In my last post I wrote about the need for believers in Christ to point their brothers and sisters to God’s truth rather than relying on humanistic psychology. I also wrote about the importance on not blaming sin on others, childhood environment, or a chemical imbalance. In this post I wanted to share a few examples of how this can apply in our lives and churches. It is very important that we be clear on what causes sin and what does not. We also need to be understanding with those experiencing real physical problems and/or challenges that make their life more difficult.
I want to be clear about a few things before getting to specific applications. Here are some truths that I think we need to keep in mind when trying to discern how to think about our life or the lives of others.
1. A person’s childhood can have a dominating influence on how they think, act, and perceive the world. Good biblical upbringing, absent father or mother, being an only child, sexual abuse, a traumatic event, abandonment, alcohol and drugs, pornography, foster care, etc. etc. etc. All these and more, during childhood, can highly influence one when they are older.
2. Physical brain diseases and disorders that occur, like Alzheimer’s or those that result from a head trauma, affect greatly the abilities of those it impacts. In other words, it is inconceivable to expect them to operate at the same capacity as a person with no physical damage in the brain, or as they did previously to having the the problem.
3. We live in a painful world and it hits some people more than others. Welch, in his book, talks about this. “It certainly is not a sin to experience pain” (p.119). Physical pain can cause a person to experience other physical symptoms like insomnia, hypersomnia, significant weight change, restlessness, fatigue, loss of energy, problems concentrating, feeling sad (p.120). In other words, pain hurts and it affects our lives. Compassion for those experiencing pain is needed in the church. When I have a headache, I cannot concentrate like I can when I do not have a headache. My lack of concentration is due to a physical problem. It is not sin. I do not need to repent of it. I need a Tylenol. It is vital to distinguish between physical and spiritual problems.
4. None of the three points above are an excuse to sin, nor do they cause us to sin. If I am impatient and get angry at my kids when I have a massive headache, my heart is to blame, not my headache. Physical problems are never to be blamed for sin. They do not cause sin. They can influence us to walk in a sinful direction, but they cannot not make us sin. When we sin it is because we choose to sin.
Now, let me share a few examples. Most of these examples are mentioned by Welch in his book, but we do not need to read his book in order to properly discern how to think about these kinds of issues. If we, as believers in the Lord God Almighty, truly trust His word and seek it diligently, then we can properly use it to help us know the difference between physical and spiritual symptoms, and in response call ourselves and others to obey His word. One of the big keys is to clearly discern between physical and spiritual problems. As believers in Christ, we are called to address the spiritual problems. Regardless of the physical challenges a person faces, faith in God’s truth is the goal in every situation. In some instances, we will see that addressing biblically the spiritual sin in a person’s life will affect the physical symptoms they are experiencing. Example: someone who lives in constant fear and anxiety that also has problems sleeping and suffers from severe stomach pain might see a complete cure of their physical symptoms once they repent of the sin of their fear and anxiety and begin trusting in the promises that God gives in His word. In other words, often physical pain is directly linked to sin. David experienced this in his own life. Read Psalm 32 and you will see how his sin affected his body. Now, here is where we must be extremely careful. This does not mean that all who are experiencing physical pain are doing so as a result of their sin. To assume this is unkind, lacks compassion, and is severely judgmental. Our goal is to help one another in our relationship with God. If there is sin, repent of it and begin believing in truth. The result will be a closer relationship with God and with others. The side effect might be physical healing. See James 5:13-16 for another example of sins causing physical sickness.
Welch separates his book into 3 major sections. Problems clearly connected to brain problems. Problems possibly connected to brain problems. And, problems that are not connected to brain problems. Here are examples of each.
