Nearly every person touched by our health care system has a legitimate complaint concerning its dysfunction. The suffering complain that they feel like a number being shuttled through a hurried system. The doctors complain that they no longer have time to care for patients, but are instead filling out computer forms. The insurance companies complain that they must raise their rates. Conservatives complain that euthanasia and abortion are unhindered. Liberals complain that the poor go without care. There is truth to each of these and other complaints, yet I wonder how many of us really see the underlying source of the dysfunction.
We have all imbibed the snake oil of a humanistic approach to medicine. Clinically, financially, and ethically, we are drunk on this snake oil and wonder why we can’t find our way out of the dark hole. Only a God-centered and God-directed approach can replace the snake oil with Living Water and bring Light to our path.
Before this Living Water can be appreciated, larger society, particularly those who follow Christ, must discern the reality of our broken system—a system broken to the core—rather than just complain about superficial symptoms. Compounded into the clinical care provided to each of us, we find at least two goal-oriented deceptions in the snake oil.
On the one hand, society desires to live autonomously, unheeding either Biblical truth or a natural understanding of health. We treat our being not as God’s image, but solely as an instrument of self-pleasure. Stewardship rarely enters our thoughts or desires in regards to our personal health.
On the other hand, we look to medicine to be a savior of sorts, restoring the brokenness we suffer whether it comes from a fallen world or from our own actions. Even the seemingly noble patient-centered medicine where the doctor puts the patient into the driver seat, ultimately plays to the false notion that we can save ourselves. Humanistic medicine plays the part well, promising either a cure now or a glorious cure in the near future with a little more research.
Financial matters also play a leading role in producing the humanistic snake oil. Again we see the reflections of a false savior mentality. Insurance companies and government programs promise to care for us from cradle to grave, but ultimately they require more and more monetary sacrifices to keep them propped up.
Conventional medicine’s economic model requires an assembly line system that often blames patients when the short visits and pharmaceutical miracles fail to fix the suffering. Drug companies market the latest and greatest costly medicine, guaranteed to fix your problems, at least until the next study shows how they are not quite as wonderful as the initial marketing campaign promised.
The internet offers myriads of guaranteed cures, for the right price, to those left searching for hope after the conventional system scoots them out the door. These “natural” remedies, many of which restore true health more permanently, still may require submission to a higher authority overseeing their application and sale. At the lowest level of finances, the very startup of a Christian practice along Biblical principles faces looming financial obstacles if humanistic alliances are foregone.
Ethically, the snake oil is a bitter poison flavored with artificial sweeteners. Having lost sight of the core principles, a different type of medicine is promoted by society at large, either explicitly or implicitly through participation in the programs. Killing the weak is protected, whether at the end of life or its beginning. Sinful lifestyles are not only condoned but even applauded or legitimized. Condoned sin becomes “normal.” Legitimized sin becomes a disease to be overlooked or medicated. Greed overrules the principles of loving God and loving neighbor, in board rooms, government gatherings, medical offices, and even our own homes. When the moorings of absolute truth are detached, we are left to drift about in any and all directions. The snake oil not only causes us to cut the anchor, but to lose sight of the very fact that we are adrift.
What are we to do? How can we restore such a broken system? Only a work of God according to His principles can reform, or even replace the humanistic snake oil with Living Water. Only a God-centered, Biblical, and whole-person approach can hope to be an antidote. Rather than focusing on either the physician or the patient, God must be acknowledged as the source of our health. Only in Him and according to His ways can shalom, the Hebrew word for wholeness or well-being, be approximated on earth.
If a whole-person Biblical model is practiced, the physician will be free to act and think differently. This actually allows him or her to serve God and to love the neighbor-patient across the table. The physician steps down from acting as a savior and the patient steps down from being an idol. After all, the patient finds greater security in a physician serving this higher goal than in a physician seeking to only serve the patient or physician’s self-interests. Submission to God and His design for health blesses the suffering patient far more than a humanistic system focused primarily on maintaining itself.
How are we to know how to practice God-centered medicine? The truth and sufficiency of the Bible must be the highest authority, to have any hope of reforming medicine. The ethics of abortion and euthanasia may be the most obvious targets for Biblical application, but the Living Water must permeate much more deeply into the bowels of the system. The inherently dysfunctional economics of both corporate and socialistic policies must be ruthlessly measured by the Bible.
Furthermore, each individual must drink the Living Water, though it may initially taste bitter, because we must sacrifice something for the sake of supporting an alternative system. As long as Christians continue to gladly drink the snake oil, the snake oil industry will flourish. Not until we refuse the humanistic system’s enticements and begin to sacrifice in support of a Godly alternative, will that alternative system have a hope of growing out of a thousand points of light.
What would this medicine look like in the exam room? Whole persons made in the image of God would be treated as such by the physician caring for them. The economic model would offer cost-efficient (avoiding bureaucratic waste and red tape), affordable care which simultaneously furnished a living for physicians and other caregivers who invested their lives into the healing arts. This model would supply adequate time, longer than a 12- to 15-minute visit, such that caregivers of all flavors could care for not only the physical, but the emotional and spiritual needs of their patients. The reality that we are embodied souls with feelings and relationships rather than just evolved animals or soulless robots would be evident to any observer of the process.
The Living Water of Kingdom Medicine practiced under a covenant before a sovereign Lord entails far more than can be described here. It must permeate every inch of our being, individually and corporately. When the caregiver covenants before God to tend to their patient according to God’s ways for His glory and for the love of the neighbor-patient, Kingdom Medicine will be sought by the multitudes.
This vision is not impossible. One of the biggest hurdles is that oil and water cannot mix. We, as patients, doctors, pharmacists, third-party payers, nurses, family members, government leaders, and others must choose between Living Water or snake oil today rather than continuing to sip on some form of an eventually fatal mixture.
As I continue to strive toward a more Biblical approach to health care as a physician and for my family, the Lord has brought us to Sanctuary Functional Medicine and Samaritan Ministries.
I started the Sanctuary Functional Medicine practice along with fellow Christian doctors. It uses the Direct Primary Care model to prevent third parties from controlling health care, allowing the patient and doctor to remain free and follow their consciences. Health care sharing through Samaritan Ministries also leaves to the individual the responsibility of making health care decisions, and then brings the Body of Christ together to bear one another’s large medical burdens.
I think this combination is a promising one more Christians should consider. However the Lord leads you, I hope you will join us in reforming the health care system for God’s glory.
P.S. These ideas may stir some debate, but my greatest fear is not that some people will disagree but that no one will care enough to respond. Complacency, comfort, and diversion are the greater culprits convincing us to drink the snake oil. I look forward to questions, even challenges, but hope that each will first hear my undertones of repentance in having participated in the system. Let’s all examine ourselves, repent of what God shows us, and begin to apply His principles to the entire system (Colossians 3:23).