Orcs and Elves
Aged women are given explicit Apostolic instruction to be “not given to much wine (Tit. 2:3).” A deacon’s (and probably elder’s) wife is, among other things, to be sober, νηφαλέους (1 Tim. 3:11). The entire congregation is commanded to not be drunk with wine, but filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Sober-mindedness is a frequently commanded virtue. God wants His people clear-headed. That’s the virtue which is being admonished.
Now, is wine the only way in which sober-mindedness is compromised? Of course not. Is wine expressly forbidden? Of course not. Wine stands in for other forms of mood/mind altering substances. And we should not forget that wine is a blessing from the Lord, given to make the heart of man glad (Ps. 104:15). That blessing should be embraced without blushing.
But the devil likes the blessings God gives. He loves to mangle and corrupt them, and bids us do the same. The blessings God gives can be corrupted from the means of enjoying God’s grace and goodness, and turned into a means of self-worship. The same wine that can gladden the heart can also turn one into a drunken brawler (Pro. 20:1). Orcs were once elves, mind you.
The Heart Problem
The problem isn’t the substance, it is the human heart. We love to concoct ways to mangle God’s blessings. Our rebellion turns the means of enjoying God’s blessings into idolatrous ends. The heart is the problem, not the stuff. Lust in the heart is the problem, not wine in the cup.
God has laden this world––like the ranch dressing on my french fries––with blessings. Medicine ought to be the result of the faithful labors of doctors and researches, taking those blessings and converting them into means of healing, restoring, and alleviating suffering. Broken bones healing more rapidly. Hearts being strengthened to pump a few decades longer.
However, assuming that medical discoveries are clean as the wind-driven snow is like assuming that leaving your wallet next to you on a New York subway while you take a nap is a wise decision. One of the ways in which we’ve placed ourselves unreflectively in the hands of modern medicine is by imbibing psychotropic drugs.
Without much objection we have turned to treating human suffering, mental grief, energetic activity, and gloomy moods with little pills. These little pills, by design, alter mood/mind. And one in six Americans are taking them. Most indications are that women are twice as likely as men are to be taking antidepressants. So, are these pills blessings which Christians should freely enjoy, or a mangling of medical care?
Anti-Sin not Anti-Science
First, we should insist that being anti-sin is not equivalent to being anti-science. Christians have historically led in scientific discovery, and done so as a means of glorifying God. However, as secularism has overtaken the scientific and medical professions, Christians need to have their BS-meters on high.
In the arena of psychopharmacology we should be especially on guard. Sins have been rapidly redefined as medical/biological disorders, and some sins (like homosexuality) have been removed from the psychiatric diagnostic manuals under pressure from the GQBLT lobby. The psychiatric community is very wishy-washy on what constitutes mental disorders. They are also very cowardly when society scolds them for diagnosing societal lusts as forms of mental derangement. Just look at all of our sexuality/gender confusion. The psychiatric community has essentially said, “Nope, nothing to see here.”
But consider this quote from one of the “founding fathers” modern psychopharmacology:
Those of us who work in this field [psychiatry] see a developing potential for a nearly total control of human emotional status, mental functioning, and will to act.Nathan Kline
In other words, psychotropic drugs were developed with the express purpose of controlling human’s emotion, mental frame of mind, and will. But even Kline warned of overmedicating, and modern psychologists themselves are admitting that “there is vast agreement that [psychotropic drugs] are grossly overprescribed, do not treat any known diseases, and provide only superficial relief.”
These medications––which alter mood, cognition, etc.––if beneficial are recommended only for short periods; yet the evidence shows that once someone begins taking antidepressants or other sorts of behavioral drugs, they are on them for long stretches of time. Couple this with the fact that there are ZERO tests which can be run to determine whether the patient in question actually needs these medications.
In other words, what may be helpful for some very extreme cases––usually for short periods of time––is not even recommended by modern psychiatrists for the average person, nor is it advised for this form of “treatment” to be long term. I won’t go into how there is a revolving door between the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies, but the concern I’m raising is that Christians in particular have been gullible in receiving a form of “treatment” from a discipline of medicine whose express purpose is in conflict with Scripture’s mandate to be sober-minded.
Add to all this the reality that the church simply goes along with the redefining of sins as mental/emotional disorders. Pastorally, even when counseling someone who is not dealing with sin as the direct cause of their melancholy (i.e. tragedy as opposed to transgression), the suffering individual doesn’t need to be told that a pill can help them deal with grief. A pill won’t overcome the temptations that arise as a result of grief. Prozac can’t mortify the flesh or vivify the Spirit.
Christians and Their Pills
Many Christians have thoughtlessly begun partaking of this pharmaceutical sacrament. Without reflection, or acknowledging the worldview origin of such drugs, they have joined with the world’s programme of treating mental and emotional frames of mind as something to be treated rather than the battleground in which God calls us to cultivate holiness and mortify sin.
Furthermore, regardless of denominational background, our nation is paedo-pharmaceutical. Pre-schoolers are the fastest growing market for consuming antidepressants, and more and more children are growing up taking medication for behavioral issues. Our culture wants our children to come to the table of psychotropic drugs and commune long into adulthood.
So, what should Christians think about all this? Our starting point is obedience to the Risen Christ. Which means, we should start by affirming that we are to be obedient to His command to be sober-minded. This means we are all called to sober-mindedness regardless of how we feel, regardless of our emotional or mental condition, regardless of the pain of our circumstances. Secondly, we should repent of thinking that joy will return to us if we take our pills. Joy doesn’t come in a bottle of pills.
The fear and anxiety and joylessness which plague Christian women are not going to be fixed by medicine. Fear is cast out by resting in the love of the Father. Anxiety is soothed by the peace of conscience brought by understanding the Sovereign goodness of God over all matters. Joylessness is cured by confessing one’s sins, and turning in evangelical faith to salvation offered in Christ.
One final word, when facing grief, suffering, or mental anguish we are going to be assaulted with a host of temptations. Will we look to Christ, or will we look for escape? The escape can take many forms, but increasingly, it takes the form of a handful of pills. The escape which psychiatric medication offers comes with a long list of so called “side” effects. But the Gospel offers joy and deliverance by facing the trial in faith. As the old hymn reminds us:
The flame shall not harm thee,
I only design, thy dross to consume
and thy gold to refine.
We know this because Jesus suffered the most poignant anguish ever faced by any human ever. He did not seek escape. He did not medicate his emotions. He did not resign his will to the prescription of his therapist. He refused the gall. He yielded to the Father’s will, and the Father gave Him glory in return. Something a prescription can never fill.