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Does taking medicine show a lack of faith?

She can't live without pills (Credit: Photographee.eu via fotolia)"Yes, I would like to see my parents prosecuted." So said Mariah Walton, a 20-year-old Idaho woman who suffers from lifelong disabilities. This is because her parents didn't seek medical treatment when she was an infant for a heart problem. Her parents refused medical care because their religion prohibited them from such care. They believed that prayer was sufficient to heal.

Unfortunately, it was not.

Now, Mrs. Mariah believes it is time for her parents and the other members of Followers of Christ church to own up to their mistakes. Currently, Idaho state law protects parents from such prosecution if their religion prohibits them from seeking medical care.

Idaho's religious exemption law describes prayer as a spiritual "treatment" that can act as a legal substitute for medical care. As such, parents can refuse medical treatment if they so please and be immune to prosecution. Currently, Idaho is one of thirty-two states that provide a religious defense from felony or misdemeanor crimes.

Walton's family is a part of the Followers of Christ Church. They are not Christian as much as I would be a car if I walked into a garage. According to documentation, they teach truth instead other churches who proclaim "false prophesy."

Founded in the early twentieth century by Walter White, the church is a result of a split from a Kansas church in the 1940s. White led the church in a rather aggressive fashion, rebuking members from the pulpit and making them stand and confess their sins in front of the congregation. He was known for his powerful sermons, which often included slamming his Bible to the floor, shaking and clapping, and speaking in tongues.

He died in 1969 without a successor, but did leave certain edicts in place. One of those being that no one from the outside can join the church. The only way in is through direct descent of one of the original members. Another rule, and one pertaining to our topic, is that medical treatment was to be avoided because prayer was sufficient.

But are prayer and medical treatment mutually exclusive?

There is an old story about a terrible storm that descended upon a town. Local officials told everyone to evacuate. Everyone leaves except one man, who says he will trust God should he need rescue. Neighbors came and told him they have room in their car, but he told them he had faith. As the waters rose, he stood on his porch. A man in a canoe paddled up, but the man turned him away and said he had faith. The waters continued to rise and the man went to his roof. From his roof, a helicopter dropped a ladder, but the man tossed it aside due to his faith. Finally, the flood waters overtook the house and the man drowned. When he got to the heaven, he asked God why he didn't save him. And God said, "I sent your neighbor, a man in a canoe, and a helicopter. What more were you looking for?"

Is it possible that medicine is not a lack of trust in God, but a reminder of God's grace to us?

God is described as a good Father that gives good gifts (Matthew 7:7-10). As a matter of fact, every good gift given and perfect gift received comes from him (James 1:17).

God goes by many names, among them Father and the Great Physician. While the physician moniker is not specifically listed in the Scriptures, it is taken from a general understanding of who he is, the one who draws close to the hurting (Psalm 34:8) and heals all diseases (Psalm 103:3).

In the biblical narrative, we read of individuals who applied bandages (Isaiah 1:6), prescribed a little wine for the achy stomach (1 Timothy 5:23), and rubbed balm into wounds (Jeremiah 8:22). Medicine was not an indicator of weak faith, but of strong obedience to whom the faith was placed in.

Medicine and faith are not oil and water, but maybe peanut butter and jelly.

Rabbi Sacks, in his book The Great Partnership, noted that science answers the how questions while religion answers the why questions.

"Almost none of the truths by which we live are provable, and the desire to prove them is based on a monumental confusion between explanation and interpretation. Explanations can be proved, interpretations cannot. Science deals in explanation. Meaning is always a matter of interpretation. It belongs to the same territory as ethics, aesthetics and metaphysics. In none of these three disciplines can anything of consequence be proved, but that does not make them insignificant."

The medical field is quickly advancing with breakthroughs happening often. The Bible may be old but it is living and active, as freshly relevant as the flowers of the field. It centers on the One who can bring us spiritual healing and provides an ethical framework by which we can discern good medicine from bad practice. Some doctors may try to play god, but good doctors point to God – our Great Physician.

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