Friday, August 13, 2010

The Christian's perspective on drugs and medicine part 4

If you haven't read the first three installments in this series I suggest you start with my posts on medicine as created by God, medicine as a gift of God, and medicine as it can be abused by man.  Today I want to delve deeper into our identity and purpose as believers and how this knowledge will influence our perspective on taking meds.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”   Romans 12:1-2

I think there are three important points made in this verse that relate to the Christian’s perspective on drugs and medicines. First, our bodies should be presented to God as living sacrifices. Remember that God accepted only “unblemished” animals that were sacrificed to Him. He wanted them to be pure. The Christian must ask himself whether he can remain pure when taking a particular drug or medicine.  I don't think Paul has physical purity in mind, but spiritual purity- the absence of sin.  Will taking this medicine allow you to remain pure or will it cause you to sin?  Birth control is a controversial area that could be discussed here.  For instance, the use of intra-uterine devices do not prevent conception, but the implantation of the embryo into the uterus is prevented.  For those who believe life begins at conception, this poses a problem.  Can a Christian woman use an IUD and remain morally pure?  I would suggest not.  What about the pill (and other hormonal methods of birth control)?  It's true that the pill is not normally abortafacient, but it can be.  In other words, the pill normally prevents ovulation, but in some instances ovulation can occur even under the influence of the pill.  The problem for the Christian who believes life begins at conception is that the pill also makes the uterus an inhospitable environment for implantation (by thinning it).  So, now I ask an even more controversial question:  Can a Christian woman take the pill and remain morally pure?  I'll leave you to answer that. 

What about medications that make you so tired that you start sleeping in instead of going to church?  What about medications that make you too tired to read your Bible or too tired to care for your family?  I suggest here that we have to consider the risk to benefit ratio.  For instance, both anti-seizure and anti-anxiety meds are notorious for causing extreme drowsiness.  It seems to me that a seizure is a serious threat that we have no other known treatment for, whereas anxiety can be combated in a number of non-pharmacological ways.  These are issues the Christian has to consider.  (And in case I wasn't clear enough here, I absolutely believe that people with seizure disorders need to take meds to try to control their seizures!  My husband's brother died because a faith healer told him he wasn't trusting God in this area of his life- so he quit his meds.  He left behind a wife and four young children.)  Anxiety, however, is another matter and is largely subjective.  I'm not saying someone suffering from anxiety should never take meds for their condition, just that medication should be the last resort and the benefits of the medicine must be weighed against the side-effects, in this case I'm referring specifically to negative effects on our character.

Secondly, according to Romans 12:1-2, believers are to be counter-cultural. We’re not supposed to be worldly. Is drinking the “norm” on college campuses? Then the Christian is called to take a different route. Rather than being shaped by the trends around us, we are to be shaped by the Word of God. For example, it is quite common for women to take thyroid hormone today.  Is thyroid hormone evil?  No, of course not, God made it and gave it to us for a purpose- and we should thank Him for it.  Some people get thyroid cancer and have to have their thyroid glands removed- they have to have thyroid hormone to function.  Others have over-active thyroid glands that have to be irradiated and they need thyroid hormone, too.  I'm not in any way criticizing these people for taking the thyroid hormone their bodies need.  But, many, many women today take thyroid hormone because it makes them feel more energetic and helps them to lose weight.  Is it ok to take this route instead of eating right, getting enough sleep, or getting the exercise our bodies were designed for?  Is it ok to do it just because everyone we know is doing it and our doctor suggests it or because we want our body to fit a certain image the world tells us we should look like?  Not if our goal as Christians is to be counter-cultural.  I believe this is a moral issue Christians must consider. 

It's also very popular today and totally accepted for people to take anti-depressants. You might think there would be a stigma attached to taking a drug that changes your brain chemistry in order to make you feel differently, but there’s not. In fact, we think it’s the most natural thing in the world. I remember talking with a friend of mine years ago about her relationship with her then pre-teen daughter. My friend told me that they had been having a hard time getting along, but when she told her doctor about it he prescribed an anti-depressant for her (the mother). Once she started on her meds, she and her daughter were able to get along just fine. Did their relationship get better because of improved communication or quality time, increased sensitivity or patience?  No, my friend's anti-depressant just caused the relationship issues with her daughter to no longer bother her.  I wish this case were an exception, but sadly it isn’t.

Taking anti-depressants is routine in our culture. Is there a place for the prescription of anti-depressant drugs? Probably, but there are also times when we should be depressed.  When we are in sin, we should feel guilt.  God has designed us this way.  Covering it up will not help us deal with our sin issue.  Even when we are in the midst of suffering through difficult circumstances that we have no control over, we should feel sad.  It's normal to be sad when our lives are falling apart.  God made us this way.  It's so very like the world to want to escape our sadness (especially when it's self-inflicted), but the biblical view is to throw ourselves upon the mercy of God.  I'm the most drawn to God and His Word when I'm the most desperate.  God uses difficult circumstance in our lives to refine us.  We should run to the Lord rather than our meds for comfort.  Anti-depressnat use has gotten out of hand in our culture that is so obsessed with how we feel. RC Sproul calls ours one of the most anti-intellectual generations in recorded history.  What he means by this is that we value our emotions over our intellect, our feelings over rational thought.  This leads me to the next application from Romans 12:1-2 in relation to meds. 

Thirdly, as Christians, we are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  What exactly are we supposed to be putting into our minds to renew them?  God's Word, of course!  How can our minds be renewed by God’s Word when we’re busy changing our brain chemistry to suit our feelings?  So, the question is, should Christians sacrifice their minds for the sake of their feelings?  I think according to this passage, the answer is no. 

There is one category of drugs in particular that need to be considered here:  psychoactive drugs.  These are drugs that change the way we think or feel.  They exert their effects in the mind.  I would suggest that any drug that impedes the Christian from having his mind renewed by Scripture also impedes his sanctification.  God mainly uses His Word to make us more like His Son.  The Bible and its application are the primary means of our sanctification.  Should a believer put their feelings, their level of rest, their level of comfort, or anything above this priority of being transformed by the renewing of our minds?

In summary, the Christian must consider whether taking a particular medication will cause him to be morally impure or worldly, and whether it will interfere with his ability to have his thoughts transformed by Scripture.

I welcome your comments and would also love to interact more with you more on this topic in my blogfrog community.  Stay tuned for the next installment.  It will blow your mind.

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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.