Does Medicine “Heal”?

Several terms are bantered about in the field of medicine regarding what medical professionals do for their patients: cure, heal, rehabilitate, relieve, manage, prevent, and a few others. These all portray the best of medicine, that which returns a person to health or prevents their ever leaving a state of health. But… when we examine what really happens in healthcare, does medicine or its professionals really do the work or just assist?

In reality, medicine only postpones the inevitable consequence of living as sinners in a sinful world – death. Whatever cure it offers and whatever healing it confers are only temporary and limited. They delay the body’s ultimate demise. Christians can all agree to that. Accepting this limitation, medicine could be credited with much good in our bodies in fighting the ravages of sin in the physical realm. Antibiotics kill infections. Insulin enables diabetics to stay alive. Ace-inhibitors and Beta Blockers reduce the effects of a heart attack. Chemotherapy fights cancer, preventing its conquest of our bodies.

But my question stands its ground… Does medicine heal? I say “NO”. Lets look at a few of the examples above to see why I answer so dogmatically. First, let us consider insulin for diabetes. Prior to the discovery and application of insulin to patients with dangerously elevated blood sugar levels, these patients lived a much shortened and difficult life. No one can deny the great benefit of insulin, but this is not a cure or healing. The patient is dependent on insulin being given in a shot several times a day. Diabetes is just managed, but not really healed to a state where the patient no longer needs the medicine. Beyond that, insulin is dependent on other parts of our “fearfully and wonderfully” designed body system to work. Insulin must attach to receptors on cells to trigger the uptake of sugar from the blood into the cells. Without that, insulin does nothing. Exquisitely complex systems, designed by an amazing Creator are needed to finish the task.

You may ask, “what about antibiotics for infections?” Don’t antibiotics cure pneumonia, cellulitis, and other nasty, life threatening infections? Well, not really. They can even the playing field for our intricately designed immune system to win the battle against bacteria and other invaders. Antibiotics typically kill a percentage the invader with each course. Maybe you start with 1 million bacteria and the drug kills 90%, leaving 100 thousand. Sounds like a good start, but the bacteria can double in number up to every 20 minutes. They could be back to over 1 million in a few hours. Meanwhile our immune system is sending antibodies and white cells to kill and destroy the invaders. Often our system fights off an infection without any help from antibiotics, but sometimes big infections overwhelm it. Antibiotics level the playing field so that God’s wonderful immune system can do its job a little easier. Again, antibiotics are just helpers, but never complete the “healing”.

Those who have experienced the deep fear of a heart attack are quick to take any medication which will prevent another episode. ACE-inhibitors, Beta-blockers, and several other drugs are prescribed by physicians like myself to these patients hoping to do just this. Can these medicines restore a heart to its prior state of health? No. They slow the progression of blockages in the heart blood vessels which are needed to pump blood to the heart’s muscle. They even take some “pressure” off the heart to allow it to “remodel” correctly, or strengthen its ability to pump blood. They do not heal though. The body’s ability to turn damaged heart muscle back into working heart muscle depends on God’s design, not man’s medicines. God has allowed us insight into this amazing process, but it is still His design and His work.

Maybe chemotherapy heals since it kills cancer cells and tumors, saving lives? Chemotherapy still can’t get the credit. Similar to infections and antibiotics, our bodies are constantly keeping an eye out for cells who go to the dark side and start growing as cancer. Our immune systems kill these mutated cells before they get out of hand, most of the time. When the cancer cells get too far ahead, tumors grow and medicine finds them. Chemotherapy again levels the playing field so that our own body can catch up and destroy that which is mutated.

In contrast, Jesus truly healed. When he restored sight, his patient didn’t need to come back the next day for another round of therapy. When the man with the withered hand extended his hand, it was restored without a need for more physical therapy. When Jairus’ daughter awoke from death, she didn’t need a respirator or a heart bypass. More importantly, when Jesus saves, our physical bodies receive a guarantee that the world’s best medical systems can never offer, immortality without disease in a New Heavens and on a New Earth. Medicine can never heal like this and even in what it can do, it relies on the “fearfully and wonderfully” made complex design of God to complete its limited task. Therefore, Soli Deo Gloria.

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