A Christian Ethic for Treating Mental Illness

Research by the U. S. Burden of Disease Collaborators indicates neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States.[1]  Consequently, the “raging epidemic of mental illness,”[2] results in “psychotropic medications [being] among the most commonly prescribed of all pharmacological agents.”[3]  Pointing to the Church’s intersection with this issue, Christian psychiatrists Paul Meier and Frank Minirth say estimates indicate “pastors do more than half of all the counseling in the United States.”[4]  While proponents of psychiatry suggest “psychotropics have improved the lives of millions of individuals living with mental illness,”[5] many Christians still find themselves hesitant to throw their full support behind psychotropic medication.  In an article from Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer calls out Christians as having “a tendency to tiptoe around [mental illness] as if . . . on eggshells,”[6] and says Christians likely struggle more than their mainstream-society-peers in reaching positions on the topic.[7]  Further, complicating matters are psychiatric professionals who themselves acknowledge “significant controversy exists surrounding ethical best practices in the prescription of psychotropics.”[8]  Granted, mental illness remains a broad sweeping, debilitating, and sometimes dangerous affliction that can’t be ignored.

Christian best practices must be established for the safety and well-being of our communities.  This article will first consider reasons why some Christians are resistant to psychopharmacology. Then, the ontological nature of human beings will be considered before expressing reasons why Christians should support the field of psychopharmacology.  Finally, the paper will consider some further concerns Christians might have in fully embracing psychopharmacology, and will offer a response to those concerns.  Following this outline, this paper will argue a proper view of health recognizes human beings as whole persons and incorporates all God-given means, both spiritual and physical.  In understanding the treatment of mental illness, Christians must choose the narrow position between over-spiritualizing mental and emotional struggles, and conversely over-materializing the mind.  This paper will further contend this narrow position is the ethical high ground and falling into the ditch to either the left or right is done to the detriment of both the mentally ill and the community around them.

Reasons Christians Reject Psychopharmacology

In mental health, a tension exists that Christians must admit they are sometimes unsure how to navigate.  While some Christians are open to discussing mental illness as a physiological reality to be benefitted by psychiatry and pharmaceutical science, others believe granting too much weight to secular practices undermines the authority of Scripture.[9]  Within Christianity is a spectrum of viewpoints resistant to psychopharmacology.  A fringe element of Christians rejects medication out of hand in a convicted adherence to faith healing.  This group believes all healing should be sought through the supernatural activity of God alone.

More common are Christians who accept medical science as helpful to physical healing but view matters of the mind as spiritual and emotional rather than physical.  This group’s actions suggest the belief that symptoms of mental illness come as the result of sin, lack of faith, or other spiritual deficiencies.  Issues like depression and bipolar disorder are combatted with more sincere faith, repentance, prayer, and spiritual disciplines.  Referencing these Christians, Ed Stetzer recounts, “When I became a Christian, the initial reaction I heard regarding [mental health] issues was that if people would trust the Lord enough they would be healed.”[10]  Christians of this mindset say things like, “It is impossible for a Christian to be depressed or to need psychiatric counseling for an emotional problem,”[11] and ask, “Shouldn’t faith alone be enough to solve a Christian’s [emotional] problems.”[12]  It is also not uncommon for these Christians to conflate instances of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia with demon possession or the occult.[13]

The more prevalent view among Evangelicals, however, acknowledges the physical nature of some mental health issues but finds difficulty discerning which issues are primarily spiritual, behavioral, or physical.  Knowing the field of psychiatry often diverges from the Christian worldview, many Christians are hesitant to celebrate the practice of psychiatrists.  Additionally, many in the Church expect that Christians should possess an inner strength uncommon to the world.  Emotional struggles that challenge this expectation and cause Christians to fall short of behavioral expectations often lead to a feeling of personal failure.  These factors, in combination with the historical stigmatization of mental illness, leads many afflicted Christians hide mental illness out of guilt and shame.

