Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Faith and Medicine

People Will Talk © 1951 Twentieth Century Fox
Last night, as part of a tribute to Cary Grant, Turner Classic Movies premiered People Will Talk, a romantic comedy from 1951. Grant plays Dr. Noah Praetorius, a physician who adds a holistic approach to the way he practices medicine. Along the way, he falls in love with a female patient who is pregnant with her ex-boyfriend's baby, and later we discover he is hiding a big secret about one of his closest friends. Fairly risqué themes for the era! And when people start talking, the doctor must defend himself at a hearing.

Although it's not a perfect analogy,I was struck by the many ways Dr. Praetorius - like Superman - stands out as a sort of type for Christ and a hopeful model for the way Christians ought to behave. He also speaks some words of wisdom I think are worth our consideration.

Dr. Praetorius is a type for Christ in the sense that, first of all, Christ is our Divine Physician. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus healing people from all sorts of ailments and disabilities. But Jesus does not heal only physical problems. He also heals people in their soul by offering them forgiveness of sins. And through the continued work of the Holy Spirit, we can have healing of our attitudes and emotions. As a holistic healer of sorts, our God is concerned not with the body alone, but with every aspect of our being.

Christ is also a holistic healer in the sense that he uses some rather unconventional methods to heal people sometimes. In the Gospels, we see him healing a blind man with spit (John 9), healing a deaf-mute man by sticking his fingers in his ears (Mark 7:31-37), and often healing others either by simply touching them or even just by speaking to them. I think Jesus' unorthodox techniques were used partly to illustrate his power - the fact that as God, he could do anything (Matthew 19:26) - and partly to remind us of the importance of faith. After all, Jesus never healed people who did not have faith that he could do it.

Dr. Praetorius also believed in the healing power of faith. Consider these words from the doctor:
"I consider faith properly injected into a patient as effective in maintaining life as Adrenaline, and a belief in miracles has been the difference between living and dying as often as any surgeon's scalpel."
Now, I'm not saying we ought to neglect medical treatment and cling to faith alone for our healing. That's one of several false beliefs held by the now-fading Christian Science cult (who, oddly enough, neither embrace true Christianity nor modern science). The Bible teaches that God is the source of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; James 1:5), so if doctors have learned anything useful, we can believe God is behind it. But prayer and a life of faith have been scientifically proven to lead to a longer life. God wants to hear our prayers, and when we pray with faith, he often responds with healing (James 5:13-16). There are no magic words, but as it serves God's purposes, he can bring healing to our bodies, to our emotions, to our relationships, or to our spirits. I cannot count the number of times I have seen God bring healing even when doctors had given up hope, even in the short time I have been a pastor! If you have doubts about the power of God to bring healing through our faith, I encourage you to ask Christians you know and hear how many examples they can come up with!

The similarity between Jesus and Dr. Praetorius is furthered because the Lord, like the doctor, is in love with his patients (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Not only that, but because he cares about the whole person, the doctor is not put off by the fact that his patient is pregnant out of wedlock or that his friend has a dark secret in his past.
Highlight below if you really want to know Mr. Shunderson's secret:
He was tried and convicted - twice - of murdering the same man. And he was executed!
Dr. Praetorius points to Christ © 1951 Twentieth Century Fox
As Dr. Praetorius, Cary Grant points us to the ways of Jesus
It's not that God doesn't care what we do, but when we befriend Jesus by acknowledging and repenting of our sins, accepting the sacrifice he made for us on the cross, and making him our Lord, past mistakes - intentional or not - are wiped away (Hebrews 10:12-17; Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:9). As far as the Lord is concerned, from then on, we are not the person who did those things (2 Corinthians 5:17). So for the good doctor, once these people have befriended him, he does not treat them poorly based on their past mistakes. What they have done is a thing of the past, and he does not make a habit of bringing it up or gossiping about it.

As Christians, we need to love others, help them to find healing in their lives, and offer healing to them in terms of forgiveness regardless of what they've done or even whether we think they deserve it. It's not always easy, because some people have done some truly terrible things. And I'm not saying that when someone has hurt us, we should pretend it didn't happen or set ourselves up to be hurt again, but Jesus does call us to forgive, and to forgive completely (Matthew 18:21-35). If you have forgiven someone, then - like the doctor - you do not treat them poorly because of what they've done, you do not continue to bring it up, and you don't gossip about it. For more on what forgiveness looks like and how to make it a reality in your life even in tough situations, I highly recommend reading Total Forgiveness Experience by R.T. Kendall.

Beyond these things, it's also worth noting that both the pregnant patient, Ms. Higgins, and the doctor's friend, Mr. Shunderson, experience a resurrection of sorts under the care of Dr. Praetorius. Ms. Higgins is "resurrected" when the doctor saves her from attempted suicide. Mr. Shunderson's resurrection is more literal, with no real attempt to explain it away. So, in Christ, we are saved from the death that would be the results of our own sin (Romans 6:23), and we are promised a great day of resurrection, when Christ will gather all the saints present and past to join in his heavenly reward (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Jesus Christ is our hope both for today and for our eternal future!

If we live lives of faith, healing, forgiveness, and hope, People Will Talk, and we may suffer for it or be required to give an answer for it. But let them talk. Maybe they'll talk themselves into seeing the good in us, and maybe they'll even come to follow in our footsteps as we follow the Lord!

Now it's your turn to talk:
How have you experienced the power of prayer in your life?

Can you share a story about a time when God did more than doctors thought possible?

Do you struggle with forgiveness - either with accepting the forgiveness offered to you in Christ or with forgiving someone else?

What is it about Jesus that gives you the most hope?

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