Christian Thinking Regarding Medical Care and the Need for Respect when Opinions Differ: Part 3

Christian Thinking Regarding Medical Care and the Need for Respect when Opinions Differ: Part 3

by Dave Lutz

When opinions and convictions contradict.

  Even after seeking advice, we can end up with differing opinions as to the best course of treatment for a particular physical problem, and those differing opinions can become strong convictions.  This can happen among members of one’s family, as well as in a church family; in both cases this may involve people who love and care a lot about the well-being of someone going through severe physical trial.  In such a time, we can become emotional about a conviction we hold, perhaps because we love the person involved and deeply want to see them get better.

  We noted earlier that we are to take care of our physical bodies, to be good stewards of our health.  So, let’s say I’ve prayed for God’s help and guidance to address my problem, and obtained advice from what I believe to be good and reputable sources.  I’ve come to a conviction as to how God would have me proceed.  But then I find that someone close to me has come to a different conviction, one that opposes mine, and they are feeling a need to press that with me.  How are we Christians to respond in that situation?  This is where the fourteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans can be most helpful. 

  Romans chapter 14 is all about differing opinions, on “disputable matters”--issues or questions not explicitly addressed in Scripture.  These are areas in which faithful Christians can come to different convictions. For example, should it matter what foods a person eats? (of importance especially in Paul’s day for Christians coming from a Jewish background), or which if any special days should be recognized?  The Apostle Paul isn’t writing here about essential truths of the Christian faith, or questions clearly answered in Scripture.  Rather he’s addressing issues in which Christians may come to different convictions (sometimes based on levels of Christian maturity) and remain in fellowship with each other. 

  In our time, we run into a number of issues we could put into this category.  Questions such as, should Christians ever drink alcohol?, should we have our kids in home school or private school or public school?, and which candidate should get my vote for President?  Again, these and other questions are not explicitly addressed in Scripture, and faithful Christians may disagree and still remain in close fellowship.

  As Paul unfolds this teaching, we see that when we think of convictions, we’re getting into matters of conscience. My conscience tells me that this is how God would have me proceed.  Romans 14 and other places make it clear that we should never violate our conscience.  Conscience is a wonderful gift from God; it guides us and warns us when we get near to sin (as pain protects us physically), and it affirms us when we’re on the right path.  

  Romans 14 also tells us that we should never lead another Christian to violate their conscience (see verses 13-15).  That holds true in cases when we think their conscience is less than fully mature, or when we think their conscience is just wrong.  Patience and love would have us want the best for that person.  To lead, or pressure, another Christian toward violating their conscience is to bring them harm; it’s clearly not the loving thing to do.  Instead, Romans 14:19 exhorts us to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

  It’s not wrong to have convictions (we’re supposed to), but Romans 14 is all about how we hold our convictions.  How does this relate to healthcare? If a person going through a medical problem has prayed, sought good advice, and comes to a conviction that a certain option is what God would have them do, then other Christians should respect their conviction, and lovingly support them through it.

  In such a case, it would be wrong for a person to actively bring pressure on someone to adopt their differing conviction, as if it’s their personal campaign to see that happen.  Christians also might be tempted to justify such an approach by seeing their conviction as more spiritual, such as a person claiming (with no way to verify), “God told me to tell you that you should pursue this treatment”.  That’s generally NOT how God works.  

  We have special revelation provided for us in the written word of God, and it is sufficient for our salvation and everything He wants us to know for life in this world, “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3; also 2 Tim. 3:16-17).   Beware of anyone claiming to have received special revelation from God to direct your medical care.

  This doesn’t mean that there’s never a right time and place to provide differing thoughts to someone about their healthcare.  Such times may arise, and expressing those thoughts may be very helpful to the person, perhaps even causing them to change their conviction.  What counts is the manner in which those thoughts are presented.  Romans 14 would have us engage people with sensitivity, respect, humility, and a non-judgmental spirit.  We’re to love the person even when we disagree with them, understanding that ultimately God is sovereign over taking them through the trial they are in.  That takes us to some concluding thoughts.

    Final thoughts on navigating physical trial, and facing death: rest, hope, pray, and lean hard on the Sovereignty and Providence of God! 

  A few final thoughts might be helpful to us as we consider how God would have us navigate through times of physical trial.

  Christians are to be a restful people (see especially Matt. 11:28-30, Hebrews 4 and many of the Psalms).  We rest in what we know about God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We rest in the knowledge that we’ve been redeemed out of our condition in sin by the work of Christ, and we look forward to our full redemption after this life, with the absence of sin and its consequences--including physical problems and death itself.  We are united to the One who conquered death, not only for Himself but for all who’ve put their trust in Him. We take great comfort in the fact that the tomb of Jesus Christ is empty.

  We Christians have an unimaginably bright future, as we have an inheritance in the Kingdom of God, as part of the family of God.  Looking to these truths has often brought great comfort for those in the midst of various trials, including those trials that lead to death. 

  The New Testament speaks of Christians encouraged to “hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18).  That’s a great way to live, isn’t it?  It’s also a great way to die. 