Robert H. Albers writes, “Ignorance concerning mental illness has historically often resulted in brutal treatment of suffering persons, of their being fettered both literally and figuratively by the chains of helplessness.”[14]  For these reasons, many Christians who are potentially afflicted choose to suffer quietly in emotional isolation.  Likening this shame and isolation to that of biblical lepers, Albers points out that “the stigmatization associated with both leprosy and mental illness elicits feelings of ‘disgrace shame’ within the afflicted as well as the affected persons,” and the net result of general insensitivity toward mental illness is “a progression of evaluative judgments by others, resulting in depersonalization, dehumanization, and finally ‘demonization’ of the one afflicted.”[15]  In these cases, it is not a misunderstanding of mental illness, but the fear of judgment that leads Christians to reject medication despite the clear acknowledgment of an issue.  Stetzer laments, “At the end of the day, part of the reason it’s difficult to acknowledge these real issues is that there can be a perception that Christians are not supposed to have these issues.  Part of our belief system is that God changes everything.”  Thus, whether Christians acknowledge mental issues may be physical, shame may still render them reluctant to embrace medication.

Ontology and the ‘Whole’ Person

The first step in determining a view toward treatment of mental illness demands clarification be given to the nature of mental illness.  This requires definition be given to the ontological status of the person.  The pertinent ontological question asks, “What is the relationship between the body and the mind?”  Two erroneous answers permeate this discussion.

There exists an errant view of human ontology that understands all matters of the mind to be purely spiritual.  This view divides human ‘parts’ into a dichotomy or trichotomy – two or three distinct substances respectively.  This view draws a hard distinction between the mind/soul and physical body.  In this mind-body dualism, souls are perceived to be distinct from, but presently existing within physical bodies.  Crudely, this view reduces humans to “entrapped souls,” or “souls on sticks,” and separates mental and spiritual aspects of the person from the physical.


A second errant view is naturalism, which views humans as purely physical beings.  This view rejects the existence of the soul and reduces all experiences of cognition to physical processes within the brain.  This view reduces humans to “meat computers,” and believes all mental and physical problems are corrected through physical means.

The Bible, however, does not depict humans as minds on sticks or meat computers.  In an elaborate word study, Anthony Hoekema summarizes the Bible’s ontological view of man with the phrase “psychosomatic unity.”  Man has “a physical side and a mental or spiritual side, but we must not separate these two.  The human person must be understood as an embodied soul,” and Scripture insists the human “must be seen in his or her totality, not as a composite of different parts.”[16]  Esteemed Christian ethicist Russell Moore agrees, “God created us as whole persons, with body and psyche together. . . . We don’t ‘have’ bodies or ‘have’ psyches.  We are psychosomatic whole persons, made in the image of God.”[17]

Minirth and Meier explain this understanding of the person implies the “separate dimensions of human nature interact so closely that ‘health’ on one level always impinges on ‘health’ on the other,” and “the state of our mental/emotional health affects our physical well-being, and vice/versa.”[18]  This points to a need for a holistic approach to healthcare.  Holistic healthcare “emphasize[s] the necessity for looking at the whole person, including physical condition, nutrition, emotional makeup, spiritual state, lifestyle values, and environment.”[19]  The holistic view suggests “mental problems should not be thought of as totally distinct from physical problems because neither type of problem is ever separate from the other. . . . The counselor ought not to think of spiritual and mental health as somehow totally separable.”[20] Thus, the Biblical view agrees with the psychiatric contention that physical factors are involved in functions of the mind while refusing the notion that human cognition is reduced to physical processes alone.

Reasons to Embrace Psychopharmacology

Crucial to embracing the necessity of psychopharmacology is understanding mental illness involves a “broken brain.”[21]  More technically, “schizophrenia is correlated with a chemical imbalance in the brain and causes varying degrees of abnormal behavior,” including “a basic loss of touch with reality.”[22]  Similarly, victims of clinical depression have brains with extremely low levels of neurotransmitters.[23] These physical issues are said to be virtually impossible to treat without medication.[24]  Prompt medical intervention, however, often alleviates faulty mental function, restores ordinary behavior, and makes full recovery possible for many people.[25]

Tragically, when “a psychotic person goes six months without medication to correct the dopamine imbalance in the brain, the psychosis nearly always becomes permanent and uncurable [sic].”[26]  People suffering from psychosis are also prone to extremely poor judgment, financial impulsivity, and action that brings peril to themselves and others.  Not every person suffering from mental illness suffers such severe symptoms, but Christians too frequently allow calamity to grow out of circumstances that could have been avoided with professional evaluation and treatment.

