One thing that has been in the news a lately has been the concern about the family who allowed their daughter to go without medical treatment, because of their Christian scruples. Their daughter subsequently died, apparently as a result of medical conditions which went untreated. The contention of the family was that they were following God’s will and seeking only healing through prayer for their daughter. While it is admirable, however, to try and follow God’s will, it is unwise not to use all the resources God has placed at our disposal when we set out to seek God’s intentions for our lives.
Here at Grace this summer, we have been reading about Jesus’ ministry in our summer gospels . Many of those portions of scripture are healing stories of Jesus. People often came to Jesus or brought their friends and family to Jesus in order that he might heal them. Here at Grace, we often pray for healing of people in our Sunday prayers. We even have healing prayer ministers who we have designated to help us with our prayers during the Lord’s Supper.
Yet we have never said that we should only turn to God in prayer for healing and forget about the gifts of modern medicine. The reason for this is that medicine, in addition to prayer, is one of God’s healing gifts to us. Not only does God give us the gift of prayer for our healing, but God has provided many remedies in addition to prayer. This has been true since the days of the First Testament throughout the Second Testament and down through today. While there are occasional references to cures and medicine in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is the prophet Jeremiah who talked most eloquently about physicians and the healing balm in Gilead. Jesus himself indicated that sick people often seek out a doctor. Once, Jesus, himself, used a poultice on a man’s eyes to help him to see.
In the intertestamental book Ecclesiasticus we read in the 38th chapter, “1Honor physicians for their services, for the Lord created them; 2for their gift of healing comes from the Most High . . . 4The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and the sensible will not despise them . . .7By them the physician heals and takes away pain; 8the pharmacist makes a mixture from them. God’s works will never be finished; and from him health spreads over all the earth. 9My child, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. Though not regularly in the Protestant canon, this ancient advice reminds us that all healing gifts come from God by both prayer and medical attention.
The parents doubtlessly thought they were doing the right thing, praying for their child. Yet there comes a point where good intentions and heartfelt beliefs are not enough. The eyes of faith must not be so blinded by belief as to avoid the harsh light of reasoned truth. The well-being of helpless children ought not be held captive by parents who are sincerely wrong. The parents in this case were wrong not to go beyond prayer. There are few places where prayer is the only means God uses to address any difficulty. In this case, God had provided so many more options that they did not use. As reluctant as we are to second guess parents, when parents are not acting in the best interests of their children, vigilant communities must take careful, measured action on behalf of those children’s interests.
It would seem that this case has been decided and for the legal requirements of the law it has. The jury has delivered its verdict. This is, however, not the last time a family will decide to withhold medical care from children for reasons of faith. As Christians who have learned to use our heads as well as our faith in these matters, we must continue to encourage other Christians to use all the gifts God has given them in matters of health decisions. As Christian citizens, we must encourage the state to judiciously use the powers at their disposal to be vigilant about the health and well being of all children who cannot make those decisions for themselves.
Pastor Wendell Hendershott