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Friday, December 8, 2023

Is faith healing dangerous to public health?

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By Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu

In my previous article, I examine the legality of pastors advising patients to forgo taking medication and rely only on faith. In this article, I examine whether the Bible is against taking medication or going to the hospital for medical conditions.

During my education in theology, I examined the impact of prayer as a form of complementary therapy. I concluded that prayer alone should not be used to replace a standard hospital treatment.

The reason is that Prayer does not prevent you from taking medication. This notwithstanding, the issue of faith cannot be subjected to theological reasoning. I believe the courts do not want to delve into the affairs of faith.  However, it is sad to see that some prayer houses have become a source of income.

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Is the Bible against going to a hospital?

When one examines Na’aman’s case, it provides the clue that the bible encourages people to go to the hospital for treatment. This is my reason:  Na’aman the leper in the book of Kings was told by prophet Elisha to go to the river and dip himself seven times so that he could be healed.  Though one could say this healing is a form of drugless therapy. It also affirmed that the Bible is not against going to a standard hospital.

In the New Testament, Luke was a medical doctor and was acknowledged (Colossians 4:14). His inclusion denotes that the Bible is not against the practice of standard medicine.

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Besides, Jesus acknowledged the need for a physician when he said in Luke 5:31, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This is repeated in Matthew 9:12 and Mark 2:17.

Jesus also healed a blind man in John 9:6-10. The form of healing Jesus adopted is a form of drugless healing-meaning it is natural therapy.  This means that Jesus acknowledges both the practice of drugless healing and standard medical practice when Luke with his medical experience came on board.

In healing the blind man, Jesus spat on the ground and made clay of the saliva and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So, he went and washed and came back seeing.   The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?”  Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.” He said, “I am the man.”   They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 

When Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach illness, would we accuse Timothy of having a lack of faith (1 Tim 5:23)?  No, Paul was saying, that it gets to a time when you have to take either a drugless therapy or a standard medication.

  This also means that refusing to go to the hospital for treatment is wrong. Our faith can carry us even to the hospital and still believe that God will use that medication to heal us and if in the end we do not get healed then that is God’s will for us. We may not understand but we believe Him.   Believing in God does not stop us from taking medicine and nobody should deceive us.

Faith healing

The courts have taken judicial notice of practicing Christian Science.  Christian Science, also known as faith healing is the practice of prayer and gestures (such as laying on of hands) that are believed by some to elicit divine intervention in spiritual and physical healing, especially the Christian practice.

A study by Bruce (2004) explains that “Faith healing can cause patients to shun effective medical care”.  The author further stated that it is often claimed that faith healing may not work but at least does no harm. Reliance on faith healing can cause serious harm and even death.”

Walsh, James J. (1911), analysis of the records of cures shows that the majority of accepted cures have been in patients suffering from demonstrable physical conditions.

University of California, San Diego(2008) warned that “Patients who seek the assistance of a faith healer must believe strongly in the healer’s divine gifts and ability to focus them on the ill.

So Randi, James (1989), believes that these [discarded medications] are substances without which those people might well die.

Some scholars have criticized faith healing as pseudoscience.  Believers assert that faith healing makes no scientific claims and thus should be treated as a matter of faith that is not testable by science. Scientists and doctors generally find that faith healing lacks biological plausibility or epistemic warrant.

However,  a Cochrane review of intercessory prayer found “although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer, the majority do not”.The authors concluded: “We are not convinced that further trials of this intervention should be undertaken and would prefer to see any resources available for such a trial used to investigate other questions in health care”.

A review in 1954 investigated spiritual healing, therapeutic touch, and faith healing. Of the hundred cases reviewed, none revealed that the healer’s intervention alone resulted in any improvement or cure of a measurable organic disability. 

In addition, at least one study has suggested that adult Christian Scientists, who generally use prayer rather than medical care, have a higher death rate than other people of the same age.

The Global Medical Research Institute (GMRI) was created in 2012 to start collecting medical records of patients who claim to have received a supernatural healing miracle as a result of Christian Spiritual Healing practices.

The organization has a panel of medical doctors who review the patient’s records looking at entries before the claimed miracles and entries after the miracle was claimed to have taken place. “The overall goal of GMRI is to promote an empirically grounded understanding of the physiological, emotional, and sociological effects of Christian Spiritual Healing practices”. This is accomplished by applying the same rigorous standards used in other forms of medical and scientific research.

A 2011 article in the New Scientist magazine cited positive physical results from meditation, positive thinking, and spiritual faith.

Faith healing, negative impact on public health

It is reasoned that when one relies solely on faith healing without standard medicine could be a public health threat resulting in higher mortality rates for children (Asser et al. 2007),  reduced life expectancy for adults(  Simpson, William F. 1989), and serious injury that has resulted from falsely labelled “healings”, where patients erroneously consider themselves cured and cease or withdraw from treatment.

For example, Lane, Liz (2011) study found that at least six people have died after faith healing by their church and being told they had been healed of HIV and could stop taking their medications.

It is the stated position of the American Medical Association (2008)  AMA that “prayer as therapy should not delay access to traditional medical care”.  Robert Cogan (1998), explained that choosing faith healing while rejecting modern medicine can and does cause people to die needlessly.

Wrong doctrine on medicine and health

The Bible makes it clear that God has provided medicines for the use of man. “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man…” (Psalm 104:14). In Proverbs 17:22, it is written: “A merry heart doeth good LIKE A MEDICINE: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”

That faith and prayer are of great importance in the life of a Christian cannot be argued. But to depend on them without discretion and understanding of the law of God is tantamount to over-righteousness or fanaticism, which can even lead to untimely death. It was King Solomon who said: “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” – Ecclesiastes 7:16.

  When Hezekiah, the king of Judah was sick and prayed for recovery, God Almighty instructed Isaiah the prophet to tell him to take a lump of figs and lay it on the boil. “And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.”  (2 Kings 20:1-7) The lump of figs used to cure the boil was medicine, pure and simple.     Indeed, those who should see a physician as our Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 9:12 are those who are sick. And will the doctor not prescribe medicine? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, oil and wine were poured on the wounds of the man injured by robbers. These were medicines. See Luke 10:25-37.

  James 5:13-16 where the exhortation is given that one who is sick should meet the elders of the church to pray for him “and the prayer of faith shall save the sick” does not in any way mean that Christians should not take medicine. It only emphasizes the power of prayer and the importance of faith such that when a Christian takes medicine, he believes it cannot be effective UNLESS God, by His grace, blesses it with His healing power.

Take home

It is clear that the Bible is not against the use of medicines and going to the hospital. Besides, relying on faith healing alone without going to the hospital could be suicidal to the patient.  Hence, there is the need to balance: as you seek faith healing, seek standard treatment as well.  It is also prudent for pastors to refer the patient to the hospital for confirmation where the patient claims healing.

Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu is a full professor of Naturopathic Healthcare. E-mail: [email protected]. This article is for educational purposes and awareness only.

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