The medical profession of today aims to be founded on science: scientific enquiry and testing is the foundation of the discipline. But at the same time, the healthcare professions have a strong foundation in Christian values, and many who have chosen healthcare as their life work have been motivated not primarily by a commitment to science, but by a commitment to people, the same commitment that Jesus demonstrated 2000 years ago during his short sojourn on earth. Health care practitioners are motivated by many things, but for many the primary motivation is following the example of Jesus, who they see as their role model and their inspiration. For some, their work is an expression of their commitment to Jesus the person, an expression of their desire not just to be like him (in the sense of “hero worship”), but also to be an expression of Jesus to the world, a way of helping others to see this Jesus that has challenged and changed them so much. For such health practitioners it could be said that their professional work is “faith based”, or perhaps “values based”.
However, contemporary western medicine has become, in the last fifty years, evidence based, which means in practice, science based. This creates a tension sometimes, because in contemporary society faith and science seem often to stand on two sides of a boxing ring. They are seen as opponents rather than allies. This happens not least in the medical profession where anything that is not the result of science, anything that is not evidence based, is seen at best as ill-informed and at worst as hocus-pocus, as superstition, as foolishness. Despite the lip service that is paid by doctors to the importance of faith in health and healing, issues of spirituality are often treated with anything from slight embarrassment to outright hostility. Despite the efforts of some physicians and scientists to test strongly held beliefs by experimental enquiry, and so bring faith into the scientific arena, studies in the area of faith are seldom taken very seriously by the majority of professionals. They are seen as interesting but of little real significance. Issues of faith do not belong in medicine for many, often very vocal, doctors: they belong in the private realm, and should not be spoken of openly in the context of day to day encounters with sick or suffering individuals. Religion and anything that can be seen as connected to it, is seen as divisive and destructive, and should be left out of the doctor’s office.
I belong to the group of doctors who seek to practice “faith based” medicine, where evidence, or science, is seen as secondary rather than primary. If there is a conflict between what my faith demands and what science and current thinking indicate as being best practice, I choose to simply abstain. An example would be the practice of abortion, which is a standard medical procedure in the society that I live in, but which goes against what I believe God expects of us as doctors. I am aware of the fact that my colleagues practice abortion freely, and that abortion on demand is the right of all women to a certain stage of pregnancy, but I choose not to be involved in this practice. Some would see this as a reason that I should not be a doctor, but I believe that I still have much to offer even while abstaining from this practice. At present “freedom of conscience” is still allowed in most of the world, though there are moves to change this. If the day comes that I am required to do things against my conscience, in contradistinction to my faith, to remain a doctor, I hope that I will be brave enough to leave the profession.
As doctors we spend a huge amount of our time and energy listening and digesting the latest scientific findings, in order to incorporate these into the practice of medicine, to be able to provide advice that is accurate and treatment that works. As Christian doctors we spend time reading the Bible and reflecting on the words and actions of Jesus, in order to be better able to provide care that we believe will reflect Jesus, and thus be of the greatest benefit to the patient. These two practices needn’t be mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. Science (and “evidence”) is primarily concerned with what we should do (although there are occasionally conflicts, as mentioned above), while Jesus main concern is how and why we should do it. There is, however, a crossover, and this can lead to conflict: sometimes Jesus tells us what we should do (or not do) when there is no scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness, and sometimes science attempts to tell us how and why we should do it, even when Jesus tells us otherwise
With this in mind I have resolved to read through Luke’s writings in the New Testament. Why Luke? Simply because he was a doctor. Exactly what that meant two thousand years ago is something that I have often had cause to wonder about. Luke was educated and worked in a healthcare system based on a worldview that is different to that of Christians. When he decided to follow Jesus his worldview changed and this no doubt had an effect on the way he practiced his profession. As we study Jesus we too will be challenged to do things in a different way. Luke’s primary challenge, when he threw in his lot with Jesus, was to change to become the kind of person that Jesus wanted. This would have impacted every aspect of his life, not least the way that he practiced medicine, but also what he chose to do with the skills and education he had been given. This is our challenge too, to become like Jesus in our interactions with people, but also to use our skills in ways that will benefit the kingdom of God. Reading Luke gives us a clear insight into what he believed and how he understood it.
This series then, will be an examination of Luke’s writings, paying particular attention to the worldview and value system that an encounter with Jesus produces in those who choose to follow him.