Consider these 10 facets of the biblical witness:
1. Doctoring is biblical. Jesus honored the medical profession by calling Himself the Great Physician and by inspiring a doctor, Luke, to write much of the New Testament (Luke and Acts). Illness is real and there are physical resources for dealing with it.
2. God has graciously placed medical resources in nature. Proverbs 31:6 and 1 Timothy 5:23 speak, respectively, of alcohol as sedative and palliative. These passages anticipate a range of medications available for such purposes, from anesthesia to antibiotics (e.g., aspirin from willow bark and penicillin from mold).
3. Healing was a sign of Jesus' power and compassion. The Gospels are full of healing accounts, from blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10 to the centurion's servant in Matthew 8. And the prophets continually pressed their hearers to care for genuine victims of circumstance and oppression. Following His example and infused by His Spirit, Christians have been at the forefront of the healing arts throughout church history.
4. Primary responsibility lies with the individual and the family. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul says, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat," and in 1 Timothy 5:8, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." By extension, basic coverage for life's essentials begins at home, and we should not burden others unless we can't help it.
5. We are to be stewards of our health. In this connection, 1 Corinthians 6 teaches that our bodies should be regarded as temples of the Holy Spirit; Proverbs 23 tells us to "put a knife to our throats" if we tend toward gluttony. Though genes and physical circumstances have much to do with our health, much of it is still under our control.
6. The Bible commends prayer for the sick. James 5 directs those who are ailing to call on the church for intercession. And yes, miracles can happen.
7. Worry is a sin. While careful stewardship of our bodies is our responsibility, anxiety over potential lapses and shortfalls in care should not cripple us. Jesus reminds us of provision for "birds of the air" and "lilies of the field" in Matthew 6, and asks, rhetorically in Luke 12, who can add a day to his life by worry. Furthermore, Paul posts the antidote to anxiety in Philippians 4: prayer saturated with thanksgiving.
8. We're all dying. This has been the case since Adam's fall, in Genesis 3, where God said that Adam and his offspring would return "to the dust." In that sense, medicine is fighting a losing battle, and to presume to eliminate all maladies would be to emulate King Canute, who parked his throne on the seashore and then commanded the tide not to invade his land.
10. Those in Christ will inherit eternal health. As it says of the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain." This is the real, extended health care plan.
This column first appeared at the blog of BibleMesh, a website that teaches the Bible as a unified story pointing to Christ (online at www.biblemesh.com/blog). Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville extension center for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
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