Medicating Grief Isn't the Answer

John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Medicating Grief Isn't the Answer

Most of us have suffered a bad breakup. While the specific response differs somewhat between men and women, the basic idea is the same: commiserate with friends, bury your sorrows in sweets or fried food and be reminded how many fish there are left in the sea.


This process is a type of grief—something therapists and pastors have been telling us for centuries is healthy and normal. They’ve even identified steps in the process and shown that experiencing grief is critical to lasting recovery. When we lose someone we love—either through death or the end of a relationship, we mourn the loss, but eventually come to terms with it and go on living. It’s part of being human in a fallen world—and even Jesus experienced it when He lost a dear friend.


But Oxford bioethicist Brian Earp thinks there’s a way to short-circuit the process and bypass all those tears and tubs of ice-cream—maybe even benumb the pain of a loved one’s death.


“Drawing on research in neuroscience, endocrinology, and psychology,” writes Leah Libresco in The American Conservative, “[Earp] anticipates a toned down version of the chemical castration cocktail that is offered to pedophiles today.” Anti-depressants, he says, could also be repurposed to nip a broken heart in the bud.


As one Fellow at The Institute on Religion and Democracy remarked on his Facebook page, “Well, isn’t this a lovely little innovation from the pit of Hell?”


Earp says the way to avoid grief after your beloved decouples, divorces, or departs from you is to identify which type of love you’ve lost and chemically attack it. To that end, he classifies “love,” into three types: lust, attraction, and attachment.


But as Libresco points out, one type of love is conspicuously absent from Earp’s list: agape, or as the King James translates it, charity. Agape, of course, is the type of love Christians are commanded to show one another and our enemies, the type with which Paul instructs husbands to love their wives, and the type with which Christ loves His Church. It’s the kind of love that “desires nothing above the good of the beloved, and does not require anything in return.”


More importantly, this type of love has the power to transcend breakups, divorces, and even death. It’s how we can “bless those who curse us,” and seek the good of those who have stopped seeking ours.


Agape is also the right outcome for grief—especially when other forms of love can’t continue. Earp sees estranged lovers without a medical solution expunging their feelings for one another by “focusing on the loved one’s faults, [or by] deleting all of her emails.”


With anti-love drugs, he hopes doctors can soon replace this painful and messy process with a pharmacological magic eraser. But because he and his colleagues leave agape out of their equation, the idea of transfiguring broken lesser loves into the unbreakable highest love never even occurs to them.


This proposal reminds me of what C. S. Lewis wrote in his book, “The Four Loves”:


“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”


Grief, no matter what the source, is part of what it means to love, and to be human. And though numbing it with drugs may spare us from pain in the short term, it will deprive us of something worth the pain: the other-centered love modeled by Christ. It’s this love He showed on Calvary; it’s this love that overcame the ultimate broken relationship.


It’s also why we can grieve fully and deeply now, knowing that Christ offers a drug-free and eternal alternative for wiping away our tears.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication date: June 4, 2014