In cases of mental illness, “More often than not, more prayer and more faith are not the only remedy. [sic]”[27]  In cases of other physical ailments, like broken bones and malfunctioning organs, Christians rarely refuse medical care.  Likewise, Christians are not judged for suffering these ailments, and likewise do not feel guilt or shame because of them.  The Apostle Paul’s statement, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is not a calling to Christians take a “grin-and-bear-it” approach to physical affliction when medical treatment is available – especially in the case that an affliction, left untreated, may increase in intensity until irreparable damage is done.  Additionally, it is flat out unethical to reject help for an affliction that could potentially threaten the emotional and physical well-being of others.  Christ himself said those who are sick are in need of a doctor (Matt 9:12).  Christians must acknowledge there is a serious difference between spiritual struggle and physical mental sickness.  While they can relate, they cannot be flattened into one or be considered the same.[28]  Mental illness must instead be viewed similarly to physical illness in cases of genuine mental illness.

Doctors Minirth and Meier caution, the Bible is fundamental to human wellness, but applying it as a “Band-aid” for every physical or mental disorder is more than a simplistic solution – it’s dangerous.”[29]  Additionally, it is not Christian to shame someone for having a birth defect or contracting a virus.  Therefore, it is unacceptable to blame a person for having a chemical imbalance.  Limiting treatment for physical mental afflictions to prayer and spiritual counsel is like telling a destitute brother to be well while offering him no blanket for warmth or bread to fill his stomach (James 2:16).  The Christian has an ethical responsibility to be concerned for fellow Christians’ physical well-being.

Regarding psychopharmacology, the ethical question becomes, “Will this course of action bring the afflicted person closer to physical and emotional wellness and better enable him to fulfill his purpose?”  This question is closely followed by a second question which asks, “Is this course of action the best and most appropriate means of reaching that end?”  If the answer to these questions is yes, then the onus is on the Christian to help his brother or sister in this way.  “People are crying out for help, and we cannot afford to be ignorant or afraid.”[30]  Christians must fight ignorance on these issues, conquer fear in addressing them, and eliminate the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and psychopharmacology.

Remaining Concerns About Psychopharmacology

Despite acknowledging psychotropic medication as a helpful tool in whole-person health, there remain concerns for a wholesale embrace of psychopharmacology.  Many Christians fear that a locking of arms between the Church and psychiatry is a slippery slope which gives way to an increasingly materialistic view of humanity.  Increased materialism results in the elevation of medicine as the solution to all problems, and diminishes the value of faith.  Additionally, both Christians and non-Christians worry that the normalization of anti-depressants is redefining “normal” human emotional experience.  The normalization of psychopharmacology has also led to an increasing comfort with the unethical practice of abusing psychotropic drugs to exceed the limits of natural human ability.  Each of these issues feeds the exponential rise in the consumption of these substances and creates valid concern considering pharmaceuticals (especially those affecting the mind) are known to come with significant side-effects and inherent risks.

Psychotropics are among the most commonly prescribed of all pharmacological agents, and alter the emotional receptivity of the brain.  This creates a growing concern that Americans are losing a healthy understanding of what “normal” is, and are becoming increasingly confused between what qualifies as depression and mere circumstantial sadness.  There is growing concern that twenty-first century America has lost any appreciation for the importance of healthy and natural emotions like sadness and shame, and no longer values the formative and healing functions of suffering and mourning.  Increasingly, people are attempting to medicate away unwanted feelings due to a misguided expectation that they should be happy all the time and should not be bothered with feelings of sadness and guilt.  Russell Moore suggests that whether a person’s issue is ultimately chemical or circumstantial, it is important that they start with a realistic picture of what “normal” is.  The “normal” human life is not the one marketed by pop culture or the pharmaceutical industry, but the one the Bible clarifies as a “groaning” along with the persecuted creation.  If the expectation of normal life is a kind of all-the-time tranquility, people might be attempting to bypass a purposeful part of the human condition itself.[31]  An endorsement of psychopharmacology cannot allow that every feeling of sadness, guilt, anxiety, or confusion is abnormal, unhelpful, or needing medical attention.

