If you’re reading this, and you’re planning to go into pastoral ministry or counseling, I beg you to read what I’ve written to the very end. Not because I want Christ and Pop Culture to get clicks or because I’m being paid to write this. I want you to read this because early in my ministry, I made some terrible mistakes because I was ignorant. I was ignorant about life, pain, and suffering. Actually, those things weren’t foreign to me, but early on, I was foolish enough to believe I had overcome them because my faith and character were strong — and I failed to see that grace and faith are not the same thing.

He looked me in the eye and said, “If you do not stop teaching like this, you are going to kill someone.”I began in my first church right after seminary, and while I learned so many helpful things in my classes (e.g., Greek, Hebrew, Church history), I did pick up one thing that was harmful. I picked up the idea that since depression was a “spiritual” matter, it can and should be overcome by repentance and faith alone. After all, Paul commands us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) and the Church is there to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), so why should we need anything else? There were those who flatly taught that taking medicine for depression was like putting a band-aid on a deadly wound. Those folks were anti-psychiatry and anti-psychology, and they taught that those things had absolutely nothing to offer. The Bible was all that we needed to help people. I loved that idea because I love the Bible, but it was wrong.

In my first pastorate, I said some stupid things. Stupid things like, “You don’t need Prozac! You just need Jesus!” (God have mercy.) So one particular brother rightly called me aside to teach me a more excellent way. He invited me to his office, and after some short pleasantries, he looked me in the eye and said, “If you do not stop teaching like this, you are going to kill someone.” He saw that I was one step removed from a faith healer who teaches that cancer treatments are for the faithless who do not believe in miracles. The brain, he said, is an organ like anything else. It can malfunction. It can do strange things. He said I should no more condemn medication for depression than I should condemn medication for blood pressure.

Several weeks after this conversation, I got a call from a friend who said his wife was in depression. He wanted to know if I could come over and talk to her. I have never seen such a change in a person. My friend’s wife had gone from a happy, vibrant lady to a woman who could barely rise out of bed. I asked her what was wrong and she said she didn’t know. Her husband had done nothing wrong. She didn’t know of anything that she had done wrong. She just sat in her bed, completely despondent, all day long. When she marshalled the strength, she would go sit in the den with the TV on, but she wasn’t really watching it. I talked to her for a while, tried to encourage her as best I could, and prayed for her and her husband.

As I went to leave, her husband told me that she had stopped taking her medication. I froze. I had no idea she was on medication or that she had a history of depression. I went back and told her to take her medication. She said she didn’t want to; she didn’t want to have to have her medicine to be “happy.” I begged her to take it and she said she would. Two weeks later, she was back to the lady I had known before. Absolutely nothing had changed except for the fact that she’d started taking her medication again.

It is true that the brain is very much a mystery. It is also true that medication does not always work for everyone. It is also true that sin can cause depression. But depression is not always caused by sin any more than lung cancer is always caused by smoking. Sometimes it is a physical problem, and when that is the case, medication can help. I have seen it help.

In the past eleven years, I have known many people on medication for depression. I have seen them take it and feel better, and because they feel better, they sometimes think that they no longer need their medication. So they quit taking it without the oversight of their doctor or counselor and they wind up in depression again.

I am not writing this to belittle the need for sound, Biblical counseling. Nor am I saying that medication is always the answer. Rather, I’m writing this for two reasons.

The first reason is to beg anyone out there who believes that depression is always rooted in personal sin to reconsider. Please, can you not entertain the idea that depression springs from a physical issue in the brain? If that’s the case, can you imagine how cruel it is to tell such a person that their problem is because of their own sin? Isn’t that a bit like saying, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that this man was born blind?” (John 9:2). Do you have any more evidence for the idea that depression is a faith issue than you do that diabetes is a faith issue?

