Over the next week or so my posts will revolve around healing in the Bible. I started with the idea of one post on healing gardens but this has grown as I have reflected on my own history in healing and quest for a Biblical understanding. The forst post is adapted from one I wrote several years ago
I no longer practice medicine but am still passionate about health, particularly for the poor. One of my yearly tasks is to download the latest World Health and United Nations Human Development reports. When I first started reading these reports in the mid 1980s there was a sense of optimism and excitement. Life expectancy was increasing rapidly, child mortality was plummeting and infectious diseases such as smallpox and measles were being brought under control. Over the last few years however many of these trends have been reversed and I have found the statistics rather discouraging and somewhat daunting.
The greatest health challenge for millions of children worldwide is still whether or not they will survive to their fifth birthday. Children in developing countries, already lack proper nutrition and may also lack access to affordable measles vaccinations and simple interventions for diarrhoeal diseases. Children are also most likely to die from malaria. Overall 35% of Africa’s children are at higher risk of death today than they were 10 years ago. Every hour 500 African women lose a small child. Even those who do make it past childhood are confronted with adult death rates greater than 30 years ago. Life expectancy is shrinking – in some countries by as much as 20 years
Tragically the causes of many of these deaths could easily be controlled with simple vaccines or antibiotics. Six deadly infections – pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria, measles and more recently , HIV/AIDS – account for half of all premature deaths, killing mostly children and young adults. And, while not major killers, a number of other diseases, often neglected by researchers because they have little impact on health in wealthier countries cause chronic disability and stigma for millions of men, women and children. Unfortunately those who are most vulnerable often lack access to essential medicines. WHO estimates that 15% of the world’s population consumes 91% of the world’s pharmaceuticals.
Many of these challenges overwhelm me. They make me wonder: “Does God care about physical health particularly for the most vulnerable in our world?” I often struggled with this as I worked in poor communities in Africa and Asia.
God does care. From the time the children of Israel came out of Egypt God showed concern for their physical as well as their spiritual well being. However God’s prescription for health was always very different from that of the surrounding cultures. During Moses life, the Papyrus Ebers written about 1552 B.C. provided many of the standard treatments for disease. Drugs included “lizards’ blood, swines’ teeth, putrid meat, stinking fat, moisture from pigs ears, goose grease, asses’ hoofs, excreta from animals, including human beings, donkeys, antelopes, dogs, cats and even flies.”
Not quite our idea of good medicine and not God’s either.
Central to God’s model of health and wholeness is reconciliation to God. Healing depended not only on the taking of medicine but primarily on obedience to God’s word and commandments. Many of the laws of Leviticus are good preventative health directives that we still use today. These regulations include nutrition, environmental laws and behaviour – the three primary factors that influence the health of any community. Others are guidelines for how the most vulnerable in society are to be cared for.
Interestingly the Greek word most commonly translated save in the New Testament SOZO can also be translated heal. It means to heal, preserve, save, make whole. Healing from a Christian perspective is the process of moving towards wholeness in body, soul and spirit. The purpose of medicine is to support and encourage human wholeness in every respect.
Nothing speaks more highly of God’s desire for healing than the incredible systems of protection and repair within our own bodies. The immune system cures most of the illnesses that attack us. Wounds heal, bones knit together and tissue repairs itself in miraculous ways we rarely think about unless something goes wrong. At best doctors and nurses assist God’s healing work yet we rarely thank God for these miracles.
Unfortunately in our imperfect world, corrupted by sin and disease, these systems don’t always work but God provided other elements to assist the healing process. Most modern medicines originate from medicinal plants and herbs that are a part of God’s wonderful creation.
The Cross is probably the most powerful symbol of and power for healing in the world. Its redeeming and transforming power brings healing to body soul and spirit – and beyond that it brings healing to communities, and eventually will bring healing to our entire broken world.
The taking of communion is another powerful symbol of healing. In many churches healing services are Eucharistic, deliberately linking our need for healing to confession, repentance and forgiveness. (1 Cor 11:27-34) Baptism too, because it infuses a person with new life, the life of Christ, can drive out before it all the powers of sickness and death.(Rom 6: 1-14)
James 5:13-16 lists other important symbols of healing we need to pay attention to. Praying for the sick, often associated with laying on of hands, anointing with oil, singing psalms and hymns, confession and forgiveness are all practices that can encourage the healing process.
Observing the liturgical calendar is another way that God’s people can find God’s healing. “By connecting to the seasons of the church year we enter into a rhythm that focuses every day and every season very intentionally on the One who gives all of life meaning and purpose. By celebrating through the structures of the Church we actually are given the forms we need to become whole and we are given the formulas to make whole every human experience.”
An wholistic approach to health that embraces the need for both spiritual and physical transformation is an extremely effective way to eradicate infectious diseases. LifeWind International (formerly Medical Ambassadors International) www.lifewind.org works to improve the total health and well-being of children, women and men in communities worldwide by addressing the root causes of poverty, disease, and hopelessness. LifeWind’s Community Health Evangelism (CHE) is an integrated wholistic strategy that equips and empowers communities to discover and implement effective and lasting solutions to their problems through the combination of disease prevention, economic enterprise, and social and spiritual renewal. People from over 150 organizations are using CHE training and materials to serve the poor around the world.
God does will healing not just for us but for all human kind. Incredibly we are asked to become participants in the process and bring God’s healing and wholeness to others. The statistics are overwhelming but fortunately God does not call us to change statistic but to transform lives. Even providing a cup of clean water can make a difference. And as Matthew 10:42 reminds us “if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”