Monday, August 27, 2012

Is God... A Doctor?

It has been my great pleasure to spend the last two days at Greenbelt. One thing I particularly enjoyed was a series of short talks under the title "Is God...?" Speakers are strictly limited to 10 minutes to answer their specific question. (They will all be available on Greenbelt TV over the course of this year). I have to admit I was disappointed not to learn the answer to the vital question "Is God Scottish?" but I did learn answers to the following: Is God Time? (Quite philosophical but actually practical; no and yes) Is God Evangelical? (Emphatically No but actually...) Is God offended? (Importantly, no) Is God Jewish? (No.) Is God Anglican? (Well, no. But interestingly Sir Christopher Wren is apparently the founder of Anglicism). Perhaps inevitably this set me thinking as to what question I could attempt to answer in 10 minutes. Perhaps more inevitably I was struck by the question Is God a Doctor? So here goes:

Is God A Doctor?
In my life I have taken a large number of exams. One of the cardinal rules of exams is that you must answer the question asked and not a different one that you want to answer. However when speaking or writing it is often a useful device to answer a different question. So I want to start by asking Is God A Surgeon?


It's easy to tell the difference between God and a surgeon - God has no illusions about being a surgeon.

In his excellent book on medical ethics, John Wyatt presents the analogy of the human person as a masterpiece made by God and the role of the doctor is to restore this masterpiece. For me surgery can be quite humbling. When we repair bowel or a blood vessel, it is the body's own healing processes that does most of the work. When we 'fix' what's wrong with the body, it is evident to me that my restoration work is rarely - if ever - up to the standard of the original. Surgical solutions are certainly very good but surgery is still a relatively crude instrument.

This kind of thinking does beg a question; If God's masterpiece is so wonderful why do we have disease and (particularly) congenital anomalies requiring surgical correction? For me, the answer lies in the answer to the question of why a good God allows suffering. I don't want to duck that question but I don't want to get stuck in it either - simply I want to acknowledge that we live in a fallen world. So God is not a surgeon.

But is God a doctor?

The word 'doctor' has a couple of meanings - the original is 'wise and learned one.' In that sense of course God is emphatically a doctor; omniscience does give him something of an unfair advantage.

More commonly we think of a doctor as a healer. In this sense I also believe that God is a doctor. I believe God is very much about healing. Healing in every sense; physically of course, but moreover and perhaps more importantly emotionally and also most significantly spiritually. And everyone who's a follower of Jesus has a role to play in that.

I have no doubt that God heals miraculously and that annoys me - because he doesn't do it very often. Moreover I think it vital that we do not despise or minimise the non-miraculous. Any healing is a manifestation of God's grace. It is my great privilege to be part of that. The healing miracles of Jesus show that healing is indeed something God values and it is making earth just a little more like heaven and in that sense fullfilling the command to be the Kingdom of God on earth.

But what about when God doesn't heal? There is, I believe a very dangerous heresy around healing - the 'name it, claim it' theology. Your healing is available to you, if you simply have enough faith. I think this kind of thinking very dangerous and often damaging to vulnerable people. In response to it - to the idea that if you do not experience healing, is is because you don't have enough faith - I say this: Paul. Anyone who's read the New Testament would struggle to conclude he lacked faith - anyone who can write "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain" is someone who has deep faith and understanding of his place in this world and the next. And yet God did not heal him of his thorn-in-the-flesh. Despite Paul's repeated prayers. There are two things to say about this. Firstly, God does not promise to always heal in this life - the fact that godly men and women have died over the past 2000 years suggests to me that more often than not God says "no" to those prayers. Secondly God is not only a doctor but also God. He has a bigger agenda about building his kingdom and glorifying his son.

So what about when we see God not healing - what about death? It is always very dangerous to talk to a doctor about death, because we don't like what we can't cure! We cannot cure death - but I do know a man who can! I can offer a pretty good cure for appendicitis but for death... It is important to note that whilst death is inescapably part of God's judgement on a fallen world - the wages of sin is death - it is also paradoxically part of God's grace. For the follower of Jesus, death is release from the suffering of this world and of course so much more - death is the perfect healing!

Jesus reveals himself to be the ultimate physician in that he provides the cure for death - in every sense. Jesus the self-sacrificing physician who chose not to heal himself so that you and I might be healed.

Is God a doctor? He's the very best.


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