Ask a Pastor Ep. 44 - In-vitro Fertilization, Suicide, Depression

Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.

This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Co-director of Women's Ministry, Emily DeAngelo.

Question #1 - "Is taking IVF injections considered usurping God's authority and sovereignty in one's life?"

Questions #2 & 3 - "What does the Bible say about suicide and depression?"

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Transcript

This is an auto-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.

Kurt Bjorklund: Hello! Welcome! Today on Ask a Pastor, I'm joined by Emily DeAngelo. Emily is one of our directors of women's ministry at our Wexford campus at Orchard Hill, as well as working with some of our different life stage ministries.

Kurt Bjorklund: Emily, welcome.

Emily DeAngelo: Thank you.

Kurt Bjorklund: Emily's been doing a great job just engaging women around different Bible studies, different events. And so, I'm excited just to have her join us here today.

Kurt Bjorklund: As always, if you have questions, please feel free to send them to askapastor@orchardhillchurch.com, and we'll be happy to address those in coming podcasts of Ask a Pastor. If you're listening on the radio, you can also send that to askapastor@orchardhillchurch.com.

Kurt Bjorklund: So, Emily, one of the questions that somebody sent in is this. And it's, "Is taking IVF injections considered usurping God's authority and sovereignty in one's life?"

Kurt Bjorklund: So, maybe just tell us a little bit about what that is for somebody who maybe isn't familiar with it, and why that might even be a question or an issue. And then tell us kind of how you would help somebody think about that.

Emily DeAngelo: Okay.

Emily DeAngelo: So, before I answer the question, the story that came to my mind from the Gospels that I would share with someone who came to me with an infertility question or struggle is the story that's told in three the Gospels of Jesus healing a woman with a bleeding problem. So, she comes, she sees him in the street, and she reaches out in faith and touches his cloak. And he turns around and he calls her a name that I would say is very affectionate. He says, "Daughter, your faith has healed you." And she is healed in that moment. And I would share that story with someone because I think it gives us a chance to see the heart of God, and how he see us. He sees our pain, he cares about us, he heals us, he has shown that he can heal us, and he continues to heal and comfort us. And it would be an opportunity to just come and see Jesus together, and be encouraged in our faith.

Emily DeAngelo: So, I would start there because I like to encourage people-

Kurt Bjorklund: Yep.

Emily DeAngelo: ... with stories from the Bible, and looking at Jesus together.

Emily DeAngelo: And so, when I was thinking about this question, that came to mind. And then I had to do a little research on in vitro fertilization. And so, I did, and I learned actually from another podcast. I don't know if I can give a shout out to another one.

Kurt Bjorklund: Absolutely.

Emily DeAngelo: It's Give Grace.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay.

Emily DeAngelo: It's a woman named Megan Smalley. She's from Auburn, Alabama.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay.

Emily DeAngelo: And she tells her story, and she tells it with honesty, and she tells how difficult IVF is, and she gives all the details. So, if someone needs to be informed, they can listen to that first episode on Give Grace, and just really hear from the heart of a woman who's experienced it-

Kurt Bjorklund: Yep.

Emily DeAngelo: ... because I have not experienced it.

Emily DeAngelo: But it's my understanding that this specific question is about the treatment that a woman would receive in the very beginning stages of IVF treatment. And that is the injections that either a doctor administers or a woman gives herself, which is a hormone therapy that promotes the release of multiple eggs.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yep.

Emily DeAngelo: And the injection does that, and the woman goes into the doctor, and they remove the eggs, and then fertilize them in the lab, and then implant them back into her uterus.

Emily DeAngelo: So, that to me, in a nutshell, is the process of IVF.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yes.

Emily DeAngelo: And when I look at that, I personally do not think that that's usurping the authority of God. I think that we use medicine and what God has already ordained that he puts together to create human life. And so, using an extra dose of hormones to aid in the release of multiple eggs I don't think is usurping his authority.

Emily DeAngelo: Ultimately, he is sovereign over life. And I think I would encourage the person who asked this question to think about that, and to think very seriously about participating in IVF because it is, according to this podcast I listened to, it could be completely draining emotionally, physically, spiritually, and even financially. So, it's a big decision to make.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: But I would also say that I don't think it's usurping God's authority because he ultimately determines life, and he will determine which of those embryos that are fertilized are viable and come to full birth.

Kurt Bjorklund: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: Well, and one of the ethical questions that often people ask around this is, "So, if we fertilize, say 20 eggs, freeze them, and then we're choosing which eggs then get implanted and get life, and which ones remain frozen or don't get the chance ..."

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: And so, that becomes one of the trickier ethical questions. And I think sometimes even this question is maybe driving to that, like "Am I now deciding which eggs get fertilized, get a chance, rather than leaving that up to God?"

