Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 8:22-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:6-13; Psalm 139:1-6; 2 Chronicles 16-17
Yesterday’s chapters about King Asa describe him as a king who did what was good and right in the eyes of God (2 Chronicles 14-15). However, he did not finish his reign well and drifted away from God. Then he developed a severe disease in his feet, and refused to seek help from God.
The chronicler mentions that Asa sought help only from the physicians. Some conclude from this comment that the Bible opposes the use of physicians and modern medicine. Instead, they say, Christians should seek healing only from God. Such teaching has had tragic consequences, such as when an 11-year-old girl died from diabetes because her parents refused medical care and relied exclusively on prayer.
Taking this verse in 2 Chronicles as a rejection of modern medicine is an improper interpretation. First of all, the verse itself does not state that physicians should be avoided. The passages lists a number of wrong decisions made by Asa, including imprisoning God’s prophet, brutally oppressing the people, refusing to seek help from God, and attending the physicians (vv. 10-12). While Scripture states elsewhere that the first three actions are unethical, other biblical passages support using medicine. Scripture refers positively to physicians and their role in healing (Jeremiah 8:22; Matthew 9:12; Luke 4:23), and Luke, who wrote a Gospel and the book of Acts, was a physician (Colossians 4:14). The Bible encourages the use of various medicines that were available in those times, including oils and poultices for wounds (e.g. Isaiah 1:6; Jeremiah 51:8; Luke 10:34) and wine for various illnesses (1 Timothy 5:23). In general, the Bible does not reject appropriate medical care.
So why would Asa’s use of physicians be viewed negatively? We are given a clue in the next chapter. Asa’s son succeeded him as king and is praised for following God rather than ‘the Baals’ (2 Chronicles 17:3-4). These were part of the pagan religion of Israel’s neighbours in which medicine and religion were intertwined in pagan magical healing. Going to those ‘physicians’ was more like participating in their religious practices, much like going to a shaman or psychic healer. Ancient Israel did not practitioners called physicians, largely because of the religious connections of the Gentile physicians. Rather than rejecting the use of doctors and medicines, this verse is negative on the use of religiously inappropriate healing. Contemporary application would be that Christians should not seek healing infused with non-Christian spiritual and religious practices, such as therapies like Reiki which use spirit guides and powers.
The context of 2 Chronicles 16 shows that Asa’s general problem was his refusal to ask God for help. Having started well, Asa turned to foreign powers to win his battles. When Hanani reminded him of God’s previous deliverances, Asa gets angry and throws him in jail. When Asa gets ill, rather than seek help from God, he turns to those who most likely were pagan religious healers. What we should reflect on is whether in our illnesses, we fail to ask God for his help, even while we use available medical care.
Hanani reminds Asa that God is searching the earth, looking to strengthen those who trust him (2 Chronicles 16:9). Asa is angered by this, but it is a source of comfort for David in Psalm 139. He knows that God sees him and knows his very thoughts. We know from David’s life that these were not always good thoughts. But David is comforted by God’s continuous presence in his life. Such is the intimacy of their relationship that he senses God’s hand upon him as he deals with whatever life brings his way.