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HomeIn the NewsJohn MacArthur, Medications, and the Bible

John MacArthur, Medications, and the Bible

A Biblical Christian perspective on mental illness.

Introduction

Recently, Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg, California hosted a conference featuring multiple pastors. One of those pastors was the renowned John MacArthur of Grace Community Church. During a Q&A panel, Pastor MacArthur discussed his new book, The War on Children.

MacArthur talked about how the psychotherapy field had told a noble lie to parents and children. At that point, he declared that there were no such things as mental illnesses, such as PTSD and OCD.

Unfortunately, this clip went viral for all of the wrong reasons. Many people, Christian or otherwise, had a visceral reaction to the video. They accused MacArthur of invalidating people’s experiences with mental illness.

Why was the reaction to this clip so strong? Furthermore, why did Pastor MacArthur say the things he did? Does he not realize that mental illness is real?

Answering those questions will help us gain a Biblical Christian understanding of mental illness, medication, and emotions.

The Context

First, this is a time where we should be slow to speak (James 1:19–20). We would be wise to slow down, listen, and engage with Pastor McArthur in good faith.

John MacArthur was really arguing that Big Pharma (that is, large pharmaceutical companies that typically prioritize profits over patients’ health) is exploiting children by putting too many of them on medications. Modern society has a tendency to overprescribe drugs for what are usually manageable mental health problems. As a result, children are being exposed to drugs that could permanently alter their still-developing minds.

Expounding on the claim that there is no such thing as ADHD, John MacArthur explains how children are over medicated, and how parents need to have a proper framework and perspective of their kid’s behavior.

Part of the reason so many kids are on medications is because the threshold for what constitutes “mental illness” is much lower these days. Children today could have trouble sitting in class, so apparently they need Adderall. If a young girl is in a bad mood, she is declared depressed and put on meds. She needs her “chemical imbalance” corrected.

To the extent that this medicalization is being done intentionally, it is frankly the work of crooks. However, it is arguable that the medications are administered with good intentions. Some people really do need medications to help them with their problems.

However, there is a boundary between using the medicine God gave us, and abusing it. This even applies to mental health. To understand this dichotomy, let’s see what the Bible says about emotions and emotional intelligence.

The Bible, Emotions, and Medicine

One of the biggest criticisms against Pastor MacArthur’s statements is that he implied the solution to all mental illness was to “pray it away.” In a culture that emphasizes emotional sensitivity, this implication may seem striking. However, God’s view on emotions is a bit more nuanced.

God created us with emotions — emotions are not a result of the Fall. God has given us feelings for a reason. As a result, we do not need to be Stoics or Buddhists in our faith.

It is okay for a Christian to feel emotions. For example, God wants us to experience the emotion of joy (Romans 15:13). We are to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), which implies sympathy and feeling for another person. As followers of Christ, we don’t suppress our emotions, but we must control them:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22–23).

Some emotions, if expressed improperly, can be sinful. For example, anger that is not righteous indignation (being angry at what makes God angry) is sin:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27).

Nonetheless, we need to be careful. Take a mother whose son has tragically died in a car accident. It is okay for her to express grief and sadness over her loss. Grief is a natural emotion. However, she can also have hope that the son has been saved, and will meet his Maker in heaven. In this sense, the mother can grieve, but she avoids falling into hopelessness or despair:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; (2 Corinthians 4:8).

There are two extremes we can fall into when discussing mental health as Christians. One extreme is to embrace a semi-Gnostic view of emotions, completely ignoring our feelings. On the other hand, we can express all of our emotions and let them control us. The Bible essentially tells us to find the balance between these two extremes.

God indeed answers prayer, but He also works through means. God has ordained the creation of medicine to help people with mental illness, so we do not have to forsake medicine. There are many people who have benefitted from medication, whether for physical or psychological reasons.

Illness is a result of the Fall, and part of that includes mental illness. That being said, it is possible to use negative emotions as a crutch to avoid responsibility. In other words, it is possible to view mental illness as an uncontrollable “disease” a person can do nothing about. When we do this, we allow ourselves to become passive victims of our circumstances.

This situation gets even worse when others, say professionals, assign those “diseases” to us and seek a quick fix.

The Problem With Medicine

Right now, the fields of psychotherapy and psychiatry mostly operate from a secular worldview. While this is not automatically an issue, it means that medical practitioners can act in sin. One example of this is the love of money:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

The love of money (partly) drives so many therapists and practitioners to push medications on children. While it is certainly true that the number of diagnosed mental illnesses among young people has increased over time, the number of children being medicated has increased too. Even though we don’t fully know what these medications do to developing brains, we insist that they be given to children.

By all accounts, this is likely a recipe for disaster. Often, children who are prescribed meds prematurely are given a mask to hide their problems, rather than fix them. The result is that we have a cure that can be worse than the disease.

Conclusion

Once again, we return to the importance of good parenting. Pastor MacArthur said so himself — parents help children learn to control their behavior so that they don’t become dependent on drugs. Parents help teach their children to overcome obstacles so that kids don’t have to rely on medications to help them.

It may very well be that some people suffer so much that medication is the only viable solution to their ills. However, for the majority of children in America, these well-intentioned drugs are setting them up for failure.

Jesus is Lord over everything, which means He is also Lord of our emotions. He has used multiple means to redeem our emotions, whether they be through prayer or medication. If we are wise, we will have the discernment to know when to use each method.


Salvation – Eternal Life in Less Than 150 Words

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AuthorBrandon Charles | BCWorldview.org 

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