To hear and be healed

They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those troubled by evil spirits were healed. Luke 6:18

Healing and deliverance
Why are people drawn to Jesus? This verse answers that question and in so doing says something about human need. We long to hear Jesus because we need an explanation, we desire to understand the world we live in. We long for healing because we are afflicted by every kind of sickness, of the mind and the body.

What does it mean, to be troubled by evil spirits? We understand “disease” – usually thinking of it as sickness of the body. But even now, thousands of years later, sickness of the spirit is hard for us. There seems to be so much more moral judgement associated with sickness of the spirit. As if sickness of the body is something we fall victim to, while sickness of the spirit is somehow our fault, a sign of weakness, or failure.

Oddly enough, this was perhaps not the way people thought of spiritual (or psychological or emotional) sickness back in Jesus’ day. Then there was much more talk of demons – evil spirits – than there is today, at least in the Western world. And people seemed to fall victim to demon possession in much the same way as they fell victim to physical illness: often without explanation. Not only that, they seemed equally powerless to free themselves of demons as they were to heal themselves of disease.

I have often wondered if what people of those days thought of as demon possession is what we think of nowadays as psychiatric illness, ranging from depression to psychosis. Whether it was or not, there seem to be a notable lack of judgement of the victims of either physical or non physical illness in the New Testament. Sometimes they were seen as the result of sin – but everyone was sinful and only some people ended up sick. Why? Both were things that oppressed them, and both were things from which they longed for freedom. Freedom to live healthy, happy lives.

Jesus healed them them of their diseases, and delivered them from their evil spirits. Is there any wonder that crowds flocked to him?

A different worldview
The understanding of things in Jesus’ time was very much bound up in a supernatural world view, a spiritual worldview. Everything was connected – body, mind and spirit. What could be seen and touched and measured was not regarded as the sum total of reality. The devil – Satan – was regarded as a real person, a fallen angel, who had set himself up in opposition to God. Angels were regarded as real, spiritual beings that sometimes appeared in physical form, and which sometimes interacted with people in one way or another. Evil spirits – demons – were also seen to be a real part of the fabric of life, a force opposing God and all the good things that he intended for humanity, a force aimed as separating people from God and from each other. Such demons could enter and possess people, with profound and unpleasant effects on their wellbeing.

The modern, scientific, rationalistic mindset that most of us have grown up with is very different to this. We have come a long way in understanding and responding to both physical and psychological illness. Although if the truth be told, our understanding is still limited to mechanisms rather than underlying causes. We can explain how a bacteria or a cancer invades the body, but we don’t undertand why. We have notions of the biochemical changes that occur in the brains of depressed or psychotic persons, but what lies behind those biochemical changes, what causes them in some people, remains a mystery to us.

Perhaps that is where a spiritual worldview is still needed, as much as the atheists believe it isn’t. It helps us understand the causes, not just the mechanics. Of course, as Christians we don’t think of a spiritual worldview as simply something that is needed, but as something that is true. But that is a faith statement. We can’t prove a spiritual reality, because proof in our age is largely understood to be something that can be seen, touched and measured. But neither can anyone disprove a spiritual reality.

Of course, many traditional cultures around the world have not turned their backs on the supernatural or the spiritual. Even in the modern Western world there is a deep longing for such things, as seen in the growing “New Age” movement, not to mention people’s fascination with the supernatural in fictionalised forms: popular movies, books and art. Some have tried to dismiss such longings as chemical reactions in the brain, but why should such chemical reactions happen? Could not people’s intuition that there is something beyond the visible be just because there is something beyond the visible?

Being a Christian doctor
For ordinary people, doctors seem to play a similar role in modern society to that which Jesus played in Israel 2000 years ago. People come to the doctor to be healed of their diseases, and the “evil spirits” that trouble them. But they also come to hear what doctor’s have to say, to hear the doctor’s explanation, interpretation of things, just as people came to “hear Jesus”. We are modern day healers, but another of our roles as doctors is to explain to people why things are the way they are, to interpret events – usually sickness or sadness – for those afflicted. Another part of our role is to give advice about lifestyle in order for people to experience the healthy, happy lives they desire.

The passage that follows the verse quoted above contains Jesus’ teaching on these things, Jesus’ advice about how to live a healthy happy life. It begins with the so called Beatitudes and continues through a series of radical ideas about how we should live our lives. Not many doctors I know use Jesus’ teachings as the basis for the advice they offer patients. But perhaps as doctors who follow Jesus, that should be foundational for us.

How can we as Christian doctors model our advice and our healing on that of Jesus? Few of us have the gift of miraculous healing. Few of us have the wisdom of Jesus. But we can study and seek to apply Jesus’ teaching to all that we say and do.

Jesus’ teaching was based on a worldview and value system which he called the “Kingdom of Heaven.” It is that worldview that he begins to teach in the passage that follows this verse. When he taught it he claimed to be speaking the words of God. The teachings were based on his understanding of the deepest reality and revelation of that to him by the Creator of the Universe. Jesus claimed direct access to that Creator. He claimed oneness with the Source.

As Christian doctors we need to base our healing and our teaching (the understanding and advice we offer) on this very same “Kingdom of Heaven” that Jesus taught. In much of the Western world it is frowned upon to speak to patients of our own personal faith. It is seen as unprofessional. But if we believe the teachings of Jesus to be universally true and applicable to all, regardless of their faith or lack of it, then we can pass on those teachings without demanding that people follow Jesus or put their faith in him. Much of what Jesus suggested is difficult, some would say impossible, unless a person has faith in Jesus and the power of God in them. But that doesn’t stop us from sharing with people the wisdom of God, even if we never challenge them with believing in God.

People were drawn to Jesus because he healed and delivered. They were also drawn to him because he seemed to understand the way things were. His ideas about how to live were radically different to the verbally accepted wisdom. We need to be unafraid to offer the same ideas to a thirsty world.

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