Is it ok for a Christian to take antidepressants?
Is it ok for a Christian to take antidepressants?
Two Biblical principles to explore whether medication is ok
Within many Christian circles, the topic of taking antidepressants and similar medications for emotional or mental pain often comes with a lot of embarrassment and guilt. Why? Because when it comes to our hearts and minds, we hear an underlying message that says, “Jesus is enough.” It comes across as if our emotional and mental pains are only spiritual and we’re given all sorts of convincing Scriptures for both the cause and the solution. With this “Jesus is enough” perspective, I've heard countless stories of loving and well-meaning Christian leaders counseling others to avoid or stop taking medications for emotional or mental pain and simply trust God for healing.
For those who may need these medications, they are left in confusion with thoughts like, “I love Jesus, but if I take these medications it feels like I’m ‘copping out’ on out Him … so, is my faith lacking?” In the end, they aren’t left questioning whether Jesus is enough, but, “Am I enough?” Thus, it’s easy to see how the embarrassment and guilt develops.
In response to this, I do feel it is essential that we learn to manage our emotional and mental (hearts and minds) with our faith in Christ, not just relying on a quick-fix pill. However, I also think the need depends more on the person’s story rather than a one-size-fits-all rule of faith. That being said, I think this topic isn’t so much about who’s right or wrong or trying to find “the right balance.” Instead, I think one way is to have a “broader” understanding through Scripture. Because a broader perspective helps us have a broader, more informed dialogue.
So, let’s look at some Biblical principles and corresponding examples that will help broaden both our perspective and our discussion.
Principle #1 - Medicine and doctors are divine blessings.
God knows we live in a world where we are all susceptible to illness, disease, and other health issues (physical, emotional and mental). Thus, you can find various places throughout the Bible where God and His people provide healing through the conventional medicine of the day. It's a blessing, not a faith hinderance. Here are a few examples:
Medicine as God’s means of healing. In Isaiah 38, King Hezekiah is "mortally ill" with a skin disease (boils) and cries out in prayer for God's healing. God hears him and says He will extend His life (healing). Hezekiah's healing comes from the medicine of the day, a cake of figs to be applied on his skin. God blesses the use of their modern-day medicine.
Medicine as the loving thing to do. In Luke 10:34, Jesus highlights how the Good Samaritan goes beyond cultural prejudices to lovingly care for a man beaten, robbed, and left for dead. To help the man heal, the Good Samaritan bandages his wounds with medicine of the day, "oil and wine.” Jesus highlighted a story where love involved medical care.
"Is there no balm of Gilead, is there no physician there? Why then has not the daughter of my people been restored?"
– Jeremiah 8:22
Medicine and doctors as symbols of God’s blessing and restoration. In Jeremiah 8:22, we see the prophet lamenting the lost hope and destruction of Jerusalem. He likens it to the lack of medicine ("balm of Gilead”) and doctors for healing and restoration. This Scripture points out that they had a common practice of having medicine and doctors for their health and healing. Medical care was a sign of God’s blessing.
Medicine for the dying and depressed (and anxious). In Biblical times, there was a tradition and practice of using “strong drink” and “wine” for medicinal purposes. “Strong drink” was often used as anesthetic for those who were dying or condemned to death to help numb their suffering and pain. On the other hand, “wine” had a wide range of medicinal purposes and was also used for a medicinal effect to help relieve depression/anxiety and for those mourning/grieving (see Proverbs 31:6, Jeremiah 16:7-8 “the cup of consolation”). Both were being used for medicinal purposes, not drunkenness.
*I am NOT using these passages to promote drinking for pain and I never recommend drinking as a way of dealing with suffering, depression, anxiety, etc. Rather, I am highlighting that there was a custom and practice among God’s people using the medicine of their time to help suffering, depression/anxiety, and overwhelming grief.
I think we have much better alternatives available today. Additionally, the Bible is clear about abusing or being addicted to alcohol (Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 23:21, Isaiah 5:22, Hosea 4:11, Ephesians 5:18, Titus 2:3).
Here are some helpful commentaries on the use of “strong drink” for medicinal purposes in biblical times:
Pulpit Commentary: There are cases where strong drink may be properly administered. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish (Job 29:13; Job 31:19). As a restorative, a cordial, or a medicine, wine may be advantageously used; it has a place in the providential economy of God.
Proverbs 31:6, 7
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: The proper use of such drinks is to restore tone to feeble bodies and depressed minds (cf. Psalm 104:15).
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: The reference is to the custom for mourners to fast (cf. 2 Samuel 3:35), whereupon their sympathetic friends brought them bread and wine to console them; [the cup of consolation] on the principle stated Proverbs 31:6.
Therefore, if medicine and doctors are shown as divine blessing, should we be encouraged to look at our modern-day medicines to help with suffering, depression, anxiety, etc.? Should we use our modern-day “cake of figs,” show love through our modern-day medical care, use our modern-day “balm of Gilead” and doctors, and use our modern-day “cup of consolation” for depression, anxiety, and grief?
Principle #2 – Medicine is one of the ways God can address our pain.
One of the greatest leaders of the New Testament Church counsels the use of “medicine.” The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to not drink water only, but to start drinking some wine for his chronic digestive, stomach issues (1 Timothy 5:23). This brings up some interesting discussion why medicine was promoted instead of instructing Timothy to only “trust God” for healing.
Medicine as a solution for ongoing pain. Dysentery was a common problem during this time and wine was widely known for its medicinal purposes to treat it and other health issues (supported through research today). Burn-out, stress, anxiety and depression can also cause stomach issues, such as stress-related ulcers. With all of the issues and stresses of leading a Church in Ephesus (a polytheistic society, a progressive culture and false teachers), it’s easy to see why Timothy may have been suffering the physical toll of stress on his body. Today, 90% of pastors feel fatigued and worn out every week. Whatever the stomach issue was for Timothy, it was chronic and severe enough that Paul was concerned and instructed Timothy to use medicine (wine) to help his ailment / pain.