Alzheimer’s disease is a very common disease that affects people’s memory. In the earlier stages of the disease, people become forgetful (where they placed their keys, parked their car, etc.). In the latter stages of the disease they forget the names of close friends and family. This is do to a purely physical problem in the brain. This disease is hard on the person, the family, and friends. Most of the time, those that suffer from this disease, before it began, lived relatively normal lives. But, as the disease progresses many become angry, have fits of rage, and begin to behave in very inappropriate ways (flirting with opposite sex, dirty jokes and sexual comments toward others, etc.). The question we must answer is: is this behavior being caused by the Alzheimer’s disease, or is there something more going on?
This is where we go back to the four principles that I shared in my last post. The first one is: the brain cannot make a person sin. The third one is: the brain can expose heart problems. Question: are fits of rage and sexually inappropriate behavior sinful? Easy answer: Yes. So, while a person may suffer severely from a brain disease like Alzheimer’s or from a head injury caused by an accident, their sin must be handled biblically, not swept under the rug because they have a brain disease or injury. This goes back to my last post. We are body and soul (mind). While the body deteriorates, our souls can be renewed day by day. The fits of rage and inappropriate behavior are the result of a sinful heart. But, because the brain has been affected, it no longer can hide the heart’s motivations. Like a young child that has not learned to hide their thoughts (like when one of my daughters loudly asked me while standing in line at the grocery store why the person in front of us was so fat), one whose brain has been heavily affected has lost or is losing its ability to hide the real thoughts of their heart. So, what is in their heart comes out freely. Jesus affirmed these behaviors come from the heart in Matthew 12:33-37. If the fits of rage or inappropriate behavior were the result of the head injury or Alzheimer’s then all those affected would have similar behaviors. But this is not what we find. Some of those affected are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. It is because the condition of their heart is good. I have heard and witnessed numerous stories of people who were in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s and sing with joy hymns to the Lord and quote Scripture. How can they do that if they cannot even remember their spouse’s name? Simple. What they are singing and quoting is written on their heart, not stored somewhere in their brain. In other words, it is a part of their soul, not their body.
Now this does not mean we can treat those with head injuries and Alzheimer’s in the same way as those who do not suffer from these things. But, it does mean that we can confront their sin in love and call them to repent and place their faith in Jesus. Why can we do this? Because we are talking to their heart, not their brain.
What about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), depression, and other psychiatric problems? How do we help those suffering from these things? We do so with compassion using the same four principles. A chemical imbalance does not make a person sin. A person chooses to sin. If a child has a hard time concentrating in school, that is not a sin. If they choose to disobey their teacher’s rule to stand in line quietly, that is a sin. It is not the fault of ADD. It is a sin of the heart and should be treated as a sin. If a child who has been diagnosed with ADD refuses to obey their parents (to take a bath, do home work, go to bed, clean room), that is not because they are ADD. It is because their have a sinful heart and it must be addressed biblically. This does not mean that they do not have ADD. But it does mean that as followers of truth, we address sinful attitudes and behaviors by calling them to repent and walk in faith in God’s word. Personally, I am convinced that the vast majority of the children today who are diagnosed with ADD have been misdiagnosed. They do not need Ritalin. They need parents who will discipline them and not let them control the household with their disobedient behavior. Too many families are controlled by the desires of children and not the parents. Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. If a child has a hard time concentrating at school work or household chores, first examine their routine. Are they getting a proper balanced diet? Do they get enough sleep? Do they get enough exercise? Play too much video games or watch too much TV? Do they have a unique learning style that needs to be adapted to their needs? Seek to discern the physical and spiritual problems and address each one properly.
