Christian Thinking Regarding Medical Care and the Need for Respect when Opinions Differ: Part 2

Christian Thinking Regarding Medical Care and the Need for Respect when Opinions Differ: Part 2

by Dave Lutz

Some basic elements of caring for our bodies.

  There are a few basic ways we are to take care of our bodies.  These would include making wise choices concerning nutrition, activity and rest.  What we eat, how much and when.  What activities we pursue, how much and when.  The body is designed by God to function best when it’s regularly active; it responds well to healthy activity, and a healthy amount of it.  Prolonged inactivity causes us to become debilitated with all sorts of consequences (hence the expression, “use it or lose it”). 

  And clearly our bodies need rest.  Obviously, there’s also a right and healthy dosage of rest; too little or too much will create problems for us.  Sleep itself is a good gift from God (Ps. 127:2; 4:8), but Scripture also warns of the excessive sleep or rest of laziness (Proverbs 20:13; 24:30-34). Over our lifetime, we seem to get plenty of practice figuring this out, and we also get practice making modifications to different seasons of life.  

  There’s also an issue of timing when we think of rest.  God may have things for us to do with an urgency, when physical rest won’t be a priority for a certain time (see 2 Cor. 11:27).  Other times, we may need to emphasize rest with some intention for a while (think of someone taking a “sabbatical”).

   So, nutrition, activity and rest. Tending to these basic ways of caring for our bodies (and tending to our spiritual health, remembering the connection between physical and spiritual) goes a long way in helping us to function well and carry out the work that God has for us to do.  But even if we are in the habit of caring well for our bodies, in this fallen world we can still find ourselves entering into any number of physical health problems.  When such times occur, how do we proceed?

  Do we need a remedy?

  Some, perhaps most, of our health problems will be fairly inconsequential and temporary; others will be more consequential and longer lasting.  Some may lead to physical death.  Some problems have a significant effect on our ability to function, and some problems if not addressed will likely become worse over time.  Those two factors are typically when we sense a need to pursue a remedy, some treatment to bring correction.

  Wisdom and discernment.

  When we do experience a physical health problem, we need wisdom as to how to proceed.  As we just noted, often the first question becomes, “Do I need to do anything about this?”.  Many problems, like a simple cold or a scrape on the knee, resolve clearly over time without much in the way of treatment.  

  Any parent deals with this on a regular basis.  It seems that the more mobile a young child becomes, the more he or she becomes subject to a slew of injuries.  Bumps, bruises, scrapes. Tears flow, ice often helps (and maybe a favorite toy).  Thankfully, it seems that God makes children both cute AND durable. Most of their bodily issues will not require a trip to an emergency department.

  Such is also the case for us adults.  God has made us in such a way that our bodies have built-in mechanisms for healing and repair.  We have circulatory and immune systems designed especially for that purpose, interacting with our brain and other bodily systems in a complex array of healing mechanisms.  Many of our physical problems simply heal on their own over time, some requiring extra rest, good nutrition, and perhaps activity modification.  

  But we may find ourselves having some physical problems that clearly need some type of medical care beyond what we can do ourselves.  Some symptoms set off alarms for us, suggesting an urgency to take some action. Sometimes the remedy is clear, such as when a fall causes a fractured femur near the hip, requiring surgery to stabilize.  Other times, the problem is not so clear.

  Indeed, some medical problems are difficult to diagnose, or may take a long time to diagnose with accuracy.  Sometimes a precise diagnosis remains elusive.  Medicine is not an exact science--it’s not like math (even though it uses math); that’s why it’s called a “practice”.  This is in part because the body is so very complex.  Even with all our current knowledge, we haven’t gotten to the bottom of how everything in our body works and interacts. We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

  But with what we DO know, from millenia of human experience and learning, we need wisdom as to how to apply when a remedy is needed.

  Before going further, it needs to be pointed out that not every medical problem can be resolved; some problems just will not be subject to being fixed or cured.  The best medical providers know that.  As difficult as that is to think about, that’s where we as Christians need to lean hard on the sovereignty and goodness of God.  More on that later; for now let’s go back to thinking about wisdom.

  The Bible speaks of the high value of wisdom, and encourages us to seek it, not only for medical care but for all of life. The book of Proverbs in particular has a lot to say about how we are to pursue wisdom. Consider the following:

  Proverbs 14:15 “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.”

  12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”

  19:20, “LIsten to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future”.

  11:14b, “ an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

  These and other passages teach us the value of looking to others for wisdom and help when we need advice and guidance.  Certainly that relates to times when we or people we care for are in need of help to deal with various physical problems.  That brings up the question, who do we go to?

  Assessing our options.

  We start with prayer, and wisdom itself is a great thing to ask God for.  Consider James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

  We need wisdom even when thinking about who to go to for advice and help.

  Discernment is a term related to wisdom. Discernment is needed to exercise good judgment as we look to select among alternatives; we discern that this is better than that. Related to medical care, we may talk with others, look at the options available to us  and discern that care from this person or institution, or perhaps this product, is the best way to alleviate our problem.  Or we might decide to pursue one option, and later if needed go to a second option. Wisdom may generate a plan with contingencies.

  Several factors will affect the options we have to consider for healthcare.  These include our past experience or the experience of others we know, healthcare providers that we have available to us (and their training and experience), information and facilities available to us, our financial status, etc.  Normally in time a good option makes itself known. 

