Should a Christian refuse medical treatment and rely on faith and prayer alone to heal? Consider the following news out of Oregon:
PORTLAND — A legislative leader says Oregon lawmakers will take another look at state laws in the light of the death of a 16-year-old boy who died of a treatable urinary tract disorder while family and church members prayed over him.
Neil Beagley died Tuesday of complications from a urinary-tract blockage that a medical examiner said could have been treated with a catheter. He was at his grandmother’s home in Gladstone, surrounded by his family and dozens of other members of Oregon City’s Followers of Christ Church. The nondenominational congregation shuns medical treatment in favor of spiritual healing.
The case is complicated by a 1971 law that gave children 15 and older the right to seek medical care independent of their parents. The law was intended, in part, to give girls access to birth-control information, contraceptives and abortions. It was twice expanded to include access to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and to include mental health and substance abuse.
How should a Christian handle those situations? Is it a lack of faith to accept medical treatment?
The Legal and Political Perspective
We are not doctors, and can not give medical advice. Each situation is unique, and wise is the person who discusses options with doctors before taking any action regarding treatment. Foolish is the person making decisions without adequate and competent advice.
We’ve created quite a mess with all the abortion laws. If a 15 year old can secretly get an abortion and terminate her baby, surely a 16 year old can refuse medical treatment; the arguments for the 15 year old’s abortion apply the same to the 16 year old refusing treatment — you can’t be consistent and allow one and deny the other.
The groups promoting all-abortion, all the time put themselves in a bizarre situation attempting to justify allowing a 15 year old to decide on abortion by themselves, but not a 16 year old any other medical decision.
As society loses its moral compass, expect more conflicting situations like this (your daughter can’t get an aspirin in school without parental notification, but terminating her baby is completely acceptable).
The Christian Perspective
But it’s the Christian perspective we need to understand (and is more important than the political perspective anyway). Recall in Matthew as Jesus faces three temptations from satan. First, to make bread (and doubt God’s provision). Third, to appeal to shortcuts for God’s plan.
And in between those two, to ask God to prove what He said was so.
Then the devil took him into the holy city. He set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge concerning you.’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear you up, So that you don’t dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not test the Lord, your God.’” (Matthew 4:5-7 WEB)
What satan said was simple: if God will take care of you, why not jump off a building and give Him the opportunity to show it? Surely God will protect you, right? Don’t you have faith? But Jesus didn’t take the bait, and responded don’t test God — it would be foolish to jump off a building (if it’s foolish for Jesus Himself, should we not even more head the warning?).
But what about faith? If you’re praying about an illness, why put trust in doctors instead of God? Consider this — do you eat breakfast? Presumably, you got out of bed, went to the kitchen, opened up the cabinet and grabbed the box of Frosted Flakes. Was that a lack of faith? After all, if God really wanted you to eat, He would have miraculously materialized the bowl while you were in bed. Absurd? Of course — but then why use similar logic with healthcare?
Do you lay in bed and just say “I have faith God will feed me”? We hope not. You get a job, go to work, earn money, go to the store, purchase food, and then prepare and finally (the tricky part), eat the food. What a lack of faith! Don’t you trust God? (Such a person would be labeled foolish, and rightly so)
Absurd, isn’t it? Then why use the same argument to reject medical care? It’s just as absurd when applied to medicine as to food.
We’re not talking about rejection of some medical options — choice in treatment options should always be discussed with doctors and informed choices made tailored to your unique situation — each person must decide for themselves how to best handle treatment, in consultation with doctors, family and others.
God uses different ways to accomplish His goals. You’ll notice in the Gospels Jesus didn’t have a pattern for healing, each differed from the previous. Yes, you should pray and seek the Lord’s intervention, and then do what you are able — doctors can be the instrument used to accomplish healing; it’s not a lack of faith to go to a doctor.
Medical decisions are complicated and difficult. If you’re facing a terminal illness, your decisions will necessarily be quite different from an easily cured condition. Don’t make any broad assumptions about complete reliance or complete rejection of medicine — each situation is unique and should be treated as such, in consultation with doctors who know both you and your medical history.
God uses different methods to accomplish his plan throughout the Bible, how can you know if He won’t use a doctor as his vessel for healing? If you’re hungry, you go to the kitchen; if you’re sick, consult a doctor — it’s not a lack of faith to avail yourself of medicine.
Jesus didn’t ask God to prove Himself, why should we?