Concern for the redefinition of what is normal to human cognition is not limited to the emotional realm.  The field known as cosmetic neuroenhancement has already begun responding to patient requests for medications to enhance cognitive-affective function for the purpose of intellectual and vocational achievement.[32]  Widespread swaths of otherwise healthy American teens have already made a common practice of abusing ADD (attention deficit disorder) drugs like Ritalin and Adderall for the purpose of enhancing cognitive function in academic pursuits.[33]  Acceptance of psychotropic medication could open the door for the cosmetic neuroenhancement industry to become a growing market within psychopharmacology in the twenty-first century.  These medications threaten the underlying assumption that the ethical goal of medicine is to restore afflicted individuals to normal function.

Ultimately more pressing, however, are concerns regarding the anxiousness of pharmaceutical companies to push medications without first having comprehensive knowledge of side effects.  Neuroscience expert Sarah J. Meller confesses, “In truth, we know very little of the working of the human mind.  Although we do know what some individual medications do to a specific receptor in the brain, the huge jump from molecular interaction to improvement in mood, cognition, and reality testing remains a mystery.”[34]  Further concerning is the reality that the present applications of many psychotropics were discovered by accident. Valium, chlorpromazine, tricyclic antidepressants, the MAOI family, and lithium were all originally intended to treat illnesses unrelated to the brain. Meller continues, “None of these medications were [sic] initially produced to treat the illness they are now treating. . . . No one had a clue as to why medications work as they do.”[35]  This demonstrates that the discovery of popular psychotropic drugs did not come from an advanced awareness of the chemical compositions needed to correct problems in the brain, but instead by testing these substances on patients and observing the results.  The history of psychopharmacology is a trail littered with drugs once thought promising but ultimately found to be dangerous.  The drugs include barbiturates, opium, and hundreds of potions and herbs now known to be more dangerous than helpful.  Even Sigmund Freud had an early optimistic obsession with cocaine. [36] “This illustrates a common experience with psychotropic medications, in which the beneficial effects are often embraced before the unintended side of effects are known.”[37]  Therefore, embracing psychopharmacology as a helpful tool in the holistic approach to whole-person health assumes certain ethical, pastoral, and personal risks.

Responding to Concerns About Psychopharmacology

When making a nuanced consideration of psychopharmacology one must be concerned to perform actions that best help individuals achieve their God-given purpose.  Consideration of psychopharmacology must first suspect the individual in question is inhibited from “normal” function, and second, that medical treatment offers potential for assisting in restoring “normal” function.  Christians believe that each person’s purpose is to glorify God by imitating Christ in becoming more perfectly human.  Noting concerns surrounding psychopharmacology, the questions that persist are, “Will psychopharmacological intervention help restore the afflicted individual to a state of mental fitness in which he can better fulfill his purpose of imitating Christ without moving him beyond the God-given abilities natural to man?” And secondarily, “Does this individual’s need outweigh the potential risks involved with employing medication?”  In some cases, symptoms of the afflicted make the answers clear.  Other cases are less obvious, and the complicated nature of these situations requires openness.  A general ethical position, however, should not be formulated based on ethical dilemmas.

When navigating most ethical issues the right path is the narrow path and ditches lie to the left and right.  Virtue always butts up against vice on both sides.  C. S. Lewis aptly instructed, “[The Devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. . . He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.  But do not let us be fooled.  We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors.”[38]  In the case of psychopharmacology, one deception leads to the over-spiritualization of mental illness and fear of physical means for assisting healing.  The other deception leads to an over-materialization of health and is overly anxious to rely on medication.  Both are misguided and fail to care for the whole person.

In The Loss of Sadness, Horwitz and Wakefield contend that the “false epidemic” of psychiatric disorders has been driven by a dramatic rise in “false positive” diagnoses.[39]  While the merit of such contentions is a subject of necessary debate, this concern cannot be the primary factor in determining the value of psychopharmacology.  Improperly practicing doctors do no more to invalidate medication’s proven ability to help mental illness than misbehaving Christians do to invalidate the transformational power of God’s grace.  The value of psychopharmacological medications themselves is not determined by the behaviors of the psychiatrists who administer them.  “Most people would agree that in many ways we are an overmedicated society,” but “just because we need to be careful in how we prescribe and administer medication does not mean we should be afraid of medical intervention entirely.”[40]