Kurt Bjorklund: But I think the impulse that you're speaking of is right, is to say, if you can use medicine to bring about a good end, I'm not sure that I would question that as usurping God's sovereignty or authority. I think whoever goes down this path does need to be aware of all the ethical implications.

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: Like, "What do we do with these eggs if we don't end up implanting them?"

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: And, "Are we comfortable with that decision from an ethical-spiritual standpoint?", is a good question to ask.

Emily DeAngelo: It sure is.

Kurt Bjorklund: But sometimes, you can't answer every question before you make a decision.

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: Because you don't know how many it will take, or what will be engaged. And I've certainly sat with enough people over the years who are facing this issue, and there's the incredible pain of saying, "We're not able to conceive, and this might offer us a chance to have a baby when it doesn't seem like we could otherwise." And so, to not pursue that when it's available seems to be overly restrictive to me as well, as long as you can address some of those harder ethical issues.

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: So, you said you listened to a podcast. What would be the spiritual drain for somebody? The financial drain's obvious.

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: It's an expensive procedure. Where's the spiritual drain?

Emily DeAngelo: That's a great question, because I was thinking about this, and I was thinking about the person who maybe asked this question. And I would encourage that person to think about her prayer life, and how is she praying. And I think I was reading Psalm 145 yesterday, about how God hears the prayers of the people who fear him. And then the very next verse is he satisfies the longings of our souls.

Emily DeAngelo: And so, I know that there have been people who have prayed, and prayed, and prayed for a baby, and I think I would encourage that honest desire and longing. I would encourage that person, I would validate that desire, but I would also pray that they ask them to pray for God's plan for their lives, and that sometimes he satisfies those longings with motherhood, and sometimes he satisfies those longings with ministry opportunity, or career, or maybe even a combination of all three. Often he satisfies us more than we ever ask or imagine.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: So, we can get spiritually drained if we're asking what we want, but then we're spiritually refreshed, in my opinion, when we begin to ask what he might want for our lives.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: So, that would be my encouragement to someone.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, and part of the drain is probably, as you pray for something, hope for something, that you say, "We want this, but maybe God doesn't want it." And then, "How is God good if what I want doesn't line up with what he seems to want?" And that is a spiritually taxing place to be.

Emily DeAngelo: There's a tension there.

Kurt Bjorklund: And then you ride the rollercoaster of "Maybe it took, maybe it didn't. Maybe God's good, maybe God isn't good."

Kurt Bjorklund: And so, I think, to your point, having a perspective that says, "God is good regardless. He may be doing something else that I can't see or understand." But that is a hard-

Emily DeAngelo: It is.

Kurt Bjorklund: ... road to walk when you're in the middle of longing or desiring something that doesn't seem to be happening.

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: So, here's a question, and this came from our student ministry forum where we ask students, "What do you want to hear about?" And one of the students asked, "What does the Bible say about suicide?"

Emily DeAngelo: So, since a student asked that, I am going to focus on teenage suicide, if that's okay. And I learned from the newspaper just this week that we're at an all-time high of teenage suicide. It's just second to adolescents dying in accidents. And this newspaper article told me that about 50% of suicides are the result of depression, which we're going to talk about a little bit more in this podcast. But another 50% are the result of impulsivity to just a dramatic situation or a desperate situation.

Emily DeAngelo: And so, as I went back to the question, I thought about those two scenarios, if you will, and I found, of the seven suicides mentioned in the Bible, because the question is "What does the Bible say about suicide?", there's an example of each of those. So, I just want to briefly talk about each of those.

Emily DeAngelo: We can read in 1 Samuel 31 of King Saul, who chooses, in a desperate moment, to fall on his own sword and take his own life. Now, that is a desperate moment in that time, but we can read back into maybe Chapter 15 of 1 Samuel and see that he was tormented by some evil spirits, or mental illness. A lot of scholars think.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: So, maybe that was the culmination, the straw that broke the camel's back for him, that he truly had, perhaps, mental illness that was untreated.

Emily DeAngelo: So, that would be an example of 50% of suicide.

Emily DeAngelo: And then the other example that came to mind was Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' disciples. When he realized his responsibility in the crucifixion of Christ, he went out and hung himself. And to me, that's a response to a desperate situation that could be resolved and forgiven, but he couldn't resolve that. He implemented-

Kurt Bjorklund: So, it's when somebody gets so overwhelmed by darkness in their own mind. Like, "There's no way out of this.", that sometimes their impulse is, "I just need to be out."

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay.

Emily DeAngelo: And those people need to be reminded that it is a feeling that they're experiencing that's temporary. But the choice for suicide is permanent. It's a permanent solution to a temporary problem that could probably be treated to resolved.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay.

