This has the potential for being maybe the most unexpected pharmacy-related article you will read today. But maybe it’s the only one you will read today. If so, I hope you enjoy it.
Some months ago I asked my readers what they would like to read more about here at The Honest Apothecary. The vast majority liked the current mix of commentary, news-related content and interviews. But a very significant number wanted to hear more about my faith and the integration of faith with my profession. Interesting. Many of my readers know that I’ve been a Christian for a quarter century or so. I also teach an adult Bible class. And so it seems reasonable to me to begin a little series of posts I will call The Faith of a Pharmacist.
I suspect some consider these subjects incompatible. Faith and Pharmacy? The Bible and Modern Medicine? Christianity and Health Care? How could they have anything in common? I understand the objection. But sometimes incompatible things make the best partners. Oil and vinegar make great companions if you give them a little shake. Not to mention the fact that faith and science have actually enjoyed a pretty long and happy marriage, though our generation seems bent our their divorce.
This post is about Pharmacy and a Biblical Worldview. I am simply going to point out several areas in which the practice of pharmacy and the Bible share a common perspective on things.
COMMON GROUND #1 – Something is wrong with us
Both the science of pharmacy and the Bible agree on this: something is tragically wrong with us. We are not generally healthy creatures only rarely to be interrupted by disease or dysfunction. From cavities to cancers, from allergies to Alzheimer’s, we are in an almost daily battle to ward off the impact of illness. To put it bluntly, we’re all dying. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. No living soul today is exempt from this. Our communities, sprinkled with hospitals, pharmacies and cemeteries, make this message inescapable. Even the healthiest of humans hardly manage to tackle ten decades.
You might be interested in knowing that the Bible talks a lot about man’s physical condition, not just his moral condition. Theologians typically discuss this fact under the heading of “Total Depravity” (an often misunderstood doctrine). Southern Presbyterian theologian R.L. Dabney writes “The universal prevalence of bodily death, with its [illnesses and infirmity] show that man’s depravity is total (Systematic Theology, p. 327).”
The Bible is brutally honest about our fractured frames. The Apostle Paul describes it this way “the outward man is perishing (2 Cor. 4:16).” The Bible traces the origin of this condition to our rebellion against God back in Genesis 3. From that point forward one phrase repeatedly reappears in the chronologies of the Bible: “and he died.” Something is wrong with all of us. We may, through modern medical and pharmacological means, delay or diminish this reality, but we cannot escape it.
COMMON GROUND #2 – Something is wrong with the world
Another area of agreement between pharmacy and the Bible is the fact that we recognize this world itself isn’t perfect or pure either. This, somewhat surprisingly, is a fact that often eludes and confuses many Christians. I hear it, for example, when people say they much prefer a “natural” therapy to something manufactured. The underlying assumption they seem to be suggesting is that the world and nature are just fine. It’s only mankind that is messed up. However, this view is neither Biblical nor scientific.
Modern medicine acknowledges that even “natural” things aren’t perfect cures for anything. There is no “perfect” food, no “perfect” plant, no “perfect” material from which to derive our drugs. The Bible concurs. Take, for example, the statements in the book of Romans that describe our world as “subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20) in “the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21). The statement in Genesis also pertains to this situations in which God said “cursed is the ground for your sake (Genesis 3:17).”
Those unfamiliar with the Bible or Biblical Theology might think the Bible advocates for “natural” medicine, as an alternative to modern medicine and treatments. Nothing could be further from the truth. “Fixing ourselves naturally” would be an oxymoron from Biblical standards, since “nature” itself is broken too.
COMMON GROUND #3 – Medicine is the ordinary approach
The basic way in which this situation (illness, disease, etc.) should be addressed, according to the Bible, is through the ordinary means of health care and medicine. Don’t misunderstand. The Bible has a LOT more to say about our situation and how to remedy it than what I am dealing with here. However, when it comes to dealing with physical illness, the Bible and science couldn’t agree more.
Those unfamiliar with the Bible may be surprised by this. You might be inclined to believe that the Bible’s answers to illness are simply miracles and prayer. You would be wrong. Miraculous healing is, actually, pretty rare in Scripture. And prayers, although always encouraged, are not suggested as alternatives to medicine. Luke, the author of one of the 4 gospels, was a physician (not a “faith” healer). Paul told Timothy to use “a little wine for your stomach’s sake, and frequent infirmities.” Wine was appropriate medical advice during the 1st century. When king Hezekiah was sick, Isaiah recommended some figs as a “poultice on the boil” (Isaiah 38:21) to be used. Again, this is medical advice, not hocus pocus. In fact, the Bible regularly makes reference to medical treatments for addressing disease, speaking of such things as the “balm of Gilead” or “healing leaves.” Again, this is not the Bible’s way of recommending a “type” of medical treatment over another, but simply recognizing that available medicine can and should be considered appropriate.
Bottom line is that the Bible supports the use of medicines. Proverbs 17:22 says “A merry heart does good, LIKE MEDICINE” (emphasis mine). Religions that advocate against this do so from a standard outside the Bible, or from a simple misunderstanding of the Bible.
So there you have it. This was a little taste of my faith and how it overlaps with my passion for pharmacy and health. I could write more, much more. There is more to being “well” than simply being “healthy.” And the Bible has a lot to say about that too. Let me know if you are interested in hearing it.
Check out PART II in this series: The Pharmacist’s Faith: Evidence.
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