Medicine as a means for God’s healing. Paul saw many incredible miracles through his ministry including the healing of a crippled man (Acts 14:8-10), the resurrection of a dead man through prayer (Acts 20:9-12), protection from the deadly bite of a poisonous snake (Acts 28:3-6) and even healing and casting out of demons through mere physical contact with Paul’s clothing (Acts 19:11-12). Yet, Paul doesn’t instruct Timothy to pray, believe and trust God to shake off his illness like Paul did with the poisonous snake. Paul doesn’t touch a handkerchief and send it Timothy to be healed. We know Paul was praying for Timothy and the church (2 Timothy 1:3-4), but why weren’t Paul’s prayers working to heal Timothy? We don’t know. However, in this case, Paul's wisdom for Timothy was to take some medicine (wine) for his ailment / pain.
Medicine as a natural response, not a lack of faith. Along with Paul and others close to him, we can assume Timothy was praying for his ailment to be healed. Yet, his stomach issues persisted. Still, Paul didn’t accuse Timothy of not trusting God enough or not having enough faith. Paul didn’t assume any spiritual reason (God’s breaking or sanctifying work or “the enemy’s” attack) or question Timothy’s devotional life in relation to his sickness. Instead, out of love for him, Paul simply instructed him to use a little medicine (wine) for his ailment / pain.
Medicine as an answer to prayer. We’re not sure if Paul had known about Timothy’s condition for a long time or if it was the first time Paul learned of it. Either way, Paul’s counsel was the practical use of medicine (wine) for his ailment / pain. Maybe the medicine (wine) was part of God’s practical solution, the answer to prayer. We also don’t know how long Timothy used the medicine (wine) for healing, whether it was for a short time or more permanently to protect his stomach. However, we can deduce that Timothy, a faithful church leader, followed Paul’s counsel and used the medicine (wine) and his stomach issues were either healed or became manageable, because Timothy continued to pastor the church for another 34 years.
With the principles above, I think medications for our physical, emotional and mental pains can be part of our faith experience, not hindering it.
Medications are not the perfect cure, but I have witnessed the benefits that they can bring! I have my own experience taking an antidepressant for a time. While the process was not perfect, it was helpful. I've also joyfully heard senior pastors and other incredible Christians refer to their medications (and therapy) as blessings that help them not only restore life, but also live out their God-given talents, skills, and purpose on a daily basis.
If you're considering talking to a doctor or therapist about medication or currently on medication, here are some simple tips to keep in mind:
Medication is a whole-health process not a pill to make it all go away. It can be tempting to think – or hope – that everything will go away with a pill. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It may take the edge off, but matching it with a healthy lifestyle and even therapy will result in the greatest outcome with the most benefits for your overall well-being. As I’ve coached others using our Thrive workbook, the more whole-health balance they had (physical, mental, spiritual, relational), the better their medications seemed to work and the less they needed to increase them.
Medications can be helpful, but are still imperfect, so educate yourself. Most medications will have minor to difficult side effects. For example, some antidepressants can have more adverse side-effects for people age 24 and younger. The key is being educated about medications - not fearing them, just building awareness. With the right knowledge, you and your doctor can figure out the right medications and dosage to make life manageable with the least amount of interference from side effects.
It's a process to find what works, so be patient. It’s very common for some medications to not work or stop working after a period of time. In either case, it’s normal to switch to another. For some, your doctor may suggest a mixture of medications. Finding the right medication is a process and can take a long time, but that's why you want to be educated, have good communication with your doctor, and be patient with the process.
Medications can be short-term or long-term. Everyone is different and how long you may need medication is not an issue with a lack of faith, just the unique journey for each person. Whether short-term, long-term, or more permanent, your doctor will help you evaluate your specific needs.
Medication is a faith issue. Ultimately, we're not relying on doctors. Like King Hezekiah (Isaiah 38), we're praying and relying on God to give us and the doctors wisdom to find the right medication and process that will helps us thrive.
"We all need a learning curve of grace - giving and receiving grace.”
I agree that we should respond to our stressful hearts and minds with our spiritual values and practices with a grace-filled perspective (which we cover in many of our blogs and resource materials). At the same time, with the principles above, I feel medicine and doctors (and therapists) can be a valuable part of the faith experience. However, as you journey through this topic and have experience with others who disagree, try not to use this information to defend yourself. Instead, use it for your own graceful discovery and healthy dialogue with others. At the end of the day, we all need a learning curve of grace – giving and receiving grace.
We know this is an important topic, so we made it a unique discussion point with a simple tool in our Family and Living Grace Group workbooks, but provided more in-depth tools in our Thrive workbook (whole-health guide and healthy solutions for hearts and minds).
Now, it’s your turn! What do you think about all this? This is an interesting dialogue to have. So, let us know your thoughts and how you discovered a healthy perspective about medications through the scriptures and/or your own personal faith experience.
*Are you using our Thrive Workbook? Have you used this tool in the Medication chapter? Thrive is an in-depth, self-directed whole-health guide proven to reduce depression, anxiety, etc., improve daily life and renew your life in Christ. Let us know your experience and thoughts on antidepressants and other medications by posting on Facebook or Instagram and tagging @thegracealliance or leaving a comment below!
Joe Padilla / The Grace Alliance
If you found this blog helpful, be sure to subscribe to our email updates to stay informed with other blogs and exciting news. You can also order any of our workbooks for your own personal journey and/or to use in one of our small groups (Family, Living, Redefine Grace Groups) in your area.