Trials: Medical Science and the Bible
Should a Christian use the services of medical doctors? Does the Bible forbid the use of medicines? If it is not God’s will to heal the person miraculously right now, is it wrong to seek medical aid? Would seeking such help be interfering with God’s will?
These are important questions, because the answers have serious implications — implications of suffering or relief, life or death. They are also questions that may not even occur to most people, and may seem unnecessary to some. But the questions do occur to sincere persons who are laboring under certain false impressions about divine healing and the Bible position on it.
What the Bible says about doctors and medicine
|The Bible is the basis for a Christian’s faith. We should seek the basis of our answers there.|
Since the Bible is the basis for a Christian’s faith, we should seek the basis of our answers there. When we look into the Bible, we find this: God has nowhere commanded Christians to avoid doctors or checkups, nor to refuse medicines, blood transfusions, inoculations or surgery.
Certain verses that are misunderstood as dictating against medical aid will be reviewed shortly. But many other scriptures either show God’s neutrality toward medicine, or even lean toward the use of medicines as appropriate.
Genesis 17:10-14, for example, commands the procedure of circumcision to Abraham. God ordained this minor surgery, so there is obviously nothing sacrosanct about human skin; cutting into the flesh is not inherently defiling.
Physicians are called Joseph’s “servants” in Genesis 50:2. And the word for physicians here is the same word used for God as healer in Exodus 15:26.
Proverbs 17:22 states, “A merry heart does good like a medicine.” This verse does not cast medicines in a negative light. To the contrary, the metaphor is a positive one.
In Isaiah 38:21 we find the prophet Isaiah (upon God’s directive) prescribing a poultice for Hezekiah’s boil. While the healing may have been supernatural, with the poultice only symbolic, clearly such a self-help procedure was not considered wrong. If the healing was not supernatural but the result of the poultice, then we find God prescribing a helpful medicinal technique that worked! If the healing was supernatural, here is strong proof that a person may be healed by God even though he or she uses a physical procedure as well!
In Jeremiah 8:22, the statement about Gilead approves of physicians, albeit metaphorically. Jeremiah 30:13 equates the lack of medicine with a consequent lack of healing, and Jeremiah 51:8 says medicine is the way for Babylon to be healed. Although these examples are metaphors, they imply that medicines are useful. One can hardly conclude that God is against physicians or medicines by such neutral or positive usage.
Ezekiel 30:21 speaks of Pharaoh’s arm being broken and not being healed because it was not bound up. This is metaphorical language, but it logically follows, without the slightest contrary indication of it being wrong, that Pharaoh’s arm might have been “healed” if had it been bound — that is, the healing could come through a physical procedure.
One final verse from the Old Testament is especially telling. Ezekiel 47:12 shows healing medicine will be made from the leaves of trees that are nourished by waters from the new temple in the new Jerusalem. Revelation 22:2 echoes this scenario.
In the New Testament Jesus Christ said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31). See also Mark 2:17 and Matthew 9:12. Further, in Luke 4:23 Jesus quotes the proverb, “Physician, heal yourself,” and applied it to himself. In neither case does Christ give so much as a hint at disapproval of physicians.
|Luke was a physician. The Bible nowhere states that he stopped using all his skills after his conversion.|
Colossians 4:14 refers to Luke as the “beloved physician,” showing that Luke was a physician and was well thought of. The Bible nowhere states that Luke stopped using his skills after conversion, and it would not be proper to conclude that he did merely from the Bible’s silence on the subject.
Although our survey has been brief, taken as a whole, no one can conclude from these verses that the Bible in any way condemns doctors or medicines. On what grounds, then, do some conclude that medicines and doctors are wrong? The answer is that this misconception arises both from 1) misunderstanding certain verses that at first reading can appear to urge against the medical profession but that in reality do not, and 2) faulty conclusions of reasoning.
The verses cited most often in supposed proof against the use of physicians or medicines are 2 Kings 1:1-4 and 2 Chronicles 16:12-13.
2 Kings 1:1-4 cites the example of King Ahaziah of Israel, who was sick and sent to Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, to see if he was to recover from the disease. God’s response through his prophet Elijah in verse 3 was, “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?”
The Bible condemns ancient practitioners who relied on pagan gods, amulets, incantations or other forms of magic or superstition. King Ahaziah sent to Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to find out if he would recover from a sickness, in much the same way King Saul inquired of the witch of Endor before his final battle. Ahaziah should have inquired of God. But he was asking about the future from a false god. This passage is about idolatry; it has nothing to do with getting medical help.
