 5:6; James 4:10). “You bestow glory on me and lift up my head,” writes David; “You stoop down to make me great” (Psalm 3:3; 18:35).
Jesus is, of course, the great example: humbling Himself through long years to the lowest place to be exalted to the highest place (Philippians 2:8-9). But we see the same pattern in Joseph (Psalm 105:17-21) and Solomon (1 Chronicles 29:25), and most explicitly in Joshua: “that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they revered him all the days of his life, just as they had revered Moses” (Joshua 3:7; 4:14). Unlike Solomon, Joshua never suffered the humiliation of a fall from grace, and some of his most memorable words were spoken toward the end of his life (24:15).
When and how did Joshua humble himself? We first meet him as a military leader (Exodus 17), and later he was one of the 12 spies (Numbers 13). In-between, he was Moses’ minister or servant or aide (Numbers 11:28). He endured the 40 years of wilderness wandering. And, man of action though he was, we are told that he did not leave the tent of meeting (Exodus 33:11). He learned the discipline of waiting on God.
In the New Testament, particularly, exaltation is not individualistic, a promotion to honor, so much as it is a lifting up of the name of Jesus in His Body, the Church—paradoxically, by accepting responsibility and bending low to serve. Paul “conquers” by marching in Jesus’ victory parade; he embraces weakness so that others may be strengthened (1 Corinthians 4:9-10; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 4:12).
Humility may be incomplete without service to others, but it is rooted in waiting on God. In the end, whether or not we submit to antidepressant may not be very important. What counts is whether, at one of God’s occasions, we find our way to the lowest chair and sit in it. Because in that chair, all of us—whether or not we take Zoloft—come before God knowing we are broken.
And God, seeing our need, puts us back together. Piece by piece.