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Heal Me—Body, Mind, and Soul

Mar 10 2014
Our need for a more robust Christian theology of medicine.

During the several years I suffered from chronic ankle pain, I tried almost everything – orthopedic doctors, chiropractors, physical therapy, nutritionists, healing prayer, herbalists, traditional Chinese medicine, and more. Like the people described in Candy Gunther Brown's book on Christians and alternative medicine, I found myself increasingly drawn to forms of alternative medicine that incorporate some element of spirituality into treatment of the body.

In her interview with CT, Brown warns that Christians who involve themselves in alternative medicine for health benefits can unwittingly immerse themselves in unwanted religious associations. Similar warnings have issued from others about the potential for practices such as yoga or acupuncture being occult or idolatrous.

These are important conversations. But they don't address the reason so many Christians are turning to these alternative treatments. Why are we so attracted to yoga, acupuncture, and the like? As people of faith, we recognize that we are multidimensional beings. We know that we are more than just a body, but exist as bodies, minds, and spirits, and all parts of us need attention.

Conventional Western medicine fails miserably at considering this holistic view. So engrossed with what can be numerically measured and scientifically proven, it often neglects the human spirit, treating patients as bundles of body parts and malfunctioning cells sitting in an isolated exam room. To be sure, there are individual doctors whose compassion and care challenge the system, but as a whole the system leaves little room for the time and heart it takes to treat patients holistically.

There is no doubt that the advances of modern medicine have vastly improved our quality of life and life span. I worry, however,that Western medicine itself can become idolatrous if it causes us to rely solely on scientific certainty and our own ability to master the human body instead of humbly admitting that we don't know and can't fix everything.

Many Christian responses to physical maladies are equally unsatisfying. In my own experience, when Christians come up against untreatable ailments and our prayers for healing go unanswered, we tend to chalk it up to some kind of spiritual deficiency. "Are you harboring unforgiveness?" one prayer minister asked me when I told her about my unresolved chronic pain issues.

It's true that our spiritual and emotional conditions affect our bodies, and it's a step in the right direction to realize these associations. When carried too far, though, we can end up spiritualizing everything, neglecting the real need to treat our bodies. The recent death of a second child due to one faith-healing couple's refusal to seek medical treatment is an extreme example of this.

Related Topics:Medicine and Health; Yoga

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