If I could spend ten minutes with my past self, these are the things I would tell him. I would look him straight in the eye and say, “If you do not stop teaching this, you are going to kill someone.” Please, friends, be sensitive to those who are hurting. Remember that it is said of the Savior, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Matthew 12:20).

The second reason I write this is for anyone who is dealing with depression. Friend, it may no more be your fault that you are depressed than it is a person’s fault that they get a blood clot. In the midst of your pain, I hope that at the very least you can be freed from the specter of guilt that says it is your fault that you are this way.


  1. Thank you Brad, for sharing your mistakes to better spread the gospel. Listening to you laugh at yourself on Sunday mornings, make me strive to let people see in me my mistakes, but then to show them I serve a forgiving God.

  2. Thanks, Brad, for your transparent post!

    Depression is a complex interaction of our physical, emotional, and spiritual conditions. Faith is one important tool in dealing with depression, but you are right that it should never be treated as the only one. Brain chemistry matters, and anti-depressant medication is perhaps usually the best initial response to depression, because, often enough, without it nothing else works.

    I would also hope that the depressed person’s physician checks hormonal, adrenal, and nutritional functions, and recommends supplements whenever those might be helpful. Vitamin D and thyroid levels seem to be especially important, and a number of doctors follow standards that are set too low for how much of these substances are needed. I have known of several cases in which a change of doctors provided significant help in this area. I know of several depressed persons who have been able to come off their anti-depressant medication after getting their body chemistry in order.

    There are also prayer practices that address the spiritual and emotional factors, such as the healing of memories. This can be extraordinarily important in cases of emotional or physical abuse or even in cases in which a child felt rejected by a significant parental-type figure.

    All tolled, depression is complex and needs a well-rounded approach in its treatment.

    A recent friend of ours, Ron Owens, has written a biography of a very successful Southern Baptist preacher, “Ron Dunn: His Life and Mission,” Broadman & Holman, 2013, which details Dunn’s battle with depression. The book intends to remind us that medication can be a necessary part of treating depression.

  3. Brad, thank you for being teachable and for being honest! I battle depression. Recently a friend told me that it was caused by demons. Here’s my response to that notion: http://ellenmandeville.com/demons-causing-depression/

    I finally wrote about the fact that because I trust God’s promises, I received a depression diagnosis faster than I might have done had I not trusted God’s promises: http://ellenmandeville.com/gods-promises-depression-diagnosis/

    I’m glad you’re friend told it to you straight, and that you listened. Thank you again for writing about it.

  4. Have you ever seen someone pan for gold? They fill the pan with dirt. Then they shake the pan with water in it so that it stratifies. Then they wash off the vast majority of the stuff on the top. Why? Because the lighter stuff is common and easily identified. Not every emotional problem is as rare as gold.

    We shouldn’t downplay the role the Bible plays. It has a lot of answers. Sure, it has a lot of secrets too, and God is still at work, but we need to look to the Bible first.

    Depression *can be* caused by chemical imbalances, but most of the time it is caused by thought patterns. Changing the way you think will cure the vast majority of depression. Don’t believe the lies. And how do you learn to think? Reading the Bible! Second (or first), you pray. Third, you look into your situation and see if there’s an obvious change that can be made. Fourth, you go to bed two hours early. Fifth, you eat more veggies and take supplements (fish oil and chocolate). You insert a few other steps here. And when that doesn’t work, then you reach for the drugs. This article seems to be saying that drugs are the #1 choice for those in depression. That’s not good advice.

    1. Agree w/this comment!!!! So sad that some may read this article thinking it is a good representation of biblical counseling.

    2. From the piece: “I am not writing this to belittle the need for sound, Biblical counseling. Nor am I saying that medication is always the answer.”