  Medical care is part of God’s “common” grace. 

  As we’ve noted before, we live in a time when we’ve seen huge advances in medical care.  We may take for granted the fact that we don’t need to think a lot about diseases like tuberculosis, smallpox, or polio, and we don’t consider it a big news story when someone receives a major organ transplant. It’s not uncommon today to see a person successfully treated for a condition that just 20 years ago was considered not treatable.  

  Effective medical care, with the progression of medical expertise over time,  is part of what theologians refer to as God’s “common grace”; called “common” because of its availability to people generally, believers and unbelievers.  God created us human beings with minds that are able to discover things about His creation, including our bodies; and over time we’ve come to understand how a lot of things work.  It’s not an accident that people over the centuries have come up with effective ways to treat various bodily problems and diseases. In His providence God has brought that about as a gracious gift to people. And just as God sends sunshine and rain on people who reject Him as well as people who love Him, so too medical care has progressed and is available to people generally. It’s part of His common grace.

  It’s probably also good to point out that although medical care has progressed over time, by no means do medical professionals have all of the answers to the problems they’re asked to address.  There are times when even the best providers get it wrong, and there are occasions when mistakes are made.  Medical care, provided by fallible human beings with finite minds, is by no means infallible.  Still, it’s not hard to find plenty of reasons to thank God for medical care. 

  Searching for answers; where do we go?

  As we noted, medical care is in some respects not an exact science, and some problems prove difficult to diagnose and treat.  A person may obtain advice from different people,  perhaps including some highly trained medical providers, and end up with some highly educated best guesses or opinions, without a lot of certainty. 

  We often consider it wise to obtain a “second opinion”, especially in situations where the problem or the solution is not clear, or where a proposed remedy carries a risk for further or even more serious problems (like death).  Again, we think of Proverbs and safety in an abundance of counselors.

  For problems that don’t appear urgent, It may help to take more time, pray, and perhaps seek further advice as to where to go to address the problem.  When problems are urgent, we may not have that luxury. Again, wisdom is needed. 

  It is interesting how our options for treating our physical problems have progressed over time, as well as how they have multiplied.  In recent decades we’ve seen the rise of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (or “CAM”) as well as Naturopathic Medicine.

  Within CAM we find care that is meant to complement, or provide an alternative to, traditional medical care.  Examples include aromatherapy, acupuncture, some chiropractic care, meditation (with a recent focus on “mindfulness”), herbalism and reflexology (involving pressure to specific points on the feet or hands).  Some might distinguish complementary medicine from alternative medicine, in that one is intended as a compliment to traditional medical care whereas the other is intended to be a totally separate alternative (for example, a special diet to treat cancer instead of a recommended surgery).

  Some might consider naturopathic medicine in the category of CAM, or it may be viewed as its own entity. Naturopathy aims to use natural remedies to facilitate the body’s own processes to heal itself (hence the name). Some within this field recommend against traditional medical care, even care that is supported by high quality research.

  Some of the remedies from CAM and naturopathy can be highly effective to treat a number of physical ailments.  Some have been used for a long time and some are fairly new (it might help to remember that at one time, every medical treatment was new).

   Unfortunately we may also find from these areas certain fads that don’t end up lasting over time because their outcomes don’t match their claims, as well as sometimes bizarre treatments based on testimonials that do not have the benefit of high quality research (which requires an adequate sample size, and controls to factor out a “placebo” effect).  It is beyond the scope of this article to assess all of the treatments one may find in CAM and Naturopathy.  Suffice it to say again, wisdom and discernment are needed as we consider options.

  It may help to think for a moment about wisdom as it applies to gathering information about healthcare in our information-rich age. 

  Our digital information technology is in many ways a great gift.  I’m writing this article on a computer, and I’ve done several internet searches to find information to include. I’ve found that I don’t need a Bible concordance anymore (the physical book version), as I can quickly speak a few words of a Bible verse into my phone and obtain the correct reference instantly.  Pick a topic, and it seems we have access to all sorts of wonderful information.

  Unfortunately, not all of that information is accurate.  The truth is, there is a LOT of bad information available to us on the internet.  And the false, inaccurate information does not come with a label identifying it as such.

  For example, if we find someone stating categorically that people should never seek traditional medical care from a medical provider, we can discern that that’s bad information.  It will not take a long look into such a pronouncement to see that it is based on faulty reasoning; it is simply not sound.  Nor is it safe.  Unfortunately there have been a number of cases where people have purposely avoided medical care despite all indications that it would have been helpful, resulting in very sad endings.  So if someone tells you to stay away from any hospital or any medical provider, watch out. Be discerning.  Beware of such absolute, categorical statements typically made by someone lacking any true expertise.  

  Or again, if we come across someone on the internet making the claim that all you need to do to cure any of your physical problems is to add more blueberries to your diet, well that’s just bad information (no offense to blueberries), and we don’t have to buy it.

  So, as we go online to consider ways to care for our particular problem, we need to be discerning.  Earlier we mentioned Proverbs 14:15, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.”  And again, wisdom would have us enlist the help of others (including and especially people who have been trained to understand and successfully treat problems like we’re experiencing) who can bring their experience to bear on the situation.