June 6 2021
Or, A Kuyperian Hot Take on Western Medicine
Series: Centers and Circumferences #17
This is a very important message and, if the Lord does not return soon, containing much possible application for when I’m dead. I pray that many who hear it would sense a calling to the many ministry opportunities that the medical field allows, and that all who hear it would be thankful for God’s good gifts to us in Western medicine.
What’s to come in this message is some testimony, some principles, and some prescriptions.
This is personal.
I’ve torn ligaments in my knee, and another time had an avulsion fracture of the tibial tuberosity (the bump some people get below their kneecap) where the tendon ripped off and the bone broke, which is an extreme case of Osgood–Schlatter disease. I’ve had my tonsils out twice, sort of, once to cut out the tonsils and then again to get the blood clot that was so big in my throat that it was blocking my breathing. I’ve fractured vertebrae, had bone chipped from my hip to fuse two vertebrae (L2-3) together that are held in place with four large screws and two rods that connect the sets of screws. Because I have metal in my back, I had to have a Myelogram CT scan, which included a shot of contrast die into my spinal cord, but the needle hole didn’t clot, leaking spinal fluid and making it so that my brain was resting on my skull, that required a blood patch about seven excruciating days later, and in between I was taking 8, 800mg tablets of ibuprofen a day, or, the equivalent of 32 Advil. I’ve had the top third of my stomach wrapped around my lower esophageal sphincter because of crazy acid reflux (Nissen fundoplication). I’ve had neck surgery to drill a hole (between C6-7) for a crushed nerve that caused permanent damage to one of the nerves running down into my right hand. I’ve broken my ring finger twice (ask Jonathan). I’ve had another back surgery to take out a piece of disk that was broken and pushing into my spine. I had a golf ball-ish sized cyst cut out of my chest in the doctor’s office, that turned out to be a rare kind of cancer, which required an actual surgery to remove larger margins of tissue, which resulted in fluid accumulation in my left pec, which required my doctor’s use of a large needle to suck the fluid out approximately half a dozen times. I lost half of my blood from an internal bleed, spending parts of five days in the hospital, and taking at least six months to recover from the anemia, for a bleed they never determined the cause of, and two pill cams died trying to take pictures of my digestive track. I’ve been in the emergency room with Costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage near the breastbone that mimics a heart attack), twice with kidney stones, multiple times for spinal pain, and as recently as last Christmas day with chest pain. I have Spondylolisthesis (displacement rather than alignment of vertebra) at L4-5, and Gastroparesis (where things get stuck in my stomach too long). Ironically my only known allergy is to penicillin. And I am probably even a COVID survivor.
I can’t remember the last day I wasn’t in some sort of pain, and I have it way better than Mo.
And both of us would be dead were it not for Western medicine.
It wasn’t too long into our marriage when I realized that maybe I should have been a pharmacist, or at least studied that first. There are so many health, body, medical problems that we’ve had to deal with, let alone conversations with family and church family and friends with hurts, diagnosed and undiagnosed, that I wish I had knew a lot more about it. I’d have to be a pharmacist, though, not a doctor or nurse, because I get sick looking (and smelling) blood.
Many of you also have many bodily ailments, and so the subject of medicine is to the point.
God did not make His image-bearers for disease or weakness or death. Sin brought broken souls and broken bodies. Yet God heals directly and mediately. He thinks health and healing are good.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
(Psalm 103:2–5 ESV)
Jesus healed, and many times He chose to heal on the Sabbath to show how good and lawful healing is.
And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. (Matthew 12:10–13)
We have regular examples of praying for healing in Scripture (Genesis 20:17; Numbers 12:13; 2 Chronicles 30:20; Psalm 6:2); (we prayed for Jim 9 years ago today when he had a heart attack in London) our elders pray every week for those in the flock with physical problems. For a while at least, God gave some the spiritual gift of healing (1 Corinthians 12:28). God gives the promise of resurrected bodies that will not be subject to the same threats and breakdowns, no more perishable or dishonor or weakness in flesh (1 Corinthians 15:42-43). There have been miraculous healings, and there have been medical healings, all by God’s will.
