Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Christians Get Depressed Too by David P. Murray

This was one of my new Kindle books. I was hoping for a lot more. Oddly, the first thing I read when I got this book was the appendix. I don't usually read appendices at all, but this one was really good. Mr. Murray wrote a really good article about how Christians should view secular science. He said that we should not take everything we hear, see and read as Gospel truth. Instead, we should be steeped in the knowledge of the Word of God and view everything we see through the lens of Scripture. How great is that?

Then I went back and read the book. In many ways the book was very good. It did a good job of pointing out various characters in the Bible who suffered from depression for various reasons. Mr. Murray had spend many years with depressed people and so he knew what depression was. The down side was that other than observing that Biblical characters were depressed, he almost totally took the non-Christian medical model as the standard for explaining depression.

He said over and over again that depression and anxiety should be viewed as a medical condition rather than as a result of sin or of sin itself. He never addressed the fact that the Bible specifically commands us not to be anxious (Mt. 6:25-34; 10:19; 1 Cor. 7:32; Phil 4:8). Even in those situations in the Bible when people are depressed he didn't ever examine the contexts of those cases and see if sin was involved in any way. He just mentioned them and went on to tell Christians that depression is primarily a medical, biological and chemical problem. I don't know what happened to the lens.

I always find it interesting, even when reading specifically non-Christian literature on so called mental disorders, how often they are compared to clearly physical diseases. For example, Mr. Murray, on several occasions compared depression with polio, diabetes, and cancer. He said that we should think of depression in the same way we think of those kinds of physical maladies. But then when he went on to talk about how to "treat" depression, he mentioned examining yourself to see where the depression came from, confessing any sin in your life, making restitution where it is needed, and walking with God. But that is not how you treat cancer. You try to find it and kill it. You don't change your behavior to avoid polio, you get a shot. If you were to take a person off the street and give him a simple blood test, you could tell him, when the tests results came in, whether he had diabetes or not. It is testable. You can test for cancer. You can test for polio. With depression where is the test? It is a completely different animal from a disease.

Am I saying that depression is not a chemical, biological and physical event in a person's life? Not at all. I know that depression has physical components, but I also know that when you ask the question, "What was going on in your life when the depression first hit you?" and the person always comes up with some stressful event I would look at the event, or the response to the event before I would begin pumping the person full of an anti-depressant.

There are aspects to this that are not even about the difference between a Biblical Counselor and non-Christian counselor. This is simple logic. Even after Mr. Murray explained that the problem is first chemical and biological, he goes on to help the depressed person eliminate sinful responses and behaviors from the person's life. He says it is chemical, but then treats it as if it were not chemical.

There is one area in all this I tend to agree with Mr. Murray. He said that people are different from one another. I'm with him on that. He also said that different people's bodies react differently to different kinds of stimulation. I'm with him on this too. Some people get ulcers from worry. Some people get heart attacks, when others have strokes, when others get various forms of dementia. People are different, we're all dying, all falling apart in different ways. I'm with him on this. And some people get depressed when others, going through the same life events, don't. I'm there with him too. His conclusion is that therefore depression is unavoidable and just comes on some folks and not on others. On this last point, the jury is out on. There is no proof that anyone gets depressed independently from the things going on around them. And even if there was proof, given the world we live in, it would be the exception, not the rule.

This means that even if some people do get depressed apart from anything else going on in their lives, this should not be the first thing we think when we seek to minister to them. It should be in the back of our minds, but not the assumption that Mr. Murray is suggesting. The vast majority of people who come to us for counsel concerning depression are depressed for reasons other than that their body is falling apart. Their bodies are falling apart and maybe even because of the depression, but usually there are things going on with them. These things that are going on with them are usually related to handling the situations of their lives in unwise and sinful ways. They are often angry, bitter, hurt, in grief, or a myriad of other things, all piled up and crushing the person into bitterness.

Overall the book was thought provoking, but I disagree with the premises and with Mr. Murray's attempt to apply what he said about viewing non-Christian science through the lens of Scripture. It didn't appear that he read his own appendix before writing his book. I would love to discuss these things with him in person some time.

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