Beyond our negative schemas and cognitive distortions, “bugs” in our hardware (body’s biology) can make our brains unwell. If you’ve had a head injury in your past, you’re more likely to have a depressive episode. Even just one concussion can put you at higher risk; every person has a different trigger standard. Or if you have cardiovascular disease, it can impact blood flow to your brain, which then impacts how you feel. Or if you suffer with sleep apnea, that will impact the oxygenation to your brain, making it harder to use some skills. Likewise with diabetes and overconsumption of alcohol. Long-rutted patterns of thinking can also change the way your brain works—in other words, your software can plant a bug in your hardware. In addition to these prominent sources of hardware bugs, here’s an extended sampler:
• Chemotherapy or radiation exposure
• Environmental toxins, such as mold
• Heavy metal exposure
• Carbon monoxide poisoning
• Anoxia or chronic hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen for several minutes, from a heart attack, near-drowning, or even sleep apnea)
• Infections such as Lyme disease or herpes
• Severe anemia
• Autoimmune or inflammatory processes, such as allergies, infections, or Lupus
Because hardware is a major contributor to the way we experience our reality, we might need biological interventions to give us the freedom and strength to pursue software (psychology) solutions. For example, you might need medication to give you the added help you seek. But many people, especially people of faith, don’t feel comfortable with that. Faith, in this distorted way of thinking, means we trust God alone to deal with our emotional/spiritual issues; medication is then a capitulation to our anemic Christian maturity. We have a hard time reconciling that the way we’re feeling could be the result of a medical condition. And when we make this calculation, we’re unwittingly practicing a form of everyday gnosticism. The ancient gnostic heretics believed that “matter” was evil and “spirit” was good. In essence, the material world—our physical and biological reality—was of little importance, because gnosticism divorced the spiritual from the physical.
When it comes to our physical/biological health—for example, our relationship with exercise, nutrition and fitness—those who follow Jesus are some of the most avid practitioners of gnosticism. To wit: church members are more likely than those who don’t attend a church to be more than 20% overweight. I know this dynamic firsthand, because I (Rick) lived much of my adult life as a gnostic Jesus-follower. I made the spiritual pursuit of Jesus my life’s passion but allowed myself to get 50 pounds overweight and decidedly unfit. When I began to decompartmentalize my humanness and reject my gnostic ways, I found the strength and determination to lose that weight, which in turn has deeply impacted my spiritual life.
Matthew McNutt is a longtime youth pastor and a former contestant on the weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser. McNutt describes his own battle with practical gnosticism:
“For years I didn’t connect my spiritual health with my physical health. So while my heart and mouth claimed I belonged to Jesus, my 366-pound body proclaimed my lack of self-control, discipline and respect for my body. Somewhere along the line I allowed the same gnostic heresies that the apostles fought thousands of years ago to invade my beliefs. In effect I lived a life that claimed my soul, not my physical body and biology, was my right priority. Like many of us, I took New Testament passages on our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit and used them as warnings to teenagers against having sex or doing drugs, but I failed to see what these Scriptures had to do with my expanding waistline.”
Jesus said: “Love [Me] with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is a wholistic vision of love, and opens our avenues of healing to a much wider range of interventions. At Amen Clinics our SPECT scans help justify the way our patients are feeling. SPECT is a nuclear medicine technology that uses very small bursts of light called photons to study living tissue. The research on brain SPECT imaging is vast, with more than 14,000 scientific research articles listed on the National Institutes of Health website (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). SPECT helps us asses how the brain is working by allowing us to study blood flow and activity, not simply the brain’s structure (what standard MRI or CT procedures do). SPECT can help us answer three big questions about the functional activity in each area of the brain: 1) Is it healthy? 2) Is it underactive? and 3) Is it overactive? In the standard practice of psychiatry the brain’s functional activity is often ignored—but we believe you can’t treat what you can’t see. And once we have a better handle on what sort of rescue is needed, we’ll have a clearer picture of the way forward. Hard evidence from SPECT scans helps us expose and dismantle the false narrative that often restrains our patients from pursuing the healing God intends: I’m just a failure in my faith. I’m depressed because I’m not a good enough Christian. To be blunt, this is how the Devil lies to us. He is, as Jesus reminds us, “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). And the lie he plants in us is the same lie insinuated by gnosticism: Your spiritual compartment isn’t strong enough to compensate for your physical compartment, and you’ll never be good enough to believe the way you need to believe.
It’s arrogant to demand that God heal us in a particular way—if Jesus chooses to offer healing for our blindness by spitting in the dirt and smearing mud over our eyes, will we reject His “methodology”? Of course, He could’ve healed the blind man in John 9 with a word or a touch of His hand, but He invites the man to receive his healing in an indirect way instead. He smears His spit-mud on the man’s face, then asks him to wash it off in the pool of Siloam, which will require effort and humility and vulnerability. It seems like a humiliating series of random prerequisites, but the “indirect means” of healing Jesus invites him to receive also describes the medical therapies that can help heal our bugged hardware.
If you prayed before you came to see me (Daniel) for counsel and treatment, then why wouldn’t you be open to the indirect medical treatments I might recommend—alternate forms of spit-mud? All healing comes from God—and sometimes He uses the spit-mud of medicine as a tool. It’s an act of faith to trust a doctor’s healing regimen. It’s not just the pill that brings healing—it’s you taking that pill in the context of your faith in Jesus that completes that healing. In my experience, when patients resist potential pathways for healing it’s often driven by fear and a desire to control. Fear and control are not of God. Jesus is inviting us to approach Him with humility: Why won’t you humbly accept My grace however I choose to give it to you?
Excerpted from The Suicide Solution: Finding Your Way Out of the Darkness by Dr. Daniel Emina and Rick Lawrence. Used by permission of Salem Books.