(My summary of first chapter of book by Franklin Ed. Payne, MD, titled “Biblical Healing for Modern Medicine”)
Considering James 5:14-16, first century Christians had minimal healthcare except the anointing of oil by their elders. This might cause us to pity their plight. We could then finish reading the Bible and consider that not once is a cure by a physician ever described. Instead, we hear mainly of physicians’ failures for both kings and poor women. This might depress a physician like myself or discourage those who are ill today. We might want to dismiss and avoid modern medicine all together. The correct response is different. We should first understand health Biblically and then incorporate modern medicine into that foundation rather than vice-versa.
Understanding health Biblically requires recognition of human beings as both body and soul, physical and spiritual. Without entering the soul versus spirit debate, we can all agree that man is made of both aspects. I Timothy 4:8 then makes clear that our spiritual health is a higher priority. Sickness began in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Our true wholistic health begins with a right relationship with God. Wholeness requires not just physical health, but spiritual health as well.
Does this mean that once someone becomes a Christian, they are freed from illness? No, although all sickness traces back to the Fall, not all illness today is a direct consequence of sin. In John 9:1-3, Jesus responded to his disciples’ question about who sinned, the blind man before them or his parents. Jesus said neither, but that God’s glory might be revealed. This statement negates the possibility that we can blame all sickness on someone’s sin. Even in the James 5 passage earlier, it says “if he (the ill person) has sinned”, not that the ill have always sinned in a way leading to their illness. In my years of medicine, I know many Christians who suffered greatly and ministered to others mightily in that suffering. Additionally, missionaries have for centuries endured harm to their physical health for the sake of obedience and spiritual health.
On the other hand, there are many instances in which sin can be discovered at the root of illness. Alcoholism often leads to liver disease and cancer. Sexually transmitted diseases abound in our society due to immorality. Many deaths and injuries result yearly from drunk driving. There are also less obvious sources of illness resulting from sin. Undisciplined lives which strive after things of the world accumulate stress, leading to heart disease, depression, ulcers, and more. False idols and ignoring of Sabbath rests produce destructive fruits in regards to our health.
Christian physicians must begin with a Biblical understanding of health. Then they must approach their patients attempting to discern what roles the physical and the spiritual play in the person’s presenting illness. Finally, while keeping in mind that God is the ultimate source of all healing and comfort, they must apply both spiritual and physical remedies to the wounded and ill before them.