Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants?

If you struggle with depression and wonder “Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants” then this article by Dr. Russell Moore should be a source of encouragement for you.

Dr. Moore writes:

Dear Dr. Moore,

Not long ago, my doctor prescribed me as having a (relatively) mild form of depression. He put me on an anti-depressant. I hate the side effects, and I don’t like the way it makes me feel, but maybe I’ll get used to it. My biggest struggle is whether it is right to be on these at all. If I have the Holy Spirit, why do I need this drug? Is it ethical for a Christian to take drugs like this?

Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed,

First of all, you are right to seek medical help. Depression is not just unpleasant; it can be debilitating and dangerous, and it signals that something has gone wrong somewhere. Here are some things to think about.

God created us as whole persons, with body and psyche together. The body affects the psyche. Going without food, for example, or sleep will change the way one thinks or feels dramatically. And the psyche affects the body. We don’t “have” bodies or “have” psyches. We are psychosomatic whole persons, made in the image of God.

It makes sense to me that biological and physiological factors often play a role in persons not seeing reality correctly. Some drugs can “fix” something that’s gone wrong. For example, a malfunctioning thyroid can be corrected by synthetic drugs that prompt the body to do what it’s designed to do. Most of the anti-depressants you see advertised on television don’t “fix” something, as much as they alleviate symptoms. They rework levels of serotonin or dopamine reception, for instance, so that a person doesn’t experience the same levels of sadness or dullness or hopelessness.

Often, even when depression or anxiety is rooted in non-physiological reasons, the person is so far gone that medication is necessary to start working on the root issues. But, remember, for most people, there is no drug that will bring about psychic flourishing. What the drug is meant to do is to “numb” the person to the pain of depression and anxiety.

Numbing, as part of an overall plan, can be a good thing. When I have a toothache, I want my dentist to give me an anesthetic so that I don’t feel that throbbing anymore. Before my tooth can be fixed, someone must “shut down” the agony I’m in, temporarily. But a dentist who simply “treats” my infected tooth with an anesthetic isn’t helping me. Ultimately, the tooth must be fixed.

It could be that your depression and anxiety is caused by something physiological. If so, continue your medical treatment and have that looked at. But it could be that there’s a reason for the sadness or the anxiety. Maybe you’ve recently lost a spouse or a job or a friend. If so, grieve over that loss. Maybe you’re anxious about a guilty conscience or about an uncertain future. Don’t just medicalize that anxiety. Rehearse the gospel you’ve embraced, and pray, alone and with others, and seek the kind of counsel that can bring about the necessary life-change to cope with whatever seems so hopeless right now.

Whether your depression is ultimately chemical or circumstantial, it is also important, I think, to start with a realistic picture of what “normal” is, what your end goal should look like. I know I have trouble seeing this clearly sometimes.

The “normal” human life isn’t what is marketed to us by the pharmaceutical industry or by the lives we see projected on movie screens, or, frankly, by a lot of Christian sermons and praise songs. The normal human life is the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who sums up in himself everything it means to be human (Eph. 1:10). And the life of Christ presented to us in the Gospels is a life of joy, of fellowship, of celebration, but also of loneliness, of profound sadness, of lament, of grief, of anger, of suffering, all without sin.

As the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ, we don’t become giddy, or, much less, emotionally vacant. Instead, the Bible tells us we “groan” along with the persecuted creation around us (Rom. 8:23). We cry out with Jesus himself, experiencing with him often the agony of Gethsemane (Gal. 4:6; Mk. 14:36). And, paradoxically, along the way, we join Jesus in joy and peace (Gal. 5:22). A human emotional life is complicated, and a regenerated human emotional life is complicated too.

If your doctors are trying to get you to this kind of emotional holism, good. But if what you’re expecting is a kind of all-the-time emotional tranquility, you just might be passing up something that is part of the human condition itself.

There are some Christians who believe any psychiatric drug is a spiritual rejection of the Bible’s authority. I’m not one of them. But there are other Christians who seem to think, with the culture around us, that everything is material and can be solved by material means. I don’t think that’s right either.

Keep working with your doctors to treat your depression. If you’re not happy with the treatment or with the side-effects, seek some additional medical opinion, and listen for wisdom in a multitude of counselors. As you note in your question, sometimes the side-effects of these drugs are awful. Communicate with your doctor, and read up to ask the right kinds of questions.

