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A Christian understanding of medicine

POSTED: July 24, 2014 3:40 p.m.
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Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi

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She felt nothing but sadness, though there was little in her life to warrant such sadness. She had trouble getting out of bed, yet even when she did, she could barely muster the energy to perform even the most basic daily chores. This troubled woman — a middle-aged graduate student who came to see me years ago — was in a black hole a mile deep and could see no way out.

It didn’t take a genius to recognize she desperately needed an appointment with a physician and was likely suffering from depression. Clinical depression, untreated, can have disastrous consequences. I had the feeling she came to see me because she had strong Christian beliefs, so I figured my help would be in a religious context.

“Even as a clergyman, I know that what you are experiencing is not normal. Have you seen a doctor about this?” I asked.

“Yes, Pastor Bob, I have,” was her response. “They all want to put me on anti-depressants. And I just believe there’s something wrong with that. This is the way God made me, and I don’t think I should do that — I mean take drugs that affect my brain and all.”

Huh? It took only a moment to see that she was serious.

I countered with the obvious. “OK. But if you were born with a pancreas that couldn’t produce insulin — like a diabetic — would you take insulin provided by a doctor?”

“Well, sure, I would take insulin. I know diabetics who do.”

“And if you have a lot of cholesterol in your bloodstream and your doctor wants to give you a medication to lower it and reduce your risk of heart disease, would you take it?” I followed.

“Yes,” she replied, obviously seeing where I was going. Yet, before I could get there, she said, “But this is different.”

“How is it different, exactly?” There was a long silence. I waited.

When I realized no answer was coming, I decided to approach this from a Christian standpoint. Yes, there is religious significance here.

If you have read through the first book of the Bible you have read, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’” (Genesis 1:28)

Now that probably doesn’t stand out in your mind as scripture that might be related to this issue, but it is. Let me explain.

What we see here is that immediately following the description of the creation of the first man and woman in scripture, these persons — referred to as Adam and Eve — are told to take dominion and render judgment. They are to act as rulers over the earth.

Humans are told to take command over all creation. We see other evidence of this mandate clearly in Genesis, chapter 2 (verses 19-20), where God brings animals to Adam in order to be named. The process of naming implies dominion, authority, and control.

However, what we often do not grasp is that God, in his commandment to take dominion, is also mandating that humankind uncover, study, and explore his environment. In “ruling” the earth, we are to discover how it works — to take dominion of the world in every field and in every science. This commandment is called God’s “cultural mandate.”

We are commanded to explore the universe God created and all its wonder. And we do this through the sciences, rather well in most cases. The scientific method is not a substitute for religious truth. Rather, it uncovers and exposes the truth we find in scripture. Scientific exploration and discoveries are, therefore, God-ordained (whether the scientists themselves believed that or not, or interpreted their discoveries in that light or not).

The bottom line is this: God made medicine and doctors. God made pharmacy and pharmacists. God made all the fields of science because they are given to us as tools to accomplish his commandment of dominion and exploration. And God made all those who serve these causes; their missions are God-ordained as well.

We are to evaluate all the resources God provides us through scientific discovery and to make just decisions on the rightness or wrongness of these resources in our lives. That is where the wisdom lies. In cases like this one, for instance, sometimes it means a person might opt for medication. Other times perhaps counseling is in order. Often, both are necessary. However, no resource provided through scientific discovery should ever be written off wholesale as being against God.

It drives me crazy to hear of Christians who purposefully separate themselves from science and medicine, believing it means they are trusting in something other than God.

When you get sick, pray. Then, go see a doctor. Maybe that doctor and that medication is God’s answer to your prayer.

Sure, when it comes to medications, we all know those who are probably taking too many drugs, and those — even some children — who are relying on medication to try to deal with other issues. But, that is a problem not related to the worth of the medication or the science behind it.

I explained these ideas to this poor woman, who was suffering. She did seek medical attention and changed her mind about using the best science can offer – even psychiatric medications. Now, she is successfully managing her depression with the help of her physician, pharmacist, counselor and pastor.

The thanks go to God, who made the universe and everything in it. And a high-five to her pharmacist as well.

The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield, Ga.

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