Angry about illness

Luke 4:38-39 NIV
Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

Recently I got sick for the first time in years. It was a strange illness, with basically three symptoms: headache, body ache, and fever. Though the weather was warm I would suddenly feel cold and start shivering. I had pain all over, and I would wake up at night with my head exploding. I have never had malaria but it felt like what I imagine malaria would feel. However, we had not been in a malarial area, and it seemed unlikely.

I ended up seeing a few different doctors – my colleagues. I had a battery of tests. But apart from confirming a high fever, and getting non-specific results consistent with a significant infection, the tests were negative. The cause could not be found. It was, as doctors say so often, some kind of virus, and it would get better by itself. Three weeks later I am still tired, I still get headaches at the end of the day, but the fever, thankfully, has gone.

Natural healing

It got better by itself. My recovery has been of the natural kind. The treatment I have received has been pain relieving and fever reducing medication. But the healing process has been the result of the natural defense mechanisms built into my body, not the treatment I received. Modern scientific doctors say this is the result of millions of years of evolution. I say it is the result of a brilliant and caring God’s incredible design and engineering.

Fever is a sign of illness, usually infective. Not all infections get better naturally. Infectious disease still causes millions of deaths every year worldwide. In the last hundred years the discovery of antibiotics – substances that kill infectious organisms – has saved millions of lives. This is what I call assisted natural healing and is what we doctors concern ourselves with most of the time. What we do is intervene to either help natural healing processes or hinder natural disease processes in the body.

This of course requires an extensive knowledge of nature – how the body works and how the processes that occur in the body can be manipulated. Our knowledge of these things – which embodies the “study of medicine” – and our ability to select and provide the right intervention (the “practice of medicine”) is the service that we provide to our patients. Equally important is the ability to discern wrong interventions that patients may feel inclined to implement, which seem to exist in abundance these days and which are readily available to the unsuspecting thanks to a global information and marketing system called the Internet.

Another kind of healing

But there is a third kind of healing, and that is what we see in action here in this account of Simon’s mother. It is supernatural healing, healing that bypasses natural processes altogether, and restores health in an instant. This was the kind of healing process that Jesus employed. Its instantaneous effect places its outside the realm of natural healing, and the lack of any treatment intervention places it in a different category to assisted natural healing. It is what we call miraculous.

Modern doctors generally don’t believe in miraculous healing, even though most doctors at some stage in their careers observe patients who get better inexplicably, against expectation. Christian doctors who believe in such things are seen as being a best a bit odd, at worst downright dangerous. Modern medical ethics tends to prohibit doctors from promoting or dabbling in the supernatural. It is seen as highly inappropriate, especially if it is connected to religious belief of any kind, and is enough to motivate de-registration, the cancellation of the right to practice medicine.

How is the Christian doctor to respond to this situation? What are we to do, caught as we are between two worlds? I can’t say I have any easy answers, but I hope to gain insight as I study the writings of Luke, and the life of Jesus.

Rebuking a fever?

What can we learn from Luke’s first story of individual healing, of Simon’s fever stricken mother? I think the answer lies in the word “rebuke,” a curious response by Jesus to a fever. It almost seems that Jesus regarded the fever as a person who had offended him in some way. We don’t generally rebuke symptoms of disease. We attempt to remove them or relieve them, but we don’t rebuke them.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines rebuke as to express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions. Jesus rebuked the fever. The effect was that the fever disappeared. Was it Jesus’ disapproval or criticism that banished it? Here was a miracle if ever there was one. Once again we see that the power of Jesus was conveyed in his words, words in this case of “sharp disapproval or criticism.”

I am not suggesting that we should start speaking to people’s symptoms. But the attitude of Jesus is something we can learn from. He expressed “sharp disapproval and criticism” toward this illness. He was angry at the illness. He did not counsel acceptance of the situation. He was not a fatalist. And he used the power at his disposal to get rid of it.

Our words may not have the same supernatural power as those of Jesus, but what we say and how we say it is important in the healing process, something we should never underestimate. And we do have our medicines and treatments, and we should never be content with fatalistic acceptance. We should be angry at disease, and we should do everything in our power to dismiss – remove or relieve – the cause of a person’s suffering. Disease is, in a sense, the enemy, and we should, like Jesus, use every weapon at our disposal to fight against it.

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