On Faith and Healthcare.

In the first of a series, Derek reflects on the issues of God, faith and healthcare.

So there I was, yesterday morning, sitting in the Accident & Emergency centre of the Mater hospital in Belfast with not one but two broken toes on my right foot.

I knew about the big toe being broken, although I couldn’t feel any pain, because my big toe was pivoted about the joint at an angle of about 60 degrees from looking forward.

That is not normally how it sits – usually straight out at zero degrees – but yesterday was an exception.

My other toe that was also broken I didn’t know about.

Let’s get one question out of the way – why could I not feel any pain? Two words – peripheral neuropathy and this is further complicated by a condition known as spinal stenosis.

Earlier that morning I got up and went to the bathroom to do bathroomy stuff. Now you gotta understand that having peripheral neuropathy means in practice that I have balance issues and am in constant danger of falling or tripping with all the consequences that that entails.

And guess what?

Yup – forward and down I went, headlong onto the side of the bath. What had happened? Well, there is irony in what I’m about to tell you because I tripped over the metal leg of a toilet-seat frame – an aid designed to help me lower and raise myself on the toilet and which was kindly supplied by our ( NHS ) public health system.

Wow, didn’t see that one coming, eh!?

Anyway – normal plans on hold – off to hospital. It hasn’t been my first occasion to visit our health professionals – in any year, on average, I will need to engage their services about twenty to thirty times with one thing or another.

( And no – I am definitely NOT a hypochondriac!! )

But I digress. On the subject of healing, I am accutely aware of the diversity of opinion in Christian circles as to what constitutes healing from God. Some believers adhere to the position that in order to be healed one must walk up ( or even better – be assisted! ) to the front of a church, in full view of an anticipation-charged congregation and have hands laid upon you by a mighty servant of God who dramatically prays over you.

One is then expected to swoon and collapse into the arms of a waiting church official and either be laid on the floor or assisted back to your seat.

Wonderful stuff.

Another route to healing involves going by way of financial consideration. Call me cynical, but have you ever noticed how well off some Christian pastors look especially when they become media personalities? Big church… big congregation… nice suits… nice cars… nice homes… nice bank accounts…

There is no denying that some ministers of God have done and are doing extremely well financially.

I’m not saying there’s a connection, but…

Is there any evidence at all that the Lord God has any genuine input into the healing ministries of people and organisations like this? I can’t help think about the Christ who healed the sick and raised the dead and yet would not have had even a miniscule fraction of the wealth of, say, Herod the Great, Augustus Caesar or Pontious Pilate.

And why is it that when a sick person goes to a ‘laying on of hands’ that they can walk away unchanged? Is it because…

  • It’s not the will of the Lord that that individual should be healed?
  • Of ‘unconfessed sin’ in that person’s life?
  • There is something wrong with that person’s faith?
  • They haven’t prayed enough?
  • They haven’t paid enough?
  • They blame the devil?

The list goes on.

But then there are people, christians and non-christians, who go to the doctor. I am one of those. I’ll be honest – I use the doctor because healthcare is tangible – I can see what is happening, discuss things with the doctor, listen to and take their advice, physically administer the medicine. I know things are happening, progressing because I can witness it!

I also must admit at the same time that I don’t think that I have sufficient faith to go subject myself to ‘Divine or faith’ healing.

Does that make me then disobedient? Am I denying God? Am I sinning? There do exist Christians, both leaders and followers, who would go as far as to infer that if you went to a doctor with an ailment, you are committing a terrible sin of… unbelief.

After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us, in James 5:15, that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick?” So why go to a doctor when, according to one interpreration, you could heal yourself just by ‘praying in faith?’

I think that in order to give an answer that question one must first consider why healthcare professionals exist at all! Most healthcare professionals that I have spoken to have one thing in common – from an early age they knew that the wanted to devote their lives to helping the people in general and the sick in particular.

And you then have to ask yourself: “where did that desire come from?” Or even “who or what gave them this desire?”

These same individuals then submit themselves to rigorous training, sacrifice time, money, even sleep in order to fulfill their desire. They become a part of a gigantic, worldwide system of healthcare in order to practice their skills and talents and there is no denying that, with all the knowledge, talent, experience, science and equipment, modern healthcare scores some significant successes.

And I, as a recipient of that modern healthcare, am one of those.

Of course I am not completely healed of some of the more serious ailments and I doubt that I ever will be. I can live with that. But, you know, as I sat in the accident & emergency waiting area, on that Monday morning, in the Mater hospital, in Belfast, I couldn’t help reflect that I was surrounded by people whose sole purpose was to try to do their very best for me, using their hard-won training and experience and with the aid of the best science and equipment that can be afforded. And I had an even more remarkable thought: that these healthcare staff – all healthcare staff – are actually doing the Lord’s work.

And they probably don’t even realise it!

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