Faith and Medicine
Tony Cooke

Faith and MedicineQuestion: I was diagnosed with a certain disease and have been taking medicine for that condition. I have recently been learning about divine healing. I am very excited about what I am hearing, and I am trusting God for my healing. My question has to do with the medicine I am taking. Should I discontinue my medication as an act of faith? Is taking medicine a contradiction to my faith? I am a little bit confused as to what I should do along these lines.

Answer: The questions you present are very good ones. Many people have had questions and experienced confusion about these very same issues. It seems that no matter what subject is being discussed, people tend to go to one extreme or another. It is like a driver who has trouble keeping his car out of the ditches on either side of the road.

On the subject of faith and medicine, some people teach that God no longer heals, or if he does, it is very rare. They state that the age of miracles has passed away. Others go to the opposite extreme and state that not only does God still heal, but that it is a sin for a Christian to use doctors or take medicine in pursuit of healing.

The problem with the first teaching is obvious. It overlooks the Bible truth that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The Bible does not teach that God’s power was only relegated to a certain time in history. We serve the same Jesus who lived and healed nearly 2,000 years ago. We have the same Holy Spirit who anointed Him to do the wonderful works he did. The compassion and mercy of God have not changed, and neither has his Word.

The danger of the second extreme is also clear. Much harm has been brought to people, and much reproach has been brought to the Body of Christ by individuals who have preached against doctors and against the use of medicine by Christians. Media sources have been replete over the years with articles of how people have suffered and even died needlessly because of this type of approach.

In some tragic cases, parents have withheld medical help from their children on religious grounds. Beyond the public spectacle, needless pain and deaths have occurred. Many people have also suffered emotionally and spiritually because of the guilt, shame, and condemnation heaped upon them by those who propagate this erroneous ideology.

It is unfortunate that some people have chosen to pit medicine against faith as though they were somehow adversarial. I believe these two forces should be seen as complementary, not as contradictory. After all, both your faith and the doctor are aiming at the same goal—your healing and wholeness. My persuasion is that medicine and faith can be integrated and complementary. They do not need to be adversarial toward or isolated from one another.

Please consider the following as you seek to resolve this issue in your own thinking:

  1. In Luke 10:30-37, Jesus related a story about a man we call “The Good Samaritan.” In this story, the Samaritan man came across an individual who had been beaten badly and was seriously injured. He treated the man’s injuries with oil and wine (the best medicines he had access to in that day) and bandaged his wounds. Further, he made sure the man had time to recuperate and recover from his injuries. Jesus commended that man for his merciful actions, and said that his was an example worth emulating. Apparently Jesus was not against the use of medicine when it was necessary.
  2. Luke was a physician, who traveled extensively with Paul, wrote the gospel bearing his name, along with the book of Acts. As a matter of fact, Paul called Luke “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). As much abuse as Paul went through (whippings, beatings, imprisonments, etc.), I think it is reasonable to assume that Luke would have often dressed Paul’s wounds, applied ointments and bandages, etc. Perhaps this is why Paul called him a “beloved” physician.
  3. Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so.” There are times when we have something at our disposal that is good and helpful. The Bible tells us that in such cases, we should not withhold it from the person in need. Would the principle conveyed in this Scripture apply when a parent has access to medicine that will help an ailing child? I think so.
  4. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) of Proverbs 18:9, we read: “He who does not use his endeavors to heal himself is brother to him who commits suicide.” This is a powerful verse! In this, we see that God expects us to do what we can do to help ourselves. If you accidentally put your hand on a hot stove, you will instinctively and quickly pull your hand away. Why? When God designed us as human beings, he built instincts within that intuitively cause us to do whatever we can to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe. A person would have to override his God-given instincts to not do what he could to help himself.
  5. First John 3:17 states, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” The Amplified Bible here refers to “resources for sustaining life.” While John may not have been speaking specifically of medicine here, I believe the principle still applies.
  6. The Apostle Paul advocated the use of something “natural” for a chronic physical problem that was experienced by his young assistant, Timothy. First Timothy 5:22 says: “No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for your stomach’s sake, and your frequent infirmities.” The New International Version Bible Commentary says this about Paul’s comment: “Apparently for medicinal purposes, Timothy is told not to restrict himself to drinking water but to ‘use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.’”
  7. Ask yourself the question: “Who gave the doctors and researchers the wisdom to be able to develop medicines and treatments that help the sick?” I believe it was God himself.
  8. Faith does not imply denying the existence of a problem. David did not deny the existence of Goliath. He believed that God would help him overcome that challenge. In the same way, trusting God for healing does not mean that we deny the existence of a physical problem. When Paul’s friend, Epaphroditus, was sick, Paul was very realistic about the situation. He did not play word games or deny the existence of the problem. He said, “For indeed, he was sick almost unto death, but God had mercy on him” (Philippians 2:27). Some people have gotten into trouble because they thought that denying the existence of a problem was an act of faith.
  9. Keep in mind that Paul said we are transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), not by the removing of the mind. God is not against people using good sense when dealing with the challenges of life. When a challenge comes, it is good to respond with every weapon we have available. We should not neglect the practical and the physical by focusing only on the spiritual, but neither should we neglect the spiritual while trusting only in the practical and the physical. I think it best that we use and benefit from whatever natural help is available, but make sure that we are trusting God first and foremost.

In closing, let me offer a few thoughts. In four decades of ministry, I have seen numerous people healed as a result of faith and prayer. In many cases, people were receiving medical treatment, and they recovered much more quickly than the doctors expected. I believe strongly in God’s goodness and his mercy, and I believe he is still in the healing business.

Regrettably, I have also seen situations where it seems people operated in foolishness or presumption by denying the existence of a problem, or by disregarding medical advice. In some situations, symptoms were ignored until an illness had advanced to an acute, critical stage. It is very unfortunate when a person could have gotten help if a condition had been treated in a timely manner.

If you use medicine or have surgery, continue to trust God, and look to him as your Great Physician. Use good sense in bringing every tool available to your aid. Trust God to not only work through the natural means available, but also ask him to work above and beyond whatever assistance man can offer. Augustine, one of the early church fathers, wisely said, “The Holy Spirit, too, works within, that the medicine externally applied may have some good result.”

As a general rule I encourage people to work with their doctor and to respectfully consider his or her counsel. At the same time I encourage people to trust in God and look to Him as their Ultimate Healer. Saturating oneself with God’s Word and God’s promises concerning healing is the way to build faith and to keep faith strong. A physician may or may not believe in Divine healing, but he or she can tell when a change has taken place in the patient’s body.

Whether this change occurs by natural means, by supernatural intervention, or by a combination of the two, a doctor can recognize this and modify or discontinue whatever medications or treatments he or she has prescribed. In my opinion, this approach reflects the wisdom of God. It does not put faith and medicine in opposition to one another, but integrates them into working together for the good of the people whom God loves.

Additional Thought

While the question addressed in this article focused on faith and medicine, it is important to also acknowledge the increasing awareness that is taking place regarding the importance of a healthy diet, exercise, and rest. While we appreciate doctors and their knowledge, skills, etc., we don’t want to fail to mention the great value of a healthy lifestyle.