Is God Sovereign even over Depression?

“The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but the evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God….All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch his children unless he permit it. God is the Lord of human history and of personal history of every member of his redeemed family.” Margaret Clarkson [Quoted in “Transforming Grace” by Jerry Bridges p.39]

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Cor 12:7-10]

This our third study of how God deliberately and powerfully uses suffering in our lives to bring about his Christ honoring, soul satisfying work in our lives. I was motivated, in part, to take up this study because of several experiences I have had within my own denomination. First, I had received reports on two occasions of our missionaries being warned in their School of Missions of the dangers of failing to take medications when they struggled with depression. In fact, the way it was expressed was that if they didn’t take drugs for their bouts with depression they would be unable to fulfill their calling to be a missionary.

The second incident happened while I was ministering to a family Bible camp this summer. After one session, I was confronted by a clergyman who was irate because I dared to suggest that Christ and the Word of God was sufficient to deal with a brain problem as serious as depression. The third incident happened at that same camp, when a young lady told me of her involvement with prescribed medication. She felt trapped, labeled and abandoned to the drugs by her family because they said she could not function normally without them. Although they were the same drugs she had been condemned for using on the streets, these medications were now being given to her against her will. After I cautioned her that she could not go off the drugs without a doctor’s supervision and that I could not counsel her from a distance, her last words to me were, “So, there is no plan.” I have not been able to forget the hopeless tone of her voice, so I pray for her and I write.

I have learned to expect strong emotional reaction when I deal with the subject of medications. It seems a little peculiar that I would face such a strong reaction when my purpose is to advocate the sufficiency of Christ and his Word to a church that claims to believe in divine healing, but that is the environment we face today. The link between depression and brain dysfunction has become so strongly promoted by our leading psychologists and doctors, that it is now commonly accepted by the vast majority of clergymen and has become almost a sacred dogma.

I do not have the space to go over the reasons for my concern over our dependency upon medications for the treatment of emotional problems within the church. You can read the explanations in my two previous articles. Let me give you a summary of why a Christian should resist taking medications for emotional struggles. Medications are based upon unverifiable theory; they have dangerous side effects and some of those effects are irreversible; those side effects often result in multiple drugs being prescribed; they are addictive; the meds taken can cause the very problem they are supposed to resolve; they do not “heal” the brain; they can cause a person to be labeled for the rest of his life; they alter the personality of the patient; they have been linked to violence and suicide; they treat people as if they are machines rather than persons; they toy with the brain, the most complex organ in the universe; they cause chemical imbalances; rather than focusing upon the life issues that cause the problem they focus upon the symptoms; and most important for our study, they hinder God’s plan to glorify himself in us through weakness and suffering.     

In a recent publication, Charles Colson wrote on this issue. He reported that “Americans consume two-thirds of the world’s illegal drugs, although we make up only four percent of the world’s population.” Then he went on to add, “Not only that, but on any given day, 100 million people are popping antidepressants, tranquilizers, or painkillers.” That is astounding! Colson then quoted Joseph Califano, former Secretary of Health Education and welfare:

“Chemistry is chasing Christianity as the nation’s largest religion, Indeed, millions of Americans who in times of personal crisis and emotional and mental anguish once turned to priests, ministers, and rabbis for keys to the heavenly kingdom now go to physicians and psychiatrists, who hold the keys to the kingdom of pharmaceutical relief, or to drug dealers and liquor stores, as chemicals and alcohol replace the confessional as a source of solace and forgiveness.”  [Quoted from Califano’s book, High Society.]

If that epidemic is going to be reversed, the leaders of the church are going to have to regain a confidence in God and his Word. And the way back is to listen to what the Word says. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul describes a season of “torment” that was attributed to the work of a “messenger of Satan.” Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove the “thorn in the flesh.” Two times God did not answer. At the third request, God finally said “No.” He would not deliver him from the pain, but he would do something even better. He would give him his grace. God was using even the designs of Satan to display his power in the weakness of his servant.

Paul got the point. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” The driving force of Paul’s life is summed up in these words: “for Christ’s sake.” The love that compelled him to preach the gospel also compelled him to trust in the Christ of the gospel. If the Lord would choose to reveal his power through Paul’s weakness, it would bring him great personal delight. There would be no self-pity, no complaints, and no attempts to squirm out from under God’s loving hand.

We live in an age when all you have to do is mention a feeling to a professional and a drug will be prescribed for you. I have tried to show that such a trend is dangerous, unnecessary and spiritually defective. As God’s loved children and his chosen servants, there is no situation or condition that He is not actively and graciously working for our good and His glory.   

In 1895, Andrew Murray was suffering from a long lasting and very painful back injury. One day a woman in great trouble came to where he was staying and asked his hostess if he might have any counsel for her. He handed her a piece of paper and said, “Give her this advice I’m writing for myself. It may be that she will find it helpful.” Here is what he wrote:

“In times of trouble, say, “First, he brought me here. It is by his will I am in the strait place, in that I will rest.” Next, “He will keep me here in his love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as his child.” Then say, “He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons he intends me to learn, and working in me the grace he means to bestow.” And last, say, “In his good time he can bring me out again. How and when, he knows.” Therefore, say “I am here [1] by God’s appointment, [2] in his keeping, [3] under his training, [4] for his time.”  

 I hope this counsel will be of help to you. Be very reluctant to succumb to the pressure of drug therapy. You have grounds to resist based on current research and eternal perspectives. Take up the Word of God and find his promises embedded in His Book. Ask God for the insight and the grace to go through this tuff time if it is His will. Even when you are weak you are strong in God’s grace. He is still in control. He still has the best plan for your life. He is with you to keep you and train for His glory and your joy. In time, you will come through the test and you will be rewarded for your faith in His promises. Take on the confidence of the psalmist when he declares: I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” [Ps 27:13-14] May God bless you and keep you and make you a powerful witness of His faithfulness in all situations.