Healing the Body and the Soul
During Jesus’ ministry on earth, he healed the sick and eased the burdens of the suffering. When he sent the disciples out into the world, he charged them to proclaim the good news and “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8). The church throughout history has tried to sustain this ministry of healing by building hospitals and by working for justice for the poor and dispossessed, as well as through untold individual acts of compassion for the sick and tormented.
Yet the connection between faith and healing is sometimes overlooked. Since the Enlightenment, the work of physical, bodily healing has become the task of medical professionals, and this profession is a field of scientific inquiry, grounded in scientific method and rationalism. To many doctors, faith is a personal matter, perhaps a source of comfort to their patients, but not their primary concern.
Even Christians sometimes assume that their ministry of healing should focus on the soul and that they should leave caring for the body—“real healing”—to the doctors. It’s almost a bit unseemly to expect so much of our faith, to think that it has something to contribute in the real world of disease and illness. Stories of charlatan faith healers who prey on the most vulnerable are never far from mind. And some Christians have as much suspicion of the doctors as doctors have of faith. The mirror image of the fake faith healer is the arrogant man of science convinced that his knowledge gives him the right to play God over matters of life and death.
But faith and healing cannot be separated, and attempts to do so harm both patient and caregiver. No wound is only to the body, and no illness is merely physical. Health care professionals cannot bring complete healing if they try to cure the body while ignoring the whole person, and a Christian ministry of healing that provides only emotional support without relieving physical pain and suffering is a pale imitation of the ministry of Jesus.
The essays in this issue explore this sometimes complicated relationship between the professional practice of medicine and the ministry of healing. In “The Calling of Nursing,” Christoffer Grundmann chronicles the historical development of the modern nursing profession beginning with its roots in the nineteenth century Christian Deaconess movement. In “Foundations for Spiritual Care,” Z. Ann Schmidt, Nola A. Schmidt, and Janet M. Brown show that the tasks of caring for the body and the soul cannot be so easily separated. They urge health care professionals to be as responsive to their patients’ spiritual needs as to their physical needs.
In “Can My Mind Heal Me?” Daniel Boerman examines the psychological technique of cognitive therapy and considers how Christians might respond to a treatment that can bring about real healing for those who suffer but does so based on ideas about the human mind and soul with which many Christians cannot agree. Finally, in “The Paper Eater,” Gary Fincke’s latest contribution to The Cresset, we find a young man who is learning that we are all vulnerable and in need of healing and that our wounds take many forms.
Those who practice the art of medicine and the ministry of healing do work that strengthens both individuals and communities. They restore the sick to health and embrace those who otherwise might be neglected or ignored. Their work is a witness to the life-giving spirit of God, for in the doctor and the nurse—in anyone who cares for the sick and suffering—we see embodied the image of a God of mercy and comfort.