I’ve received some excellent questions about my series on the soul and the brain that I couldn’t address from the pulpit, so I’d like to address them here.

Are there brain problems that really do affect the soul?

Absolutely.  Alzhimer’s and Parkinson’s are two prominent examples.  The mental retardation caused by Downs Syndrome is another.  Brain trauma caused by a fall or a hit to the head can also alter thinking and behavior, as can damage caused by substance abuse.  The causal relationship of brain damage to behavior in these cases is demonstrable.  These are clear-cut cases of brain damage or malfunction.
 
My point is not that “mental illnesses” and “personality disorders” cannot be the result of brain malfunction; only that such has been assumed, not demonstrated.  Brain malfunction is assumed to be the cause of thinking and behavioral disorders because of the medical community’s naturalistic bias that leaves no other explanation besides bodily malfunction.  I counter that chemical problems may very well be caused by thinking or feeling or believing problems.  My approach to these things is to deal with “soul problems” when behavior is involved; save drugs and surgeries as last resorts.

Is it a sin to take drugs for mental and behavioral problems?

No – it violates no command of God that I know of.  The question is “Do such medications really solve the problem?”

So why not take medications?

I wouldn’t say “don’t ever take medications.”  We had just better be aware of some misconceptions that are involved regarding such drugs and the problems they are supposed to address.  First, the medical community assumes that the “symptoms” of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, et al, are caused merely by chemical imbalances.  They don’t know that for a fact, nor do they seem to take seriously the idea that thinking patterns can affect the physical structure and functioning of the brain.  They simply assume that brain abnormalities (i.e. chemical imbalances) are at the root of thinking, emotional and behavior aberrations.  There is no way to test whether one has a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Second, many times prescribed medications give little or no relief.  If we are sure of chemical imbalance, and we are sure that a given med addresses imbalance, why should that be so?  Why are prescriptions of such medications trial and error, i.e. “try this med and if it doesn’t work we’ll try another medication?”  That sounds like guessing – not knowing – what’s going on in the brain.  Is such use of medications wise?

Third, the assumption is that the “chemical imbalance” is an abnormal activity of the brain that needs to be corrected.  But what if the brain is simply responding normally to bad patterns of thought or bad circumstances?  Is the chemical adjustment of the medication really fixing the problem?  Could such unnecessary “fixing” be making things worse?  Could it be creating other problems?  We simply don’t know.  I would point out, however, that it is not uncommon for people who take medications to find themselves having other “chemical difficulties” later which require different medications.

I’m not saying that medicines have no effect on emotional problems.  They obviously can make chemical adjustments that result in different feelings.  But if the chemical imbalance is being caused by wrong thinking (as we’ve seen is possible), and the wrong thinking continues, then aren’t we interfering with the body’s normal functioning – and is that a good thing?  Furthermore, there is no evidence that such chemical imbalances are occurring EVERYWHERE in the brain, i.e. that every synapse is affected by low levels of chemicals in need of “fixing”.  There is also no evidence that the medications affect ONLY those synapses which HAVE low levels of chemicals.  How do such medications affect the parts of the brain that are functioning normally?  We simply don’t know.  Could such meds be causing damage in such healthy places?  We don’t know.  Hence my notion that people proceed with caution with medication.

If you must take medication to get relief from symptoms, recognize that you’re just getting relief from symptoms.  This is a good thing!  But while you’re feeling better on the meds, use that condition to try to address wrong patterns of thinking so that the real problem gets addressed.  Unfortunately, this is not what usually happens.  Learning to undo bad habits of thought and belief is hard; taking a pill is easy.  If the pill gives relief, why do the hard work of correcting deeply ingrained thinking patterns?  It is not unusual for people to become dependent on a medication, and if or when the med fails to provide relief because the body grows accustomed to it, the person scrambles for a different medication, then another, and another.  The real “soul problem” goes unaddressed.  The doctor trying to help will prescribe as many meds as it takes to give relief; but pastors and counselors are concerned about more than relief.  We’re concerned about healthy, wholesome souls that live by right belief and right thinking.