Granting the value of psychopharmacology, medication is not a cure.  Many of these medications don’t fix the problem as much as they alleviate symptoms.[41]  People who believe medication will cure mental illness, or eliminate the need to work through difficult emotions, are mistaken. Treating symptoms alone is like going to the dentist and receiving nothing more than anesthesia.  Alleviating symptoms is not the same as fixing the problem.  Russell Moore advises, “God doesn’t want [the mentally ill] to be . . . ‘comfortably numb.’  He wants [them] to be whole.”[42]  Medication is a necessary and helpful tool but is not the long-term solution to underlying causes.[43]

The Scriptures, faith community, medicine, and therapy all have a place in healing the whole person.[44]  Recovering from mental illness is a long process, and there are aspects of healing that need to be addressed alongside medication.  These include a commitment to glorifying God, understanding one’s identity in Christ, spending regular time in prayer and Scripture, looking to God for primary support, avoiding sin and temptation, drawing near to loved ones, fellowshipping with Christian community, letting go of bitterness by practicing forgiveness, serving others, exercising the gifts of the Spirit, developing a life of routine and moderation, recognizing and accepting human limitations, and practicing humility in seeking help from others.

When a person belongs to a religious community, this is often their first means of support and counsel in a time of crisis.  “Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and a host of other psychological problems are rooted in physiological problems that call for medical treatment, not simple talk therapy.”[45]  At the same time, the embrace of medication does not diminish the responsibility of the spiritual community in healing.  Returning to the parallel between the mentally ill and the leper, restoration to the faith community is as notable as the healing of the illness itself (see Matt 8:4).[46]

While the ethical position sees psychopharmacology as necessary and right in treating genuine mental illness, concerns stemming from its embrace still need to be considered.  Constant changes in the pharmaceutical industry demand Christians should continuously reevaluate and revise their views.  What is consistent, however, is the Christian calling to love one another as “whole persons” and to take ethical positions that bring healing and restoration, opposed to positions that subject God’s image bearers to suffering and to potentially injury to themselves and others.

family photo 2017 high res

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer from Houston Texas – a husband, father, preacher, and Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.




[1]US Burden of Disease Collaborators, “The state of US health, 1990-2010: Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors” in Journal of the American Medical Association 310/6 (2013), 591-608.

[2]Marcia Angell, “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?” (The New York Review of Books, June 23, 2011), Retrieved November 20, 2016. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/.

[3]Laura Weiss Roberts and Shaili Jain, “Ethical Issues in Psychopharmacology” (Psychiatric Times, May 6, 2011), Retrieved November 20, 2016.  http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/ethical-issues-psychopharmacology.

[4]Frank Minirth and Paul Meier with Kevin Kinback, Ask the Doctors:  Questions and Answers from the Minirth-Meier Clinic Broadcast (New York:  Guideposts, 1991), 188.

[5]Roberts and Jain, “Ethical Issues.”

[6]Ed Stetzer, “Mental Illness & Medication vs. Spiritual Struggles & Biblical Counseling” (Christianity Today, April 23, 2013), Retrieved November 20, 2016.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/april/mental-illness-medication-vs-spiritual-struggles.html.

[7]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[8]Roberts and Jain, “Ethical Issues.”

[9]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”


[11]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 183.

[12]Ibid, 44.

[13]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 201.

[14]Robert H. Albers, “Introduction” in Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2012), 2.

[15]Albers, “Introduction,” 3.

[16]Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1986), 216.

[17]Russell Moore, “Is it Right for a Christian to Take Anti-Depressants” (Russellmoore.com, February 28, 2012), Retrieved November 20, 2016.  http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/02/28/is-it-right-for-a-christian-to-take-anti-depressants/.

[18]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 10.

[19]“Holistic Medicine” in Encyclopedia Americana vol. 14 (Danbury, CT:  Grolier, 1983), p. 294.

[20] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 216.

[21]Albers, “Introduction,” 7.

[22]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 120.

[23]Ibid, 184.

[24]Ibid, 121.

[25]Ibid, 122.

[26]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 193.

[27]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”


[29]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 182.

[30]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[31]Moore, “Is it Right?”

[32]D. Larriviere, M. A. Williams, M. Rizzo and R. J. Bonnie, “Responding to Requests from Adult Patients for Neuroenhancements: Guidance of the Ethics, Law and Humanities Committee” in Neurology (2009), 73:1406-1412.