Emily DeAngelo: Suicide affects so many people, Kurt, as you know. One of our listeners probably knows someone who-

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: ... has attempted or succeeded - You can't even say "succeeded", right? - with that. "Completed", I would say.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: And so, I just want to be clear that it affects not just people who are people of faith, but it also affects people who are not of faith.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: And it affects families who have members who are struggling with these desperate thoughts of suicide.

Emily DeAngelo: So, I would dare to say almost all of the population, human population, is affected by this issue.

Kurt Bjorklund: Absolutely.

Emily DeAngelo: And I think because of this topic today, it's worth mentioning the Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Absolutely.

Emily DeAngelo: If we could put that in the show notes, it's 1-800-273-TALK. T-A-L-K. Because if someone is in a moment of that desperation, they need to reach out and talk to someone.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: And get some help. And we, of course, have a counseling department here. So, if someone would come to me and say they have these thoughts-

Kurt Bjorklund: Right.

Emily DeAngelo: ... I would be clear to say, "I'm not a counselor. I'm an encourager, and a teacher of God's Word, and we can look into the Scriptures and see what the Bible says about suicide. But if you truly need some help with this journey, I want to recommend Christian counseling."

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: Also, I was thinking about, sometimes, it is a matter of circumstances and situations. But other times, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yep.

Emily DeAngelo: And that needs to be treated. It needs to be diagnosed, as we would any other disease, and treated, and in combination with medicine, and therapy, and maybe a lifestyle change and exercise. A person can get better.

Kurt Bjorklund: Can change, yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: Yeah, they can change.

Emily DeAngelo: I was talking to a friend yesterday who says that she has struggled with thoughts of suicide since she was a child. And when she was in high school, she didn't go through with it because she was taught that if she did, she would be eternally damned in Hell. And so, the thought of eternal damnation kept her from the Hell that she felt she was living on earth. And now, as mother and a wife, she keeps herself from doing it because she feels that people are depending on her, and it would devastate them if she chose to end her life.

Emily DeAngelo: So, those are the things that are in her mind that keep her choosing life. And it's worth mentioning that because we want to know what the Bible says about that sin.

Kurt Bjorklund: Right.

Emily DeAngelo: Is it forgivable, or is it not forgivable? And from my research, my limited knowledge of the Bible, I feel that it is a forgivable sin, that if someone gets into that desperate place and impulsively or out of depression takes her own life, that she is forgiven as a believer in Christ, because there are many people who die with unconfessed and unrepented sin, and I think the Bible's pretty clear that there's only one unforgivable sin, and that's blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. And that would be another podcast altogether.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yes.

Emily DeAngelo: We're not going to talk about that.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, we'll leave that one alone for right now. Yes.

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Emily DeAngelo: But I think Christians can sometimes tell people that, "Your faith isn't strong enough.", or "You're not praying hard enough.", "You need to just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.", and I don't think that's the healthy way to help someone-

Kurt Bjorklund: Right.

Emily DeAngelo: ... who has these thoughts. I think that it's a true darkness and-

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: ... a struggle for people, and as the church, we need to provide a place for people to come-

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: ... and be accepted, and find support, and be encouraged to find Jesus, and follow Jesus-

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: ... and be prayed for, and prayed with.

Kurt Bjorklund: Right.

Emily DeAngelo: One more thing I wanted to say about choosing life, with my friend I was talking to yesterday, she says that she has to make the choice every day to choose life. And I just was reading a whole chapter of Scripture about that: Deuteronomy 30 is all about choosing life. And again and again, the writer says that, "You get to choose life, and this is what it means to choose life. It means to love the Lord with all your heart, to fear him, and obey him." And then there's a promise: "He gives us life and long days. The length of days."

Emily DeAngelo: And so, I think I would use that for encouragement for someone who struggles.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: "We get to choose life. Let's choose it together."

Emily DeAngelo: "What does it mean?"

Emily DeAngelo: "Well, let's look at that together. Let's learn to love God and fear him, and obey his Word, and see how that changes living."

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Good. Good.

Emily DeAngelo: [crosstalk 00:15:32]

Kurt Bjorklund: So, to summarize, if you're listening, watching, and you're having thoughts like this, don't just stuff them, but reach out to somebody, whether it be the Suicide Prevention Line, the church here, a church you're a part of, a school counselor, somebody who can help you address some of those dark thoughts. And I think what we would say is that the Bible doesn't call it unforgivable, but the Bible also doesn't leave you without hope, that God's plan for you really is better than whatever it is that you're experiencing right now that makes you feel so hopeless.

Kurt Bjorklund: And so, what we want to encourage you to do is to choose life, is to say that God can and will work in your world in a way that will, one day, you'll look back and say, "I'm so glad that I did not go down this path and miss some of what God had for me in this life along the way."

