A few years ago I had a book published called Gospel Wakefulness. It is a very important book to me, as it came out of the second most important event of my life, second only to my conversion — the moment when the gospel became realer than real. And this happened out of a great personal disaster. I won’t rehash my testimony here; many of my readers are familiar with it. But it was important for me to include in this book a chapter on Depression. That may seem like an odd choice for a book about exulting in the grace of God with joy unspeakable and full of glory, but I wasn’t interested in applying the gospel to the happy-go-lucky. And this book out of all my books, and this chapter out of all my chapters, has prompted the most messages of appreciation. I trust it is helpful.
Below is an excerpt from this chapter, a portion that covers God’s gracious provision of ordinary “helps,” and a gracious encouragement to those hurting who are often further hurt by well-meaning churchfolk who inappropriately spiritualize such afflictions.
The first thing we may say about the bigness of Jesus is that he is big enough to help us in many ordinary means. Many Christians have adopted the unfortunate posture of Job’s friends, adding more discouragement to those discouraged in depression by urging them not to seek help except via spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study. These are certainly the most important prescriptions for any of us!
The fuller truth, however, is that while Jesus is enough, his enough-ness may be manifested in our getting help from material means. These too are gifts from God, provided through the common graces of scientific research, academic study, pastoral giftedness, analytic method, and modern medicine.
What I mean is this: talk to a trained counselor and take the meds if they are needed. When it comes to medication, at the very least, don’t not take it out of fear of distrust of Jesus. Antidepressants may or may not help you, but discuss the options with your doctor, preferably after conferring with a clinical psychologist who is also a Christian, and if you decide they are not for you, don’t decide so because you think to take them is to deny Jesus’s ability to heal.
Yes, Jesus is enough, but it must really be Jesus, not some invoking of the idea of Jesus, some platitude involving Jesus’s name, some hollow encouragement via cheap cliché. One question I’d ask those who’d suggest that those on medication for depression or anxiety should ditch the pills and just “trust Jesus” is if they’ve ever been to the doctor for anything, taken medicine for anything. Do they wear glasses or contact lenses? Why? Isn’t Jesus enough? (Do you drive a car? Why doesn’t Jesus beam you to work?)
I’m being silly, but I really am not trying to be reductive. The problem with “Jesus should be enough” in response to the question, “should Christians take anti-depressants?” is that the Jesus in view in the assertion is disembodied. He is an idea, a concept. I don’t think Christians can say with any integrity, “Jesus is enough,” without attempting to do what Jesus did to “be Jesus” for people, which frequently included meeting their physical and emotional needs. The gospel truth of “Jesus is enough” doesn’t have some vague, ethereal, unincarnated spiritual meaning.
That we have medicine to help us heal physically and psychologically is a gift from Jesus, just as salvation from sins is a gift from Jesus. Of course, if I had to take one over the other, I would take pain now and heaven later, but that’s theoretical, and thankfully I don’t often have to choose one or the other.
And it certainly isn’t the gospel of Jesus to heap guilt on people who need medical help to be healthy people. Jesus may heal any of us without ordinary means—and I do believe he heals today by purely Spiritual means, what most of us would call a miracle—but this kind of healing is not normative. And that’s all right. Medicine is not a mandate for the depressed person. But neither is it off limits. It can be, properly prescribed and taken, a gift of common grace. Likewise, seeking help from a pastoral counselor or Christian psychologist is nothing to be ashamed of.
– from Gospel Wakefulness (Crossway, 2011)