But spend time too with those who know you and love you, and ask if there’s more behind this than simply serotonin reception. God doesn’t want you to be simply, in the words of one observer of the current pharmacological utopianism, “comfortably numb.” He wants you to be whole.

Is Suicide an Unforgivable Sin?

In April 2010, my younger brother committed suicide. It is always difficult to lose a loved one; however, when they die at their own hand it just leaves you feeling guilty. You wonder why you didn’t recognize the signs, why didn’t they call to talk, where is the note telling how much they care. No matter who you talk to there is a sense that you should have done more, that you should have known, that it is somehow your fault.

Over the years, I have noticed that one of the first questions people ask is about the eternal home of those who commit suicide. As if the guilt of not being there to help them wasn’t enough, now the fear of wondering if their trying to escape what seemed like an impossible situation could have led them to an eternally worse torment. You see, there are those who believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin. There is no way you can take your life and repent afterward; therefore, the soul is lost for all eternity, forever separated from God. Clearly this is a question that needs to be addressed, and there is no better place to look than the Bible.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches that the only unforgivable sin is “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3.22-30). Mark says the scribes were accusing Jesus of healing people by the power of Beelzebub—the prince of demons. The scribes believed Satan and his demons were behind Jesus’ power instead of the Holy Spirit. Jesus quickly warns that to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness and carries a punishment of eternal condemnation. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit, one refuses to acknowledge God’s completed work through Jesus Christ His Son.

This idea is clarified in 1 John 5.10, “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.” Here we are told the person who does not believe the Holy Spirit’s convicting witness about Jesus as God’s Son and our propitiation has made God a liar. Clearly those who do not believe in Jesus are declaring that the message from the Holy Spirit is a lie. The Bible teaches that God cannot lie and that Satan is the father of lies (Titus 1.1-2; John 8.44). Therefore, those who do not believe are calling the Holy Spirit a liar; which is another name for Satan.

There is no forgiveness for those who reject Jesus as the only way to heaven. Since suicide is clearly not ascribing the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan then it cannot be the unforgivable sin.

The Bible also helps us find hope in Christ’s finished work. There are several passages which show that at salvation we are forgiven of all sin—past, present, and future.

  • “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ”         (Romans 8.1)
  • “For He made Him who knew no sin [to be] sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5.21)
  • Jesus, “who does not need daily…to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7.27)
  • Christ “with His  own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9.12b)
  • “…once at the end of the ages, [Jesus] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9.26b)
  • “…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10.10)
  • “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit…” (1 Pt 3.18)

These verses make it clear Jesus’ substitutionary atonement was once for all time. Those who believe in Him are justified before God. There cannot be any condemning accusation brought against them as Jesus has already taken their punishment. God has taken their sin and cast it as far as the East is from the West (Psalms 103.12). Since this is true, then the sin of suicide is among the many sins Christ has forgiven.

It has been four years since my brother’s death. Prior to his suicide I knew what I believed about forgiveness and suicide; however, in light of his death I was forced to put my faith to work in the promises of God. I spent hours studying God’s Word and praying for clarity and wisdom. In the end I simply had to trust God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and the promises of His Word to keep those secure who have trusted in Him. I know the life my brother lived and the faith he had in Christ, so today I am sure that he is with Jesus in heaven.

In closing let me say this, in writing an article of this nature there is a fear that there may be those who say, “Hey I can take my life and still get to heaven.” Please, please don’t take all this as a reason to escape the troubles of this life. I have not written this to make it easier for you to take your life, but for those who live every day with pain because of a loved one who took their own life. The pain, loss, guilt, and fear we live with every day can only be softened by the hope that is found in Jesus. If your life seems hopeless and the only reasonable solution in your mind is suicide, please do me a favor and call someone. Go to a hospital, a pastor, a family member, a co-worker, or even a good friend. Just find someone and tell them you need help. There is hope for a better life. It might take time to overcome whatever is causing you such great pain, but I promise, if you will trust Jesus, He will lead you to an abundant life here and now. Please believe me, Jesus is your hope!

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (for the hearing impaired TTY 1-800-799-4889) or visit the website.