Before getting too much further, let’s also acknowledge that good health on earth is not the ultimate good, not even on earth, let alone for eternity. A man can live a thousand years twice over (Ecclesiastes 6:6), and it wouldn’t matter how many successful surgeries he had or vitamin supplements he took, if he didn’t fear God, he would not have joy.
If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. (Ecclesiastes 6:3 ESV)
After that his eternity would be one of conscious, physical torment for his refusal to give God thanks for all his healthy years.
There are a number of reasons why medicines are needed; people get sick or injured, are weak and disabled. Many of those reasons came before and have nothing to do with Monsanto or Merck.
A man could be stupid, and fail to be a steward of his body. A man could be be born with bad genetics. A man could be providentially chosen as an object lesson (Job 2:4-6, the man born blind in John 9:2-3). A man could be unintentionally hurt by someone else (e.g., Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 4:4), or maliciously attacked. A man could be exposed to contagion while trying to serve others who are sick.
A man could need to learn sympathy, or need to learn comfort, so that he could care for others and comfort them (a broader application of 2 Corinthians 1:3-6). His body might be well-used/worn-out/old (Proverbs 20:29). And a man could have sinned, and brought the sickness on himself, which seems to be the connection in James 5:14, it is a consequence of unworthy participation of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:30, and even bones waste away when God’s conviction comes to a man who won’t confess his sin in Psalm 32:3-4.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). I have not studied medicine much, and I have trouble remembering the doctor tells me about my own problems; I need my medical assistant, Mo, with me. But I do know that humans are more than bones and blood, and that the use of “flesh” in the New Testament has a number of references. There are bodily appetites/weaknesses along with spiritual appetites/temptations along with rational abilities/ignornances along with a will.
Jesus said there was no direct sin that caused the man to be born blind. James said that the sick should call for the elders and not for their medical expertise, rather to deal with unconfessed sin that was ruining health. When you go to the doctor, or when you visit Google MD, do you throw in how angry you’ve been with your kids as related to your high blood pressure? Do you say that you are not sleeping because you are anxious, or did your anxiousness come because you can’t sleep?
And then taking into account the medical industry…that is also complicated. For some it could be a full time job to track down the right physician and then pay that physician with cash, or insurance co-pay, or whatever. There are a lot of moving parts, certainly not everyone is motivated for the right reasons, and in fact, many are vocationally inconsistent with their (unseen and unacknowledged) worldview.
The dominant worldview for many medical workers is based on “science,” and that science is based on the theory of evolution. But if they really believed in what they claimed to believe in, the only parts of the medical profession that would be appropriate would be for making the strong stronger.
Wherever we want to start the blame for how much money people spend on medical things (and it is big business), the fact that there are so many people who require medical attention cannot be isolated from the gospel of Christ which results in mercy to the weak. Evolution does not care about compassion to the frail, the diseased, the damaged, or the disabled. “Science” does not care about anyone. The actual worldview undergirding most modern medicine is Christian, even if not perfectly applied let alone appreciated. That isn’t understood by most of the people we deal with, but at beast Humanism only believes that some human beings are worth helping, worth fixing, worth keeping alive.
As Christians we know that killing due to cost or other inconvenience is wrong, so abortion and euthanasia are not health care. Destroying human life is not lawful. The increase in transgender “medical” treatments is likewise unlawful; that is not healing, that is damaging and disfiguring what God has made, not causing it to work better. These, however, are at least consistent applications of trying to live without a God in the world.
This is an important principle to park on for a bit longer. For all the problems we have, we have it better than ever in human history. Never have more people been as healthy as they are or lived longer. Never have less people been dying of starvation and infections and injuries. Many arguments are over quality of life levels after survival; we are all alive to be complaining about how bad we feel.