  The biblical meaning of “hope” is not like we commonly think of today.  Our hope is not what we would call wishful thinking, but rather a confident expectation of something certain. Hebrews 6:19 continues with this: “We have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,...”  An anchor keeps one stable, secure, even in the midst of a storm.  So we are to hold onto our hope as an anchor.   

  Another way to rest in God is to remember His goodness.  He is good, and is working all things together, even our difficult trials, for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28, etc).  Even in times when we have a hard time seeing that, we can trust that it’s true. 

  Through times of difficult physical trial, including that which will lead to our departure from this life, we rest in God as we lean hard on His sovereignty.  All we can do is all we can do; after that (and through that), we trust in Him.  God does call us to care for our bodies, to allow their function according to His will for His glory (and remembering as we’ve seen that God may be glorified even in the absence of function).  So, as we have prayed, sought advice, and pursued appropriate care, we can rest with the knowledge that God is fully in control of all that happens, including what transpires with our physical condition, and how long he will have us live in this world.  We can take comfort in the fact that we belong to Him, and He will not leave us or forsake us.

  And we rest in God as we trust in His Providence.  Even in the midst of severe physical trial, God will provide for us, as a shepherd takes care of his sheep: He is our good Shepherd (see Psalm 23 and John 10).  As believers in Jesus Christ, we know God as our Father, who provides for His children.  We have his promise on that. One of the first designations or names for God we find in the Bible is found in Genesis 22:14, “Yahwey Yireh”--the LORD will Provide.

  God provides for us in so many ways; food, shelter, families, churches, and...medical care.  Even as one nears death, medical services such as Hospice can be such a gift to us and those around us.

  How should we pray when we or someone we know is in the midst of some serious physical trial?  Looking at the model prayer that Jesus gave to us through His disciples (see Matt. 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4), we see several elements to include.  We can pray that God’s name is glorified even in the midst and outcome of what we’re going through, and we can ask that His kingdom presence is brought to bear in the situation (perhaps as a witness to others who need to embrace the gospel for salvation).  We ask for our daily needs to be met, and ask for God to bring us to a place of close fellowship with Him and people around us.  We ask that He would protect us from temptation in our response to the trial we’re in, and we can ask him to deliver us from evil, including an ultimate deliverance from the physical trial we’re in. 

  It’s right to bring our needs and requests to Him, including the request to be healed of a physical condition.  God may choose to heal us of that problem in this life, or he may choose to heal us of it in taking us to heaven.  If it is not His plan to heal us now, in this life, we pray for grace to make it to a healing in the next. (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

  Ultimately, God will heal His children completely, even though we might not know when, and how.  So we pray, “Your will be done”.  We rest in that, knowing and trusting that He will take care of us all the way through.  The LORD will provide. 

  So, after we’ve done all we know to do, we rest, and continue to pray, knowing that our good Shepherd is with us and caring for us, even in times when we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.  Prayer is a wonderful way to manage our fear and anxiety in the midst of trial (see Phil. 4:4-7).

   Some takeaways:

  1. Sin is the ultimate cause for our medical problems, and our physical death.  Christians look forward to the absence of sin after this life, and resurrection bodies fit for eternity.
  1. Our physical health is a stewardship given to us by God; as His image-bearers, we are to function in a way that brings glory to Him and blesses those around us.
  1. How we respond to our health problems matters: we need to avoid neglect, wrong expectations, and idolatry.
  1. God would have us pursue a right care for our physical bodies.
  1. We need to exercise wisdom and discernment when we need to pursue a remedy.
  1. Medical care is part of God’s common grace; we need to see it as a gift, and be thankful.
  1. We need to show grace and respect toward those who hold differing opinions when it comes to diagnosis and treatment options.
  1. Beyond pursuing medical options, Chistians are to rest, pray, and be anchored by hope.
  1. Christians need to lean on God’s sovereignty and providence, especially through physical trial and when considering death.

  One of the great things about being part of a local church is that we find examples to follow, responses to emulate.  Christian practice is not an academic exercise; it’s real life.  Right thinking (orthodoxy) leads to right practice (orthopraxy).

  I’ve recently been close to two situations of people going through rather severe physical trial.  In the case of one woman, a neurosurgical team brought correction to a serious, rapidly deteriorating spinal condition; she’s already showing signs of improvement, and her rehabilitation team is now optimistic that she will have a good recovery, but it’s been a very tough road and there’s more to go.

  In the other case, a man with widespread cancer has with treatment survived years beyond the original projection of his doctors, but has now needed to transition to Hospice care, and it appears he will not be with us much longer.  

  Both of these people are currently serving as good examples for us, in the manner in which they’re navigating their physical trial.  Both have been helped and are being helped by medical care; both are trusting in God as their ultimate help; both are praying much, with others and when they are alone; both are looking forward to heaven when there will be no more physical hardship; both have trusted in Christ for salvation and are looking forward to their full redemption after this life, whenever their life here is to end.  Both of them are leaning hard on God’s sovereignty, and His providence.  Both are resting in God, even as they’re pursuing the wise thing to do, day by day.  Thank God for good examples.

   May God help us to go through the difficulties of this life, including our physical trials, in a way that brings glory to Him.