[33]M. Talbot, “Brain Gain: The Underground World of “Neuroenhancing” Drugs” in New Yorker (April 27, 2009). 32-43.

[34]Sarah J. Meller and William H. Meller, “Conclusion: Psychopharmacology” in Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2012), 229.

[35]Meller and Meller, “Conclusion,” 233.

[36]Ibid, 230.


[38]C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:  HarperOne, 2001), 186.

[39]A. V. Horwitz, J. C. Wakefield, The Loss of Sadness (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2007).

[40]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[41]Moore, “Is it Right?”

[42]Moore, “Is it Right?”

[43]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 184.

[44]Ibid, 182-183.

[45]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[46]Albers, “Introduction,” 3.

NF – Mansion, and the Meaninglessness of Chasing After Wind

It’s interesting what was once considered a mansion. This photo, for me, is a reminder of the ills of the exponentially growing expectation of the American dream. What was once thought a mansion, now looks almost average, and yet depression, chemical dependence (legal and illegal), and violent crime in our nation is not improving. It’s an image of the soul decay of serving at the foot of the idol of earthly riches. NF, the first Christian rapper to be signed by a major record label, Capitol Records, released this album cover today for his début album dropping March 31. You can see the video for the single here.

Great work by NF, presenting the collision of human reality and biblical truth in an unexpected medium.  I have been both of the people represented in the video, at both ends of the spectrum, and found depression at both ends. The answer only came when God opened my eyes to see that no matter what I had, or what I did, I was never going to have peace until I understood my purpose. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” He is what our souls are longing for. Until we understand that, we will continue be people who heap up possessions to fill our emptiness, or be those who are unsatisfied with life or feel insufficient because we can not keep up with the perceived success of others. Both paths lead to the same place.

Ecclesiastes 1:14  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.


Matthew 6:19-22  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!


Deep Calls to Deep

Psalm 42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember You…7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have gone over me.

This is a sermon that was inspired by this blog post, and was preached in the Alumni Chapel at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY as part of a preaching practicum.

These are powerful words from King David, a man after God’s own heart. A man who experienced both times of unmatchable joy, and times of extreme, terrible anguish. In all things, high and low, David found complete fullness in His relationship with the LORD. Here David delivered a paramount analogy of our souls’ longing for the comforting, healing, and filling Spirit that can only be had in relationship with our Father.  David says “Deep calls to deep.”

“In the grandeur of Nature there are awful harmonies. When the storm agitates the ocean below, the heavens above hear the tumult and answer to the clamor. Down comes a deluge of sonorous hail or swift-descending rain, attended with peals of thunder and flashes of flame. Frequently the waterspout, of which David speaks…evidences the sympathy of the two great waters above and beneath the firmament—the great deep above stretches out its hands to the great deep below and in voice of thunder their old relationship is recognized. It is almost as if the twin seas remembered how once they lay together in the same cradle of confusion till the decree of the Eternal appointed each his bounds and place. ‘Deep calls unto deep’—one splendor of creation holds fellowship with another.”
-Charles Spurgeon, Sermon No. 865

When life’s storms rage, and perils come in succession, the waves crash over us, a dark cloud settles above us, and the storm rages down upon us.  We find ourselves stranded in the deep, waves crashing…they continue again and again – billowing over us, unrelenting, unyielding…mercilessly commanding surrender…leaving us desperately crying out for a rescuing hand of salvation.

As the plummeting power of the waters of the sky call out a tumultuous response from the waters of the sea, so too is reflected the powerful call of God – the call sent forth from the deepest chambers of His being to the most inward parts of our hearts.  As the wind and the rain stir the waves of the deep, so too does God’s immeasurably deep call intend to stir an echo with us. In the Bible the LORD’s voice is described as the roar of rushing waters (Ezekiel 43:2,Revelation 14:2). The cry of God’s voice, roaring like the waterfalls, paints the picture of God’s yearning command that you cry back to Him from the deepest, most longing places in your heart.

In life’s storms, the strongest of us are made helpless, the highest of us are brought low, the high, mighty, and proud spirits are humbled, and only what is of crucial importance becomes the sole pursuit of our hearts.  In a time of drowning, what will we cling to?  Will a drowning man cling to his treasure?  Will he cling to his pride, being content to sink to death, holding on to possessions which can not save him?  Or, will the drowning man let go of all that is not able to save and extend his hand to its fullest reach, and with all his might stretch out for the hand of his savior?  Will we reach out for life?