Depression is a popular trend today. A little more than a hundred years ago it was called being melancholy. The word depression as it is used today practically did not exist. Today, more people are taking anti-depressants than ever before. I know this is a delicate issue, especially in the church. But, someone has to speak on it, and I believe Ed Welch does a fantastic job in doing so. Again, the four principles from my last post need to be applied. If someone lives in a constant state of fear it is not due to a chemical imbalance. It is due to believing and living their lives according to lies. They need to be helped to see their sinful thinking and then to see the grand truths of God’s word and be reminded over and over that they can trust them fully. Someone who suffers from a low self-esteem does not need to be told to think better of themselves. That is the whole problem of why they have a low self-esteem. Often they have a low self-esteem because they want the world to revolve around them and they are upset that it does not. Other times it is low because they see themselves for who they really are and do not like what they see. They are shameful of their sin and want to hide it. To tell them to think better of themselves is to fall into the same thinking as Adam and Eve. They saw they their nakedness and felt shame. Therefore they sewed fig leaves and put them on so that they could fell better about their nakedness. But this was not the answer to their problem. They needed to repent of their shame and place their faith in God alone. This is the same answer for today. It is imperative that we as believers help one another see sin for what it is, and be willing to call it for what it is. Low self-esteem is almost always the result of sinful thinking. It is rooted in pride. If we want to see people set free from it, they must see it for what it is.
Now, are there times when people need to take psychiatric medication? Yes. Sometimes life can so overwhelm a person that they cannot see God’s word clearly because their mind is so troubled. A child who has gone through severe trauma, like being rescued from the illegal sex-trafficking industry will probably need medication to help them cope with what they had gone through. A parent who loses a child might need something to help them through a tough period in life. These kinds of situations are special and should be unique. The goal of medication should be short-term and in cooperation with solid biblical counsel. With time, God’s word, and prayer, medication should be able to cease as the person establishes themselves on God’s promises and learns more and more to trust in Him for all things. Are there other exceptions? Sure. I cannot name them all. But, in the church today we have too many people trusting in psychiatric medication and not repenting of sinful thinking and placing their trust in the Lord. As we counsel others, the focus should not be the medication, but the sinful thinking that needs to be corrected by the word of God. As the person’s trusts more and more on God the Spirit will show them that they no longer need the medication or He will show the one giving counsel when to talk about it. The goal of giving counsel is not to have the person to quit medication, but to get them to lean on God’s word alone for their daily strength. Also, it is vital that we pray for discernment to know the difference between physical problems and spiritual problems. Physical problems are not sin. But spiritual problems are not to blamed on the physical. They are to be addressed with God’s word that speaks to the heart (See Hebrews 4:12-13).
Finally, what about things like homosexuality and alcoholism? Does one practice homosexuality because they have been programed chemically to be that way, thus they cannot help being homosexual? In other words, did God make them homosexual? Is alcoholism a disease of the brain that a person cannot help? Are they that way because of genetic programing? In our modern world today, many psychologists, psychiatrists, talk-show hosts, and the news media want us to believe that this is so. But, when we read God’s word we see that both are sin and must be repented of. God’s word must be more authoritative in our lives and thinking than news media and current trending psychological reasoning. Truth: homosexuality is sin. Alcoholism (drunkenness) is sin. Truth: It is possible to be completely set free from both of these sins. In other words, Scripture says that a homosexual does not always have to be a homosexual, and an alcoholic does not always have to be an alcoholic. We in the church need to be VERY clear on this.
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
God changes people! How? When they confess their sin. Repent of it. And turn in faith to Jesus who can save them from it. If they will do this, then they will be saved from the condemnation of their sin. God will give them the Holy Spirit to help them live godly in this ungodly world. They will still have to battle the sinful desires, but they will do so with the help of the Spirit of God. But He who is in them is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
In concluding this post, I want to challenge the church to have a greater confidence in God’s word as we use it for life and practice in our daily lives. Be willing to address spiritual issues with God’s word. Be careful not to judge physical problems as sin. Be compassionate, yet boldly truthful. Believe that God changes hearts and lives. We will be tempted to excuse the sin of others because of their “condition” whether real or imaginary. Do not fall for it. Excusing sin only makes the problem worse. But do not forget that confronting sin is almost never easy. It takes prayer, patience, consistence, and faith in God to bring change. We simply cannot blame the brain for things that God calls issues of the heart.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.