    3. The problem is that many people DO suffer from clinical depression, caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, & many insensitive people who have never experienced that kind of excruciating pain just heap on even more pain when they accuse a person of causing their own organic illness, treating them as if they had chosen to live in this world of shadows in which it was impossible to even get out of bed, no matter how hard they tried. They sit up there on their high horse, never having felt that helplessness, and pour shame & guilt all over a person’s head because that person came down with an illness. Then they ride away, feeling proud that they have “set that person right,” when in reality they have caused more damage than they would have if they had simply poured salt all over a third degree burn.
      The truth is that depression comes from many sources, & you as an individual have no way of knowing what has led another individual to acquire this debilitating disease. The POINT is, don’t try to judge someone before you know the backstory. He didn’t say that ALL cases of depression required medication for recovery. Far from it. Just TRY to wrap your mind around the fact that the need for medication should not be discounted just because it is not necessary in every case. As with any other situation, every person has a different story & a different road to travel. “One size fits all” is a myth, & a hurtful one at that. Jesus healed more than one blind person, but did you ever notice that He just told one guy, “You’re healed,” & the guy could immediately see perfectly, while he spit in the dirt & made mud that He applied to another guy’s eyes? He had to do it 3 times before the guy could see clearly. Do you really think Jesus needed 3 tries to get it right? God has a different solution for each person. He knows what each of us needs, & He gave some people the ability to understand medical issues relating to the brain in order to develop medication that would improve the quality of life for others who were suffering. Does everyone need that medication? Of course not. But you are doing a major disservice to those who do when you insist they attempt to survive without it.
      There is so much denial & shaming surrounding true clinical depression right now that it needs to be said that sometimes people need medication, & THAT IS OKAY. You wouldn’t withhold medication from a diabetic, or someone who had heart disease, or any number of other physical maladies, but because depression occurs in the brain (& oh, by the way, that is an organ in the human body) people refuse to recognize it as a true illness, & that is a travesty.

    4. “Depression *can be* caused by chemical imbalances, but most of the time it is caused by thought patterns.”

      That’s not good advice. And a pretty perverted way of looking at the role of Scripture either.

    5. Karen,
      “He didn’t say that ALL cases of depression required medication for recovery.”
      I didn’t say that no cases of depression ever need medication either. Be careful not to read too much into what I’m saying here.

      There is often more than one method for curing diseased organs, and the easier solution in the case of brain chemistry is changing your thought patterns. It’s not a cure-all, but it is a cure-most.

      You gave me a good example of what I WAS talking about. Throughout your reply, you wrote words of accusation against me. You said that I “accused” you from my “high horse”. You said that I had poured “shame and guilt” as I was “feeling proud”. None of those were true of me as I wrote the response. I did not feel any shame upon reading your response, because the accusations were not true. I have a lot of experience with depressed people, and shame is a very common feeling among them. In most cases, other people are not bringing blame. They are not attempting to shame. Those feelings are not coming from outside of the shamed person. On the contrary, once they see that you feel shame, the person who brought the words will often apologize or minimize what they said so that shame may be removed. There is no shame in taking drugs for a failing brain. What I was saying is that you can try things before you take the drugs (i.e. sleep, walks through a park, journaling, etc.), and you can continue to try things after you take the drugs. I was saying that there is almost always (though not always) a way to fix things without the use of drugs. Blame is a common thought pattern among depressed people. If you’re depressed, choose to believe the best about the motives of others (1 Cor. 13:7). Here’s a better response:
      Pr. 9:8 Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you.

      You can take a look again at my earlier response and decide if it’s at all helpful. Eat the meat and spit out the bones. Don’t feel shame if you have to take drugs. You may not have the problem of blaming people. If I did imply some kind of shame in my response, don’t accept it. I’m saying now that there’s no reason to feel ashamed for needing to take drugs.

  5. Thank you are this article, and where my personal view is that there is nothing wrong with medication and medicating I also believe that it is not he bible that has the power to heal, help or change a situation but it is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Discerning men and women of God need to look at the spiritual basis of these conditions, Jesus cast out many demons as documented in the bible

    There is nothing that Jesus cannot do, there is no sickness or illness he has not died for. He is familiar with all our suffering and conquered them all on the cross.

