by Laura Hendrickson
What Does the Bible Say?
The Bible teaches that your human nature is made up of two parts: You have a spiritual inner person or heart, and a physical outer person or body. Your heart is the part of you that thinks, feels, and makes choices. God interacts with you through your heart.
Your body, on the other hand, enables you to relate to the world around you. Your speech, behavior, facial expressions, and tone of voice reveal to others what’s going on inside your heart. It’s important to note that because the brain is a physical organ of your body, it can’t be the source of your thoughts, feelings, and choices. Scripture clearly teaches that these activities take place in your inner person. But because your brain is the “master controller” of your bodily functions, it makes sense to think of it as a mediator that translates what’s inside of you into physical form. While the Bible is silent about how this happens, its clear teaching is that your heart is the source of what comes out of you, not your brain (Luke 6:45).
The Bible also teaches that what takes place in your body affects what goes on in your heart. If you’re sleep deprived, sick, in pain, or on medicines that make it harder for you to think clearly, you will experience physical changes or consequences that will influence your thoughts and emotions. These changes may even tempt you to make wrong choices.
The prophet Elijah’s faith wilted after he confronted the prophets of Baal. Afterward, when Jezebel threatened Elijah, he ran all day long to escape her evil. When he finally stopped, he was physically and emotionally exhausted and very hungry. He asked God to kill him—then promptly fell asleep! Later, after some rest, food, and encouragement, he was ready to return to the Lord’s service (1 Kings 18:21–19:21).
Elijah’s exhaustion didn’t make him give up, but it did make the temptation harder to resist. And I think the reason God gave him rest and food before appearing to him was because his body needed to be strengthened so he would be ready to respond in the right way.
What Does Modern Medicine Say?
Generally speaking, medical science confirms what the Bible teaches. Any doctor can tell you that physical stresses strongly affect heart attitude. People who suffer from pain or illness often struggle with depression and anxiety. Some of this may result from the discomfort they feel, and some may result from the side effects of medication taken to treat a given condition. On rare occasions, certain diseases of the body can directly produce confusion, depression, or anxiety. Doctors also agree that renewed physical strength often improves a sick person’s spirits.
Research has shown that psychiatric medicines alter the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. While these medicines can help diminish pain, because the brain controls the organs of the body, these drugs can also have powerful unintended effects elsewhere in the body. I’m currently helping two people who have experienced serious side effects from their medications. One developed disfiguring facial tics that didn’t go away even after she stopped taking her medicine. The other briefly lost touch with reality after the first dose.
It’s also important to realize that some statements you may hear about how psychiatric drugs work are not completely accurate. When television commercials tell you that painful feelings are caused by an imbalance of chemicals in your brain, they are oversimplifying complicated information. It’s true that psychiatric medications alter the levels of certain chemicals in your brain, which may make you feel better. But there is no proof that abnormal levels of these chemicals developed all by themselves, thereby causing your emotional pain.
Here’s a way to think of the brain’s role in your emotions that’s consistent with what the Bible teaches: The thoughts and feelings of your heart can change your brain’s chemical balance. The opposite is also true: Medicines that change your brain’s chemical balance can affect the thoughts and feelings of your heart. This view accepts the findings of medical science on the role of the brain without insisting that your emotional pain comes solely from your body rather than from your heart, as the Bible teaches.
Putting It All Together
The Bible teaches that your emotions come from your heart, not from your body. It also teaches that improving the way your body feels can change your emotions for the better. Medical science confirms the Bible’s teachings. Whether you’re taking hormones to help you through PMS or menopause, arthritis drugs for pain, or psychiatric drugs, medications may improve the way you feel. But they won’t, by themselves, work the spiritual change that may be needed in your heart.
Remember Elijah’s story. Rest and food fortified his body, but they didn’t solve his emotional problem. He wanted to give up because he’d decided that his situation was hopeless and his ministry was a lost cause. Elijah’s hunger and tiredness didn’t do this to him, and food and rest alone couldn’t solve it. It took an encounter with God’s truth to set Elijah’s heart right.
Satan understands very well the connection between your physical condition and your spiritual struggles. That’s why he waited until Jesus was weakened by hunger, when He was fasting in the wilderness, before launching a spiritual attack (Matthew 4:1-11). How did Jesus resist Satan? He countered each lie with truth from God’s Word, simply stating, “It is written…”
In the same way that food and rest revived Elijah, medications may improve the balance of chemicals in our brains. But by themselves they can’t solve complex spiritual problems. We need to hear God speaking truth to our hearts as Elijah did. We also need to actively use God’s Word, as Jesus did, when we’re struggling.
The great Protestant reformer Martin Luther, who himself struggled with the temptation to become depressed, understood this truth. He urged his followers not to think depressed and anxious thoughts, “for our adversary, the devil, walks about, seeking not only to devour our souls but also to weaken our bodies with thoughts of the soul.” He encouraged his followers to correct their thinking with truths from Scripture.
The prominent nineteenth-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon struggled with depression off and on throughout a long and fruitful ministry. He taught his students that we often experience painful feelings when we’re physically weak or under the pressure of circumstances. In his own case, Spurgeon suffered painful gout, kept up a grueling ministry schedule, and struggled with feeling at fault when several people died after false cries of “Fire! Fire!” caused a large crowd to panic and trample over each other when he preached at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall. But because he understood that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life (1 Peter 4:12), he wasn’t surprised when he experienced seasons of sadness. Instead, he saw difficult times as opportunities to draw closer to God in faith.
Taken from: Women Counseling Women. Copyright © 2010 by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.