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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)

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16 thoughts on “Depression and Common Grace”

  1. Flyaway says:

    Rings true with me. For years doctors thought fibromyalgia was caused by depression. I tried several 6 week trials on several different antidepressants and they did nothing for the pain. I called my doctor and told him that I could feel this bad just by exercising. So I’m sticking to exercise.

  2. Very timely jared. I tire quickly of those who want to downgrade and condemn anyone taking meds for a very real condition. I have not experienced depression so it is hard for me to speak on this topic except I know enough to offer my help in any way I can. I did write a post yesterday about it.

  3. Wise insights, Jared. And so true! Thank you!!

  4. Andy says:

    “Medicine is not a mandate for the depressed person. But neither is it off limits. ”

    I’m typically an adventure in missing the point Jared, so sorry to bring this up: With regards to Christians taking medication for depression I get that I guess but as someone who many years ago was a pretty serious drug/alcohol abuser I have a hard time understanding that. I remember a wonderful pastor did some counseling with me about 15 years ago with regards to some rather deep stuff I was going through at the time and it was only his opinion but one that I also understood at the time that while medication was a possibility because of my drug/alcohol history it just was neither an option for me nor a solution. I don’t know. I suppose volumes could be written about folks who have abused substances but for me at least medications are nothing but a crutch and I suppose we need a crutch to help us stand occasionally but it would seem an artificial solution to a problem isn’t the answer. There wasn’t a danger of becoming addicted to an anti-depressant but just the wisdom of knowing that a chemical solution to often spiritual problems, again, it not an answer. Sorry to drone on.

    1. Laurie says:

      The problem you were having, Andy, was not depression but addiction and it obviously had a probable reason. True depression has no environmental cause. It’s when everything is great, always has been and you can’t function. You can’t think, you cry all the time, actually, it’s better when you can cry. It’s darkness even though you are saved and your life is fine. That’s depression and you’ve never really had it if you can make the statement you did above. Praise God that you haven’t.

  5. Andy says:

    “The problem you were having..”

    That’s fairly general isn’t Laurie? :)

    My thought was simply that medication for someone who has had chemical dependency issues is a complicated
    option and one that gets occasionally overlooked. I know what the dark is. I chose to post a different issue.

  6. Emily says:

    While I do agree that depression most certainly occurs without necessarily there being an environmental cause, it is possible that difficult life circumstances to also trigger depression in the life of someone who already had an increased risk of developing depression.

  7. Kyndra says:

    While I would never agree that medication isn’t necessary in any situation, I think most could agree that we are way over medicated. Not every case of depression is a Job case. Some cases of depression are indeed there because of a sin issue or a symptom of pain from a difficult past that needs healing, not suppression. I think we should be careful to not throw a blanket over either side claiming anti depressants are okay, or not okay. For many, they are not okay and in time only create worse heart problems by temporarily covering the ones that are already there. Even Jesus was a man of many sorrows, this was God’s will for him and led him to dependence in His father. My personal struggles withe depression have done the same and have built my faith in a God who loves me thru my sin and redeems me from the pit. I have been counseled by doctors to get on medication, but my conscience wouldn’t allow it bc I knew the trials were meant to produce steadfastness and I’m learning to wait on The Lord when I go thru the dark patches. Counseling me that anti depressants are okay for me would’ve encouraged me to sin. This is way more serious than just right or wrong, it is personal and needs to be taken case by case.

  8. Tricia says:

    I’ve found it interesting that unless a person turns to medication, their depression isn’t merited as “real” depression to the point of despair. It’s never made sense to me to treat mental pain the same as we treat physical pain. I’m not sure comparing mind altering drugs to getting glasses is a valid argument. It’s become more and more disturbing to me that the counsel of Christians is the same as secular doctors who don’t have the truth of scripture. Whose voice are we listening to? When Jesus, David, Paul, job, Jeremiah…the list goes on…were depressed, where did they turn? Why is the past 20 yrs different? I know God hasn’t changed…must be us.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Tricia, please note that I explicitly say in this piece that medication is not a mandate for the person suffering, only that it shouldn’t be considered off-limits.
      Jesus and Paul and plenty of other saints throughout history have not had *any* of the medical opportunities we afford today — from aspirin to chemotherapy — but we wouldn’t deny ourselves all of these things. I am only wondering why when it comes to issues like these that we determine it’s more spiritual to hurt.

  9. Don says:

    My problem with medication for depression is not that it denies the sufficiency of Jesus. It doesn’t. (Thank you for coving that.) My problem is that in the vast majority of cases, medicine is prescribed and taken with no lab work being done. As a counselor, I am totally fine with my clients being on prescriptions. What I have trouble with is that less than 5% of my clients who are on scripts for anxiety, stress, and depression have ever had a body fluid collected and analyzed in view of treating their condition. People are being given powerful body-chemistry-altering drugs with no prior body chemistry work up being done. Often, there is no lab work to order. For instance, most people are surprised to find out there is currently no way to measure serotonin levels in a living brain, yet SSRIs are prescribed with authority and confidence that the meds will replace what the patient is presumably missing. Sometimes it works (thankfully!). But in my experience, it usually masks the root issues in a drug-induced fog, making it markedly difficult to address any relational, psychological, spiritual and lifestyle causes.

  10. Tricia says:

    Jared, thank you for responding. I do have to wonder if it’s a bad thing those men didn’t have them and ppl justifying their use of them. If they had, would we have half of the books in the bible? So much of scripture is written in god-given despair that today we would Suppress bc it’s painful. I wouldn’t say that all medication is wrong, but it’s dangerous to assume it isn’t for many of the ppl reading this post. Although, I believe your heart was right in seeking to have compassion for those struggling depression, My concern is that anti depressants could keep some ppl from being “watchful and sober-minded”,making them more susceptible to the roaring lion. I’m burdened for those who are led to posts like this who want validation for anti depressants so they can check out and keep up a fascade of having it together. How can the church help a ppl who are dulling the pain that we should be loving them through? I’d venture to say that most on anti depressants are not telling ppl and it’s not bc of the “stigma” in the church, it’s bc they don’t want ppl knowing they don’t have it together which is why many got on them in the first place. I have compassion for those struggling depression, and that is all of us on different levels at different points. Thanks for drawing attention, I just hope your post doesn’t excuse what shouldn’t be in a effort to show compassion for what merits compassion.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Tricia, I understand your concerns. But notice, again, I am not saying that folks should just decide on their own if medication is right for them. I’m suggesting they consult with their doctor, their pastor, a trained Christian counselor. I trust that these folks will be helpful in sussing out what’s appropriate (and what’s not). I don’t think a valid takeaway from this post is that people can just take whatever drugs they’ve decided on their own would help them.

      Also, I would just want to point out again that this is an excerpt from a larger chapter on Depression that actually covers a lot of the concerns people are mentioning, including the larger spiritual picture.

  11. Lynette says:

    Wow. Why is it so hard for people to get the “don’t rule out meds” DOESN’T mean “go on meds”??? I’ve had depression for years & it wasnt handled well- either by me or by the ministry staff at my church. I would have benefited being on meds. I did have blood work done though as my family have a history of thyroid problems so I knew the depression may have other causes. In the end I sourced my own “cure” by first recognising I was grieving & pursued both spiritual, psychological & practical ways to deal with it. Thanks for the balanced view!

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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