Bible Answer

The role of medicine vs faith?

My child was diagnosed with ADD and it is causing him frustration in school. I have committed myself to prayer first as a solution before I consider medication. Is medicating behavioral issues like ADD appropriate? 

Before we address the question of a Christian taking psychotropic drugs, we must reiterate that our ministry's mission is to offer instruction on the Bible, so we are not qualified to provide medical advice nor do we advise anyone to act contrary to a doctor's instructions.

Now let's consider the role of modern medicine in the faith life of a Christian. Does the Bible forbid the use of medicines in general? If God doesn't choose to heal a person miraculously, is it wrong to seek medical aid? If a Christian sought such help be interfering with God’s will?

When we consult scripture, we find nowhere that God commands Christians to avoid doctors or medicine, nor to refuse blood transfusions, inoculations or surgery. In fact, we often see medical knowledge praised as a gift from God for the benefit of people.

For example, in Genesis 17:10-14 the Lord commands the procedure of circumcision to Abraham. God ordained this minor surgery for a very specific, spiritual purpose, but nevertheless this example demonstrates that relying on a medical procedure isn't contrary to obeying God. In fact, sometimes it's necessary to obeying God.

Secondly, we find physicians called Joseph’s "servants" in Genesis 50:2, and the word for physicians is the same word used to described God as our "healer" in Exodus 15:26. Once again, the implication is that physicians are doing a good work for God's people as an extension of God's own healing ministry.

Thirdly, in Proverbs 17:22 we read, "A merry heart does good like a medicine." This verse presents medicine in a positive light as a metaphor for a happy heart. If our reliance on medicine was contrary to faith, then the word of God would never have used it as a metaphor for a glad heart.

Then in Isaiah 38:21 we find the prophet prescribing a poultice (i.e., medicinal remedy) for Hezekiah’s boil. While all healing is directed by God, we see the poultice clearly demonstrates that God uses medical procedures at times as a means of delivering the healing He provides. Here is strong evidence that we may be healed by God though the use of sound medical practice!

In other examples, we find in Jeremiah 8:22 a statement that Gilead approves of physicians, albeit metaphorically. Then Jeremiah 30:13 equates the lack of medicine with a lack of healing, and Jeremiah 51:8 says medicine is the way for Babylon to be healed. Although these examples are spiritual metaphors, they only work as metaphor because they rest upon the fact of God's gracious provision of medical treatments available for our benefit. 

One final verse from the Old Testament is especially telling. Ezekiel 47:12 says healing medicine will be made from the leaves of trees that are nourished by waters from the new temple in the New Jerusalem. Revelation 22:2 also describes the tree of healing in the New Jerusalem, suggesting that medicinal tools are an important part of God's purpose.

We are not suggesting that healing is accomplished through medicine alone (nor that our resurrected bodies will suffer from physical ailments), but rather that God supports the life of our bodies in a variety of physical ways, including through food, water and at times medicine. If you are interested in learning more about why a healing tree exists in the New Jerusalem, please listen to our Revelation study.

Looking to the New Testament Jesus Christ said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick" (Luke 5:31). Again, in Luke 4:23 Jesus quotes the proverb, "Physician, heal yourself," and applied it to Himself. In no case do we find Christ disapproving of medicines or physicians. In fact, one of the Gospel writers, Luke, was a "beloved physician" himself (see Col 4:!4).

Certainly, every Christian should understand that all healing comes from God, so we can seek medical treatment knowing that the Lord often uses medicine to accomplish His healing. As Jeremiah 17:5 states, "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord."

Treating Emotional and Behavioral Conditions with Drugs

So how should a Christian treat emotional or behavioral conditions like depression or ADHD? 

As we stated earlier, we are not qualified to offer medical advice. Only a licensed medical professional can dispense medical advice. We can only offer the biblical perspective of psychotropic drugs on the spiritual life of a believer. 

In every case, taking drugs to alter mood or mind is a serious step a Christian should not take without careful forethought and prayer. Psychotropic drugs are powerful, brain-altering chemicals, which doctors are increasingly prescribing to address emotional and behavioral problems – problems that may have a spiritual root cause rather than a physiological source.

Consequently, we are concerned that some Christians turn to these drugs on a doctor's recommendation before fully considering giving the consequence of their decision. We are concerned that society's increasing reliance on these drugs may be masking more serious, underlying spiritual, behavioral or emotional problems. We are concerned that Christians who rely on psychotropic drugs to treat emotional or behavior issues may forfeit the spiritual benefit that comes by wrestling with a trial the Lord may have intended for our spiritual benefit. 

Finally, we are concerned that Christians who live in a chemically-induced state of artificial contentment are only delaying the inevitable spiritual crisis that results when the drugs lose their effectiveness to stem the tide of emotional or spiritual pain.

Our sin and the sin of others around are often the catalyst for creating the circumstances that lead to destructive behaviors, emotional pain, depression, anxiety and other ailments. The Lord's prescription for these situations is that we (or others) humble ourselves, repent of the sin, and commit to living in obedience according to His word. The trauma we experience in the meantime is the instrument of discipline the Lord uses with His children to bring us to that moment of repentance.

In cases where a person will not repent or seek godly counsel, we should expect the Lord to allow the person's negative emotional state to continue, even to the point of developing into a chronic condition. When a parent fails to rely on biblical approach to parenting and discipline in raising children, the Lord may permit these errors to result in children with behavioral problems. If a Christian will not acknowledge the Lord's sovereignty and rest in His word, the person may live in constant anxiety or depression. 

Obviously, these are just examples, but in general the Bible teaches that the Lord may allow a Christian to experience the consequence of his errors so he will have cause to turn from his ways and seek the Lord in His word.

In such cases, if the person turns to psychotropic drugs instead, he may mask the true, underlying spiritual cause for his issue. The patient experiences a behavioral or attitude "improvement," but the change is artificial, a product of chemistry rather than true spiritual change. Like taking heroin or alcohol, the person "feels" better for as long as the drug is in the bloodstream, but the true cause for the problem remains untreated. 

We believe the Christian who relies on these drugs to treat anxiety or depression will not grow spiritually from this trial, since they inoculate themselves against the therapuetic, corrective effects of the Spirit's conviction. They avoid the need to examine their life for sin and take corrective steps. 

Similarly when parents administer these drugs to misbehaving children, they avoid contending with the underlying cause for the child's self-discipline or obedience issues. Remember, just because drugs have the power to compel change in a person's behavior doesn't mean a drug is a solution.

Therefore, if a Christian is suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD or any other psychiatric condition for which psychotropic drugs are commonly prescribed, we strongly recommend the Christian seeks sound, biblical counseling before turning to these drugs for a cure. Give thought to the possibility that these emotional or behavioral issues are the symptoms of a spiritual deficit, which must be addressed through repentance, godly counsel and a spiritual change in accordance with God's word.

Obviously, not all situations are the same, and in some cases a Christian may suffer from an emotional trauma or physical ailment best remedied through drug therapy. In severe cases, emotional stress may overwhelm an individual to the point that drugs are the only option to controlling behavior and avoiding a more serious, life-threatening situation. In these cases, drug therapy can be essential to stabilizing the individual's emotional state, so that counseling and other treatments may be successful.

Even in these severe cases, however, we recommend the Christian seek the eventual elimination of drug therapy. We believe that longterm dependance on psychotropic drugs by any believer is counterproductive to spiritual growth. If a person has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they already possess the most powerful Healer and Comforter.