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Christians and Modern Medicine

As a minister, I will occasionally get questions about how the Bible directs Christians to view modern medicine and medical technologies. The general themes tend to be around the questions of whether believers should just pray and have faith to heal them and whether, by using modern medical techniques, we are “playing God” when we should not be.

There are certainly areas where we should not attempt to play God. For example, cloning humans or experimenting with embryonic stem cells, where an embryo or fetus must be killed to harvest the cells (though we have no problem with adult stem cell research, which is proving to be quite promising on a number of fronts). But generally speaking, Christians are not only favorably inclined toward modern medicine but are actually compelled by the Bible to further its advancement.

As I have discussed in other blogs and writings, the Bible teaches us in the very first chapter of the very first book (Genesis) that we are to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. Today, we can think of subduing the earth as advancing our knowledge of science (and medicine) and having dominion over it through the technological (and medical) advancements which naturally follow. The Bible in no way prohibits Christians from studying or applying medicine.

But what about the faith question? The answer really comes in two parts. The first begins by looking at the definition of faith. I won’t go into a deep explanation of how the Bible defines faith here, as it was covered in a previous blog which can be found here. But faith is believing that God can and will fulfill His promises. Because God has not made a specific promise to you or I that He will heal any given illness, it would not be correct to assume that a sufficient faith will always allow for our healing.

And, in fact, the second part to the answer shows just the opposite. As we look at relevant examples from the Bible, we get a very clear picture of the biblical approach. In an example from the Old Testament portion of the Bible (Isaiah 38), the terminally ill king Hezekiah was promised by God (after praying about it) that he would survive his illness and be allowed to live another fifteen years. After being told that his prayer had been answered, the best medicine available (a poultice made of figs, in this case) was applied before the king was healed. So the best biblical examples show that, even when God does directly answer a prayer for healing, the healing is normally brought to fruition by the effectiveness and application of the best available manmade medicine.

The simple truth is: We should take advantage of modern medicine and surgical procedures as gifts from God. Some have pointed to the verses in the New Testament book of James to counter the king Hezekiah example. But a close reading of the passages shows there is no such contradiction.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5: 13 – 16 [ESV]

The original word that is translated as “sick” in English can mean physically ill but also spiritually sick or spiritually weak. In the context in which the word is used in James chapter 5, it would appear that James is speaking to someone who is spiritually ill and/or is having a physical sickness due to sin (though he in no way suggests here that all physical ailments are due to a person’s specific sin). Instead of reading the verses with sick meaning physically sick, read them as saying spiritually sick.

James says confessing sins one to another will allow us to be “healed”. Again, it would seem as though he is not speaking about a physical healing coming from the confession of sins. Notice also that before James speaks here concerning the efficacy of a righteous person’s prayer, he has written how we should confess our sins one to another. The entire context of the passage seems to be centered on sin or spiritual sickness.

Christians should absolutely pray for those who are physically sick. And not only should we avail ourselves of the best modern medicine has to offer but we should pray for the effectiveness of any medicine or medical procedures used on the patient, giving thanks all the while to God for the blessings of those medical treatments.

Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.

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