    John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!

  6. As a psychiatrist who is also a Christian, I thank you for this post. God made humans wonderfully and marvelously complex, and nothing displays that concept as much as in mental health. Body? Or mind? Or soul? Yes. I attack mental illness for a living, and neurobiology and psychiatric medications play a critical, but not solo, role.

  7. “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” -Augustine, Confessions

  8. Now that you’ve come to that realization, would you consider making one more change?

    You’ve also realized along the way that words carry strong meanings and who says them to whom can make an incredible difference for that 2nd person. Having said that, take a look at your short bio. You describe your kids as AMAZING. That’s really awesome, but look at the descriptor for your wife – LONG-SUFFERING. Do you Really want to tag your wife with that label? Is that what you want her to believe about herself? Just saying.

    And in solidarity – I served 14 years in the Air National Guard and 6 years in the Army National Guard. Thank you for your service.

  9. Very well said. Medicine is part of God’s will, and is a part of our Faith. Jesus is all we need, but our faith is also demonstrated by our actions and medicine is part of that. Hospitals as we know them today, would not exit without the faith of Christian in a God of healing.

    A cure by medicine is as much a miracle as being healed of cancer at a prayer meeting. In fact, I acknowledge God and his wonders when I partake of His medicine. It does not diminish my faith, rather, it lifts my heart to God and increases my wonder and faith, as He’s the author of everything. Medicine is not outside God’s will and is, therefore, not outside faith. Medicine is humans reflecting The Great Healer and by this, we too acknowledge Him and show we believe Him. To reject it is an act of unfaith as great as rejecting the prayers of healing.

  10. This article begs for a retraction, or at the very least, a rebuttal. It is extremely irresponsible journalism, to base counsel about Christian’s antidepressant use with *one* anecdotal experience of a woman’s very predictable relapse upon sudden withdrawal from them, instead of the science noted by Dr. Peter Gotszche of the Cochrane Center in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366%2814%2970280-9/fulltext#article_upsell — “Why I Think Antidepressants Cause More Harm than Good”

    He notes that antidepressants “rise in sales reflects patient dependency on these SSRIs: they may have great difficulty stopping even when they taper off the drugs slowly. Withdrawal symptoms are often misdiagnosed as a return of the disease or the start of a new one, for which drugs are then prescribed. Over time, this leads to an increase in the number of drug-dependent, long-term users.”

    Please read this version, published for the general public, that summarizes the science, here http://davidhealy.org/psychiatry-gone-astray/

    And because many psychiatrists were in a dudgeon about the myths he exposed concerning SSRI use–this was an issue widely discussed in his native Denmark, after a psychiatrist was held criminally responsible for the suicide of a patient using antidepressants — he responds to his critics, here: http://davidhealy.org/get-real-peter-otzsche-responds/

    The Guardian published an article about this issue, in April. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/30/psychiatric-drugs-harm-than-good-ssri-antidepressants-benzodiazepines

    But there is continued silence in the media here. Perhaps because of a major PR campaign being waged by the APA in response to such real and scientifically backed, information trickling down to those addicted — yes, Gotszche uses that inflammatory word, and it is scientifically backed — to the amphetamine-like chemical compounds of an SSRI.

    This media silence, and the accompanying fearmongering campaign that this article aptly demonstrates –““If you do not stop teaching like this, you are going to kill someone.” — a ridiculous statement, considering it is indisputable fact that antidpressants will actually *increase* the risk of suicide in their users. BigPharma are waging a relentless campaign to undo the black box warnings,please do not aid their efforts here.

    The truth is, very soon in the future, pastors will more likely to be be held *criminally responsible* for counseling their flock without true informed consent regarding anti-depressant use — like the Danish psychiatrist– than actually killing someone by giving sound counsel about them.

    I hope to read a more balanced article regarding anti-depressants here, very soon.

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