A person diagnosed with cancer quickly finds the priorities of their life changed.  No longer do they find themselves concerned with a promotion at work, or the latest Iphone.  A person who is losing a loved one can not find adequate joy in a new car, or living vicariously through the lives of reality TV personalities.  There comes a time when we all will have lived long enough to know we bleed.  There comes a time when life happens.  There comes a time when we will all experience a hurt so deep that there will be no adequate solace found on this earth.  There will come a deep hurt that can only be mended by a healing more soothing than any medicine this world can provide.  In that time, there is the realization that there can be no clinging to our treasure or clinging to our pride. There is no consolation in temporal earthly things. We come to realize our possessions can not save, nor even distract our attentions, from the sinking of our souls.  It’s in this time we are brought to the realization that we must let go, we must stop looking around us, and start looking above us.  The call is coming like the roar of a waterfall from the depths of Heaven.  It’s in this time we must echo the call, cry out in response, and reach out for life.  A deep sea of affliction requires a deeper sea of grace.   A deep despair calls for the deliverance of a God of infinitely deeper mercy.

Deep calls to deep.

The Hebrew word for deep, “tehom,” refers to an immeasurable chasm, an abyss.

Christ of the Abyss statue

Everyone recognizes there is a deep emptiness within us.  There is an undeniable longing for something more.  Many, many people believe this void can be filled by attaining more of what we already have. If what we already have isn’t satisfying then more of it must be the answer.  More success, more power, more money, more friends, more square footage, more toys, more clothes, more vacations, more freedom, more stability, more excitement, more danger, more drugs, more alcohol, more sex.  MORE! We believe that if we pile enough of these things into the empty chasm in our souls that we will be able to fill them. The media says more, the advertisers say more, the celebrities say more, and even the American Dream itself tells us to aspire and we can achieve and attain more.  But true spiritual contentment never comes from more of what we already have.  Even when we think we are happy, this happiness is fleeting.  We never find lasting contentment by building our foundations on the temporal things that do not last.  In a single moment our lives come crashing down.  Then, when we are weighed on the scales…ultimately we are only found wanting. Unfulfilled with nothing solid to lean on….wanting something we still do not have, and lacking that which is required.

This has happened because man was created full and whole.  At creation, man was made in complete harmony with God, heaven, and all the earth.  There was perfect relationship with God, and peace in the souls of man. Then When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, sin entered the world, and a deep rift was driven between man and God.  This separation manifests in the immeasurable chasm between man and God that exists inside our very souls.  Our souls long to return to the fullness and wholeness we were created to have, but on its own, the soul can not mend.  This emptiness is not a void that can be filled with power, money, success, drugs, or even more grandchildren. This chasm is simply too deep. Too genuine.  Our souls cry out to all creation, and there is only one thing that can fill the immeasurable emptiness within us.  This deep emptiness cries out for a deeper love, a deeper provision, and a filling of the Spirit – The only One deep enough to repair this void.

Deep calls to deep.

Over the course of our lives we have all buried ourselves so deep, under such a wretched heap of sin, that those of us willing to humbly examine ourselves can only come to own that there is a terrible amount of hurt we’ve caused our LORD, others, and ultimately ourselves. Beneath this heap of sin and hurt we realize that we lie practically paralyzed – enslaved in the bondage of our iniquity. We become reserved to the idea that we are idolaters, liars, slanderers, gossips, manipulators, cheats, and addicts, and become convinces that that’s just simply who we are. We are wallowing, dead, in a pit of filth and transgression so deep that only a God of greater grace, deeper forgiveness, and a love as deep as the oceans could wash over us and cleanse us, plant us back on our feet, give us new life.

Deep calls to deep.

