THE LORD OUR HEALER
There is in Scripture a hard word about our doctors, and that written by a doctor himself.
You remember that Luke the Evangelist was a physician by profession. And yet of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, he did not hesitate to write this brief historia morbi.* She was a woman, who had had an issue of blood twelve years; who for the sake of recovery had spent all her living upon physicians; and who yet could not be healed of any (Luke 8, 43).
Mark, who was no doctor, lifts the veil yet a little higher, and in chapter 5, 26 adds not only that she had spent all she had upon physicians, but that instead of having her bitter ailment grow better, it had become still worse. For so it literally reads, that she was a woman, “who had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.”
For our physicians these are hard, but nevertheless excellent words; which are well adapted to attune a doctor who lives by God and His Word to modesty and pity. For what is here written, still occurs. There are still sick people, who have spent a great deal upon physicians, without avail, and with whom, in spite of the pains they have suffered, things have not become better but worse.
Time and again our physicians stand helpless over against much suffering and mortal danger.
The mysterious plague influenza, prevalent in our times, shows it anew. They conjecture, they experiment, but in reality they face a mystery.
There is no disgrace in this, neither does it lessen our appreciation of their ability when they do heal. But there is an admonition in it for all physicians, not to think too highly of their art; and likewise an admonition for all sufferers not to esteem their doctor as a god who has their healing in his hand.
And this admonition is far from superfluous. Time and again you see physicians, and professors of medicine, and medical councils appear with an authority, and hear them speak in a dogmatic tone, as though their insight were infallible and their medicine all-powerful.
They talk of an “official science” and call in the strong arm of the law, to impose it upon you.
They open their hospitals as some kind of temple, from whence a speech goes forth, as though there alone salvation were to be found.
And when they enter the house of the sick. you hear them not infrequently speak in a tone as though the life of the sufferer were not in God’s power, but in their hand.
And so among our physicians almost nothing is observed of the sense of their deep dependence upon God the Lord. Even among the sufferers you find but a few who, in their sickness, really trust in God and see nothing in their physician save an instrument in God’s hand.
Especially they who have money, and thereby can obtain the help of the foremost physicians and professors, or go to bathing places and softer climates, are for the most part so strongly under the impression that a doctor can and must heal everything, that in their physician they see a sort of god, and are angry with their doctor when the ailment does not abate.
When not so long ago the report went abroad, that a certain Dr. Koch at Berlin had discovered a medicine for the cure of consumption, he was literally deified. Deified by consumptives who by train-loads steamed to Berlin, and deified by the Government, which already made preparations to introduce a second sort of vaccination.
The sick do not think of God, but expect all their help from physicians, and these are they, who by their unbelief encourage doctors to behave themselves as demigods.
And even confessors of Christ, by no means so very rarely, take part in this infidel-like worship of the doctor.
Shall the medical profession on this account be condemned, and shall we, as some have tried, practice healing without physicians, by laying on of hands, by anointing or by prayer?
Jesus says otherwise. His saying was: “They that be sick have need of the physician.”
Moreover, the appearance of Christ brought a gift of God into the world. In the world without Christ the art of healing is still very backward. See it in parts of Africa and elsewhere. And it may safely be said that had not Christ come, the art of healing would never have become what it now is.
Very great therefore is the gift which from Divine compassion has been given to many nations, in the now so richly developed science of medicine, for the alleviation of much suffering.
To underestimate that gift would not be honouring God, but a falling short in that thankfulness which we owe God. But as bread cannot feed you if God does not bless it to you, medicine cannot avail you unless God the Lord directs the physician and blesses the medicine. And where this simple, childlike truth is lost from sight by physician and by patient, “the gift of God” is used against God and to rid oneself of Him instead of to His glory.
Do not complain therefore exclusively about the impiety of our physicians, however much ground there may be for complaint about the materialism of very many of them. You can never take away the fact, that by their unbelief the patients have made physicians as unbelieving as they are.
Our physicians go from one sick-bed to another. If they found their patients frequently in that simple godly mood, which for the sick chamber is the best aroma, their daily presence amidst such surroundings would unobservedly affect their own mood. But this is so largely wanting. In many circles all this is passed over with a smile. Even when one is mortally ill, dying must not be mentioned in his hearing.
We are convinced that if you yourself were a doctor, and you had made your twenty or thirty visits, it would impress you how in most sick-rooms almost every expression of a more pious attitude of mind on the part of the sick and on the part of those who nurse them, is wanting.
There are even Christian homes where at other times Our Father in the heavens is regarded, but which, when the doctor comes, behave themselves, as though for the doctor’s sake, every idea that the patient is not merely a sick body, but a sick man, must carefully be suppressed.
Surely, there are also other causes; but certainly the patients share a not insignificant part in the unbelief of our physicians. If now our physicians were able to heal all diseases, there would never be any alteration in this.
When a man has the choice of taking refuge with the creature or with his God, by nature he chooses always the creature, provided that creature can help.
See it in yourself with all those sicknesses for which a sovereign remedy has been found. Then almost no one thanks his God. But since day by day there are still patients by whose bedsides physicians stand powerless so that they die; and since institutions are still crowded with incurables, and since epidemics still go around, where medical aid falls short; in that very fact, however sad, that so many cannot be cured, lies the medicine against unbelief. A very bitter medicine that, early or late, grows on the grave of every one of us.
Then it is that the pastor accompanies us to that grave, but not the physician. Simply because that pastor knows of a medicine also against death, while in the dying of his patient the physician reached the limit of his power.
But if matters are to improve in our sick-rooms, in our hospitals, upon our deathbeds and upon our graves, understand, O people of the Lord, that you first of all, and you most of all have to make an end of that barren lack of faith, wherewith times of sickness are lived through so frequently without regard to God.
Your faith must glisten royally and in Divine glory, at your sickbed again. Not merely the faith that asks for recovery from sickness and for deliverance from death, and which consequently, when recovery comes, presently bleeds to death again.
No, but above all else that pious, that tender, that heart-felt
faith, that makes one go through every sickness in company with his God, and from pain and mortal anxiety also draws gains for eternity.
In The Shadow of Death by Abraham Kuyper.
*story of her sickness