Born This Way?

As Christians, what do we do with the fact that some people are born happier than others?

Research suggests that some people are born with lower levels of serotonin (the so-called ‘happy hormone’), than others. These people are therefore more prone to mental health disorders such as depression or eating disorders. They’re naturally more likely to see the glass as empty rather than full.

We may want there to be a thick black line between body and soul that keeps the two reassuringly distinct.  But the spiritual and the biological are inextricably linked.   What’s going on in my body makes a difference to how I feel, and to how I relate to others, to myself and to God.  At the same time, my relationships with God and others will have a physiological impact.

This helps us to sympathise with and relate to people struggling with all sorts of mental health issues.  It doesn’t mean that we accept or condone harmful behaviours, whether these are self-harming or hurting other people. (Just because I’m inclined towards certain behaviours, doesn’t mean that they’re predetermined.)  But it will give me a better understanding of their particular struggles.

The good thing about the gospel is that it takes my relationship with God out of my own hands and places it in Christ’s hands. This means that I’m not defined by my physical achievements or deficiencies.  But neither am I defined by my mental achievements or deficiencies.  Just as a broken back may cause me to howl angry questions at the Lord and others, so might a broken mind.  But neither my body nor my mind – however broken – define me before God.  And the more I grasp this, the more I am able to rest, both in body and soul.

For evidence of this we can look to believers such as Joni – paralysed as a teen in a diving accident and yet with a joyful, hope-filled life that puts mine to shame. Or I think of friends of ours, who have wrestled, often uncomprehendingly, with loss and depression and bankruptcy. Yet they have known a stability and strength in the Lord that has enabled them to stand up under incredible suffering.

I think of my own, much smaller struggles.  Am I physiologically and psychologically predisposed towards anorexia?  Quite possibly.  Does this determine me?  No.

Similarly, when I’ve grasped the gospel in a deeper way, it has had a big impact on my physiological and psychological health.  But just as I’m more than my genetics, I’m more than such improvements.  Instead, my life is hidden in Christ.  Which is what enables me to keep hoping and trusting in Him, even as I work out the mess of the everyday.

This is not a call for those struggling with depression to resign themselves to biological determinism.  Nor is it a call to “get more spiritual and let the healing flow.”  It’s simply to recognise that body and soul are not easily separated.  But the gospel can be medicine  for both.

4 thoughts on “Born This Way?

  1. Actually most cutting edge research is steering away from genetic predetermination when it comes mental illnesses. They have shown that psychological development, and dysfunction does start early in the womb. I could site countless studies that chronicle the mental, and physical development of children born to women during WWII who were starving during the Nazi Regime. Children born to these women suffered the full gambit of mental and physical disorders. Thus, the case for being able to pass “crazy” through the genes is pretty much a lie that has propagated through more modern societies. I also feel that a lot of this is perpetuated by crack doctors, and pharmaceutical companies too. We are finding out that mental illness has more to do with socioeconomic factors like poverty, than genetic components.

    I would get into how sin plays in to all this but I have rambled on too much already:->

  2. Well, we’re all born into a sin-tainted world which is yet awaiting renewal.

    With respect to Mark’s statement, I’m also not sure I’d be able to accept the idea that there are specific depression genes (or fat genes or “gay” genes or whatever)…but it makes perfect sense to me that as we get farther away from Creation, there is the likelihood of odd genetic mutations or hormonal deficiencies that can occur. The food and water we consume is often not of the best quality and poor maternal nutrition or unhealthy habits can affect overall infant health. It doesn’t seem too far out to say that some people are “born” with greater obstacles to overcome than are others.

    That said-and regardless of whether we are born a certain way or are “conditioned” by environment–I really appreciate your response to the concept. There is no way I can change myself, but being united with Christ does change the scenario and there is no reason to assume a victim mentality.

  3. Thanks Mark – that’s really fascinating.Love to know what you think about how sin plays in this ..?

  4. Hi Heather

    I agree – some people are definitely born with far greater obstacles than others and there’s a sense in which it’s impossible to understand someone elses’ suffering or to speak for them.

    Saying this, I’m reminded of Paul’s words

    Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?

    Paul’s been through more suffering than I can imagine – and yet he is the writer who returns over and over again to the subject of joy (Rom 5:3) and (2 Cor 1:5-7) the comfort that overflows from knowing Christ. He struggles, as we all do, but his situations and health don’t determine his spiritual well-being – to the extent that he can even rejoice in his suffering.

    I’m so far away from doing this, but it’s a reminder that my body doesn’t have to determine my feelings – as you say, being united to Jesus changes the scenario.

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