Kurt Bjorklund: So, along with that, and you mentioned this, that these two really tie together is, "What does the Bible say about depression?" Again, from some of our students in student ministry.

Emily DeAngelo: Again, the Bible says a lot about depression.

Emily DeAngelo: So, I'm currently studying the Psalms. In fact, a lot of the women here at Orchard Hill are studying this in a current Tuesday morning and evening Bible study. And the Psalms display the full range of human emotion, and that includes depression and anxiety.

Emily DeAngelo: So, the first two Psalms that kind of popped into my mind when looking into this are Psalm 22 and 88. And I find it interesting that the psalmists talk about this deep darkness, this anguish of soul, this desire to be cut off, which is that, what we were just talking about: taking one's own life. Cut off from this life, because it feels like God is not hearing their prayers. It feels like God is not present.

Emily DeAngelo: Again, that's a feeling. It's maybe not a reality. I believe in the reality of God's presence with us, and his rule and reign over our lives. But sometimes it's just not felt for someone who's struggling with anxiety and depression.

Emily DeAngelo: And so, it's interesting that Christ quotes Psalm 22, 1, on the cross. He says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And that Psalm goes on to say, "Why have you not heard my cry? Why have you not given me safety, or relieved me, or saved me, right?" That's a paraphrase. I'm not quoting. But I think Jesus says that in that moment to show us that he fully understands the human need for God, and that we are broken without him, and that we need to know his presence and his salvation, and he experienced all range of human emotion for us. And he came to die on the cross so that we can be right with God, and so that we can be restored to him.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Yeah, it strikes me that what's hard about depression is that there's not a single cause. And so, the easy thing to do if you are depressed or you know somebody who's depressed is to say, "Well, this is what worked for me.", or "I know this worked for somebody else, so this is the problem, and this is the cause.", instead of being able to say, "This is nuanced." Sometimes there's a chemical cause, and somebody, what they need is a prescription. But not everyone needs a prescription.

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: Sometimes there's a social cause. Sometimes people just are feeling alone, and what they need is community, and people around them, and support. Sometimes there is a spiritual cause. Not always is the answer to say, "You need to repent, and get right with Jesus." But sometimes it is, because sometimes depression is a result of our own sinfulness.

Kurt Bjorklund: You mentioned the Psalms. I think it's what? Psalm 55 ... No, 32 where the psalmist begins talking about how his soul is just in anguish because of his unrepented sin. And so, there is sometimes a spiritual cause, sometimes a social cause, sometimes a physical cause, sometimes something that feels more emotional. And in order to really address it, you have to examine all of those and then say, "Which of these issues is most likely part of the response?"

Kurt Bjorklund: And it is interesting, certainly not speaking of chemical depression here, but how often depression is tied to our idolatry. And what I mean by that is we want something so desperately, and we tell ourselves, "If I don't have that, then I can't have life joyfully. My life will be bad." And what we've done is we've taken something that's temporal, something that's an idol, and we've elevated it to ultimate status. And as a result, we've given it more power than it should because instead of worshiping God, we're worshiping that thing. And sometimes, there is just that spiritual transition of saying, "I have to stop worshiping even a good thing, even something that I think 'If I had this my life would be better.', and be able to say, 'No, I'm going to worship God, and choose to not let that thing be a substitute god in my life.'"

Kurt Bjorklund: And we don't often like to say that because it's easier to talk about the chemical side or the emotional side, both which, again, I think are absolutely real and possible. But sometimes, there is a spiritual issue where we've just too easily made something else into our ultimate good.

Emily DeAngelo: I think of Job and how he experienced depression because of his circumstances, if you know the story of Job. But then he was restored to joy because of his faithfulness to God. So, we do see some redemption in his life because of a shift in thinking for Job.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: I know this question was from students, but I would like to just encourage parents to not be afraid to ask students who are in your home, teenagers who are in your home, "How are you feeling?"

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: And don't shame a person who struggles with depression-

Kurt Bjorklund: Right.

Emily DeAngelo: ... that it is a real thing, and it is a disease that needs to be treated, just like any other disease.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Yeah, and don't turn your eyes to some of the indicators: excessive sleep-

Emily DeAngelo: Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: ... shutting themselves out from family or friendships, going away from productive activity. Yeah, all of those things.

Emily DeAngelo: Right. All those ... Right.

Kurt Bjorklund: You see it ... Yeah.

Emily DeAngelo: They're red flags, and don't be afraid to ask.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Good. Good. Thank you.

Kurt Bjorklund: Emily, thank you.

Kurt Bjorklund: Again, if you have questions that you'd like us to address on Ask a Pastor, please send them to askapastor@orchardhillchurch.com, and we'll be happy to address them on a coming episode.