Many who have received Christ as their savior, and believe, still do not feel the deep peace that comes from being filled with the Holy Spirit.  They believe that Christ alone will not bring all fulfillment, but cling to their old ways, believing that their sinful desires will be more satisfying than Christ alone. This is the unfortunate result of a continued seeking for carnal, worldly pleasures, and a lack of dependence and trust in the ways and provision of the LORD.  Sadly, this straddling between two masters leads to people being unfulfilled in both the world, and in the Church. The LORD demands to know, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions (1 Kings 18:21)?” How long will you straddle between the sinful ways of the world, and the righteous ways of God? Until you are willing to stop straddling between two branches, and go out on the limb with Him, you will never make it to the fruit. You will never truly have faith that peace is found in letting Him support you. Believers who do not feel the fullness and contentment of life in Christ should seek to go further with the LORD. Christ plus nothing equals everything. Where you go deeper, the Spirit has the depth to fill you.  You will not outpace Him.  He can provide a contentment not found in carnal pleasures or worldly temporal gain.  All you need do is measure the expanse of the earth, or number the visible stars of the sky and realize you are only one tiny person in one small corner of God’s great creation.  We have an infinitely bigger Father who longs to take us infinitely deeper.  He is ready and waiting to take you there.  He desires to take you into His everlasting embrace and shower you with His grace.  Trust He is the source of deep contentment and peace and is the only One capable of bringing fullness to your life.

Deep calls to deep.

And between you and I, brothers and sisters…children of the living God…Only a call from the depths of our hearts can provoke a response in the depths of another.  A shallow sales pitch will never stir the depths of others. Nor should these shallow, forced presentations of the gospel even be necessary. When you know the love of God, your contagious enthusiasm for the Lord will spill out uncontrollably. His light will reflect in you. Like Moses off the mountaintop, those who come in contact with the LORD glow.  Only the deep reaches the deep.  Likewise, only those who are willing to dig deep into their hearts, examine themselves, and be honest with their deepest feelings will respond to the deep call.  We know this because we know what it is to connect with someone on a deeper level.  We know what it is to feel something pierce beyond the superficial and resonate within us.  We know when someone is genuine, when someone is in love, and we know when something stirs deep within someone’s heart…to the point it actually touches ours.

So, I cry out from the depths of my heart to the depths of yours.  I was lost and hurting, empty and wanting.  I was seeking in every place, in every way, and desperately lost, finding no fulfillment.  I struggled with a terrible depression, a hopeless emptiness, an endless seeking, and a desperate belief that that was simply what life was.  I became bitter.  I became selfish.  I blamed others.  I hurt others.  Badly. A lot of people, a lot of times.  I was blind to the realization that I was this way.  I thought I was a good person.  I tried to tell myself I was happy.  I tried to convince others I was happy.  But I knew I wasn’t fulfilled, and my actions were the result of that.  I put my every focus on myself – my search for my “happiness.”

Then God brought the rain roaring down on me, and He brought His waves crashing over my head.  I tried to hold my life, as I knew it, together.  But it unraveled. I was undone…exposed…a fraud.  Then I collapsed.  All that was left for me was surrender….to stop resisting and to give God what He had always been after…my heart…to accept that all He ever really wanted to do was save me from myself.  Like a father watches a son continuously walk into peril, God said to me, “Enough!!!”  And He reached down and snatched me up and saved me. He put me back on my feet and changed me.  That was the beginning of my walk – my fall, and my rebirth.  The greatest thing that ever happened to me.  Many people would tell you that the greatest day of their lives was the day they were married…or the day their children were born.  I would tell you that those days do not come close to the day the Heavenly Father came for me.  That was the beginning of a joy that has been a complete explosion in the depths of me.  I was baptized on August 12, 2013, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and since that moment I have walked in a freedom and fullness that I have never known.  I want so desperately for everyone to know this love.  This love of the God who is who He says He is.  I urge you from the bottom of my heart, to seek comfort in the only One who can meet you in your deepest need.  The one who knows you, fills you, and heals you in the deepest parts of who you are.  If you are already a believer, I urge you…go deeper! Let go of your baggage that is only weighing you down.  You will not find the ends of His love, and you will not seek him in vain.  Seek and you shall find. No matter how deep you go, He will go there with you.  The more you give up, the more you find. I know because I am experiencing it…more and more each day.  I love you and I want you to know these things. I don’t tell you these things because I read somewhere that it was what I was supposed to do, or because I feel like I need to prove something to you. I am dedicating my life to telling you these things because in Christ I found fullness and joy. Someone once told me…”If you knew Him like I know Him, you wouldn’t be able to shut up about Him either.” Truth. With all my heart I want you to have His love and His peace. From the deepest depths of my heart.

Deep calls to deep.

Bird York – In The Deep

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey