Before delving into my story, I want to give you a quiz. Having a degree and experience in teaching, I will always be a teacher at heart. Here goes:
1. You are camping at Indian Hollow and someone allergic to bees is stung by one. What do you do?
A. Tell the person who was stung, “Just have faith and renounce the bee and all its devilish powers and it will not have a hold on you.”
B. Run for the person’s epipen as fast as you can and administer the needed medicine to counteract the allergic reaction.
2. You are having lunch with a friend and she starts having an asthma attack. What do you do?
A. You rebuke your friend for having such little faith and command her “to just get over it and stop it.”
B. Help your friend to find her inhaler in her “bottomless” handbag.
3. You are visiting your uncle who has diabetes and is showing signs of having low blood sugar [sweating, becoming sleepy and disoriented]. What do you do?
A. Tell him to take charge of his life and his pancreas and order the “diabetic demon” to leave and never return.
B.. Quickly find some orange juice, ice cream, candy or anything with sugar and give it to him. If he does not get better, call 911.
Hopefully, you have realized that the “A” answers are totally absurd and the “B” answers are the correct answers. In the 21st century, our society, as the Christian Church included, still stigmatizes mental illness in all of its forms, including clinical [severe] depression. Many fail to understand that clinical depression is caused by a physical problem, namely a chemical imbalance in the brain, which needs medical intervention. People, including brothers and sisters in Christ, not only battle with clinical depression, but they also battle with the misconceptions people still believe about severe depression. Sadly, this wrong way of thinking includes people who profess Christ as their Savior and Lord. Because of these wrong thinking Christians who deal with clinical depression feel something is wrong with their character, they lack faith and they are embarrassed to talk about their sickness because they are told they “just need to try harder to feel better.” Christians are told by other Christians that they need to have faith and “look at the bright side of things and not be so negative all the time.” They feel ashamed for not being able to “give their problems over to God and believe in His promises and live by faith.” All these exhortations causing false guilt and shame are not only wrong, but they are also extremely harmful and irresponsible and just plain wrong. It is very important to understand, whether you are a Christian friend or a Christian counselor, clinical depression is an illness and, as in the case of any illness, it needs to be treated medically. This includes may include taking medication and undergoing other forms of medical treatment and therapies.
II Timothy 1:7 is often quoted in church, at Bible studies and by people who think they are “helping“ someone to “get a grip” and move on with his/her life : “…God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
When was the last time you heard I Timothy 5:23 quoted: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”
(There was no Pepto Bismol back in the day)
II Timothy 1:7 is a goal we pray to become our way of life. Being controlled by the Holy Spirit is what we pray to obtain. The Holy Spirit is doing a sanctifying work in our lives and that takes time. In I Timothy I:7, Paul wrote an aside and gave some fatherly advice to Timothy. He told Timothy to drink wine which, among other things, was used for medicinal purposes. Paul knew of Timothy’s many stomach ailments, possibly due to stress. It is interesting that Paul did not rebuke Timothy for being sick all the time and remove him from his position of leadership in the Church.
Paul himself wrote about his spiritual journey and admitted that he did not fully understand “the power of the resurrection” in his life:
“- that I may know [Christ] and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by as many means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead. NOT THAT I ALREADY OBTAINED THIS OR AM ALREADY PERFECT, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own” [Philippians 3:10-12].
I believe Paul had his own need for medical treatment. He was familiar with illness and pain from physical persecution. I believe we don’t know his exact illness [“thorn in the flesh”] because God wants us to apply II Corinthians 12:8-10 to our own situation:
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [thorn in the flesh], that it would leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. FOR WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG.”
Some people, Christians included, believe that having to take any kind of medication is a weakness. They are prideful of the fact that they do not need any doctors or have to take any medication [yet], as if they are totally responsible for their own good health. But, when we acknowledge our weaknesses and our dependency on God, that is the time we experience God’s sufficiency and His power is made perfect in our weaknesses, because we place ourselves in a position in which we can be helped. That is why Paul is able to exclaim, “FOR WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG.” Having his own ailments from beatings and imprisonments, Paul needed medical attention. That is why, I believe, he traveled with Luke, who was “the beloved physician” [See Colossians 4:14].
Not having to take any medication, as though it is in our control, is not something to boast about. It is something to thank God for because He is the One who is in control of our lives. There is something much more important to boast about:
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty [healthy] man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the LORD” [Jeremiah 9:23-24].
To be continued…
“For, Lo, the winter is past.
the rain is over and gone;
the flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds
(from Song of Solomon 2:11-12)