In another example, near the end of his life King Asa was reprimanded by God because in a very serious disease he did not seek God, but sought the physicians (2 Chron. 16:12-13). These physicians may or may not have been priests or magicians of some false religion. But even if they were just plain physicians, the problem was that Asa did not seek God!
Certainly, no Christian should ever seek humans instead of God, nor trust in the medical profession as if it were a god. Jeremiah 17:5 states, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.”
In summary, the Bible simply does not condemn people for seeking practical and scientific help with their illness if they first have their trust resting on God. God wants us to examine any health problem and make wise decisions, while looking to him to lead and guide us in those decisions. That is what God expects us to do in all aspects of this life. Notice Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Yes, in any decision of any consequence we have to make, it should be our way of life and our habit to go to God for help and wisdom — and this applies when seeking medical attention or health advice for illness as well as in any other aspect of life.
The supposed proofs against the use of medicines or doctors do not all rest upon misused specific scriptures. Some rest on confused thinking.
One view is that to use doctors is a sin because doing so denies the sacrifice of Christ, who was beaten and carried upon himself our sicknesses. This view is founded on the misconception that sickness is the result of “physical sin” and the belief that healing is the forgiveness of such “physical sin” through Christ’s beating. These misconceptions were shown to be wrong in chapter 1.
We saw that supernatural healing is an answer to prayer linked to Christ’s sacrifice in the same way as all other answered prayer. When we understand this, we can see that seeking physical help in sickness is no different than seeking financial help when you lose your job.
Another view is the statement quoted at the beginning of this chapter: if it is God’s will not to heal us, then we shouldn’t contravene his will by trying to heal ourselves with medicines.
But this reasoning is wrong! It assumes that if it is God’s will not to heal us supernaturally, it must also be God’s will that we stay sick. On what ground is this assumption made? Certainly not on biblical ground. The Bible does not say God wants us to stay sick. It would be like saying that if God doesn’t supply us food supernaturally, then he wants us to go hungry.
|God wants you to learn how to handle the trial of illness as wisely as any other kind of trial.|
Is it sensible to believe that just because God does not decide to supernaturally intervene, he doesn’t intend your body to get better? The Bible teaches that God wants you to learn how to handle the trial of illness as wisely as any other kind of trial. He wants you to use judgment and wisdom in taking advantage of all lawful means at your disposal to help yourself, while trusting ultimately in him. This is the purpose of any trial — to learn lessons and wisdom as you help yourself all you can while trusting in him.
Nor can a person conclude that just because God hasn’t healed a person of a life-threatening illness that God wants this person to die. The presumption is the opposite — namely, that God has given you life and that it is your duty to safeguard that life by whatever reasonable and wise course is open to you that does not contravene his law.
Obviously, there is a time to die, and there is a time when more medical treatment merely prolongs agony. Everyone must make his or her own decision about such things in a spirit of prayer and meditation. But because you may die if you do nothing does not mean God wants you to do nothing. He may want you to learn to take some responsibility for yourself, learn to manage the trial of illness with all lawful means, and live for many years in service to him and in good health!
To teach you lessons, it is possible that God will intervene to heal you slowly — perhaps even through various circumstances he leads you into — rather than supernaturally and all at once. Some of the circumstances he might use could include medical procedures. Certainly God is in no way stopped from intervening any way he sees fit, even while one is in a hospital bed or during surgery. God’s hands are not tied!
This does not mean he cannot heal immediately, only that he alone can choose the time and type of his intervention. But for you to refuse medical aid since God did not heal you immediately is to eliminate one of the avenues through which God might help you — to say in effect, “Heal me my way or not at all.” On what logical grounds would you do that?
To repeat, just because God doesn’t heal you doesn’t mean he wants you to be sick. He may have allowed the illness, but he probably didn’t cause it (although in some rare cases he may have). You may have caused it — although perhaps in ways you don’t realize. Or your environment might be to blame. But no matter what caused it, God may want you to get well, although he may want you to learn how to deal in wisdom with the self-help measures at hand so you learn wisdom and judgment.
In most cases God uses illness as he uses any trial humans face in life. He uses it to test and try our faith and our wisdom in seeking solutions. To become sick and then refuse to do anything about it because it might not be God’s will to supernaturally heal you — that is, to freeze in your tracks and do nothing — is as childish as refusing to look for a job when you are out of work and God doesn’t supernaturally send someone to your door with money! It makes no sense. God wants us to do what we can.