This is due to the effects of Christians living as Christians, and the implications of confessing and loving and following Jesus. Look at a world map, and note the nations that are considered first, second, and third world. By far the first-world countries, which are generally places with better medical care, are those where the gospel has been. Considered by direction, this is also the West, Western Civilization, which starts going west from Jerusalem, and that includes Western Medicine.
Of course there are problems and perversions. There is abuse of the good, and men with power often hurt others with it (Ecclesiastes 8:9). But we ought not be ungrateful.
Yes, physicians and hospital CEOs and presidents of drug companies may be greedy and get a god-complex. And other men are bitter and self-righteous in the name of God, and unpleasant for other reasons.
A hot take is a a quickly produced, strongly worded, and often deliberately provocative or sensational opinion or reaction. I am definitely not trying to give the final word here, but at least trying to show that Christians can pick up the ball. Here’s a sample.
Vaccines are amazing, life-saving, God-glorifying! They also should not be mandated by the government, and certainly not marketed by those who change their minds more than their latex gloves. Vaccines have a history, so check it out. Some skepticism toward ones that don’t have a history is correct.
Infertility treatments are amazing, life-giving, God-glorifying! They also should be evaluated, and the hearts of the infertile couple should be honest; if “having a child no matter what” is the goal, such a child may be an idol, and that won’t work out well. Further down the road, I am in favor of epidurals for women who want them, in favor of C-sections for those who need them.
Cloning technology is amazing, dangerous, possibly God-glorifying, and should not be used for making humans. Plants? Sure. Animals? Maybe. Babies? NO WAY.
Narcotics are amazing, pain-easing, and God-glorifying! When taken appropriately, including not as an escape from reality, but as a help to fulfill responsibilities.
I do not think that Kuyperians are only all-natural, or allowed homeopathy, or only alternative medicine, or only herbal medicine.
As we have established, I am not a Dr. That is not going to stop me from giving some medical advice.
First, your body is the Lord’s. He gave it to you, warts and all, and expects You to serve Him with it (see Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Medicine is also the Lord’s. While some may treat medicine as a god, God is not threatened by His own creation. He enables doctors and nurses and big pharma every day to bless people. Every thumb’s width of a pill bottle container with tamper-proof, child-proof packaging is His.
Second, related, do your homework. And this is both more possible than ever (on your phone!), and the challenge these days are competing solutions, not lack of suggestions. Get a second opinion. Or a fifth.
Third, give grace to one another. Grace may come in the form of speaking truth, as in, get to work. Grace from a doctor doesn’t come by his lies, and if your friend is stuck in a self-serving falsehood, it might be good to talk about it. And also, imagine the bed-side manner of a good doctor, and imagine the work a good doctor would do to understand a patient’s problems, asking questions and doing research and comparing with other cases he’s seen. And if the Facebook post you read about how sugar is the reason your friend is falling apart fits, then, go for it. But perhaps you might consider that you are the thorn in the flesh.
Fourth, especially for some of the younger, give thought to if/how you may be called to study and make the medical sphere better (even when I’m dead).
And last, give thanks to God, for meds, for those who serve in the sphere of medical care, for those who prescribe meds, for not needing meds, for those who do need meds that have something to tell you when you get hurt later. What meds you take, or don’t take, isn’t a game to see who can feel superior to another rather than a reason to be thankful for another feeling better.
Kuyperians really have the opportunity to please the Lord by caring for others, and that is different than trying to please the Lord by complaining.
It may not be possible to heal someone, it is always possible to make them more miserable. Many of the hurting already feel lonely, sometimes unseen (like the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years).
Until we receive our resurrected, glorified bodies we will be subject to sickness and pain and death. What great opportunities there are for Christians to continue learning about how God made our bodies to work, how our bodies and souls belong together, and how to help one another glorify God in sickness or in health.