Again, not to seek medical aid because God hasn’t healed you is to conclude that because he hasn’t chosen to intervene supernaturally, he wants you to stay sick or wants you not to help yourself by medicines or any other way. The Bible nowhere states or implies this.
Trusting in humans?
Another view against the use of doctors is the belief that one who uses them is trusting in humans instead of God. Of course, it is possible to have no faith in God and almost superstitious faith in human scientific knowledge. A person can trust humans instead of God (not just in healing, but in any area of life). This can be true, but it need not be true.
One who seeks medical aid does not by definition trust humans instead of God, just as a person who uses an employment agency is not by definition refusing to trust God. It is simply a matter of one’s internal attitude. We should always trust in God even though we seek human help (in health, in finding a job, or in any other trial). True faith in God and using self-help are not mutually exclusive. We can use doctors’ help without treating them like gods and placing faith wrongly in them.
Physicians are only mortal humans and can work only with the laws God designed to speed, enhance or aid recovery. God has never condemned that. Healing is not a “test of righteousness”; neither is going to a physician a “test of righteousness.” It does not show a lack of faith in God’s ability to heal and it does not prevent God from performing a miracle. (Of course, if a person holds an almost superstitious awe for doctors, as some people do, then his or her attitude is not one of faith in God.)
Another perspective is that using a physician is “throwing faith out the window.” This statement assumes that faith in God and use of a doctor are opposites. In this sense the statement is merely another way of saying that if you have some confidence in science, such as trusting that an airplane can fly, you don’t have faith in God.
Faith in God is a matter of the heart, between a person and God, and is not interrupted by seeing a doctor. If a person thinks his or her faith is hurt by seeing a doctor, then that person simply has confused some other attitude of mind with faith.
A person needs to understand what faith is and how faith relates to healing. A person who knows that faith is trust in God to do what is best — a person with real faith — never throws it away.
Another view is that the medical profession is one of this world’s humanly devised sciences made by a civilization cut off from God. This is true, but it is also true of virtually every other aspect of civilization — including the automobile, airplane, computer and telecommunications! The fact that humans have done something without God does not in itself condemn it. The Bible must be our guide for what is sin and what is not. The Bible simply does not label doctors, medicines and surgeries as sin.
Two final arguments
Two more arguments are sometimes offered to argue that a Christian should never use the medical profession. The first is that medical science attempts to stop basic health laws from exacting their penalty. Of course, this would apply to setting broken bones just as much as it would to other medical procedures. This argument loses most of its force once we remember that breaking a basic health law is not in itself a sin. Since it is not a sin, applying the term penalty to sickness is not appropriate in a spiritual sense.
Further, no one can stop any law of God — even a natural law — from working. If you drop a glass, it falls and it may break. You can glue it together again and it may hold water, but it is not a new glass. In like manner, medical procedures use one set of natural laws to control other natural laws. Medicines work within the physiological laws God has created.
The final and related argument against the medical profession is that medicines are wrong since they deal with effects instead of causes. This is often, but not invariably, true. The reason medical science usually deals with effects and not causes is that the causes are often not plain, and even if they are plain, they are often not controllable by the doctor (they may or may not be controllable by the patient). It makes no sense to blame the doctors for what they don’t know or can’t control. Even so, the medical community today does tend to advocate a preventive approach to illness through proper diet and exercise.
Though it can be argued that the medical profession should look harder for causes, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat the effect. If a bone is broken, it should be set, and repairing the damage does not in any way imply that we no longer care about the cause! It is good to help alleviate suffering, that is, to help alleviate effects. It is ludicrous to ignore the suffering of effects just because they are effects. Both the causes and the effects should be dealt with. Finding a cause can help a future patient, but it may do nothing for the one suffering now. Treating the illness — the effects — does.
This chapter has concentrated on proving that the Bible does not condemn doctors, medicines or other scientific methods of helping oneself in illness. But remaining are the practical matters of what a sick person should do when sick. Is it always best to see a doctor? If one does so, what kind of doctor should one see? Are natural remedies to be preferred over medicines? Also, what position does the church take about illness and healing, and what advice and service does its ministry extend? These final questions will be answered in the next chapter.
Author: Joseph Tkach, Sr. & Bernard Schnippert