Healing through medicine is no less divine!

Healing through medicine is no less divine! September 3, 2023

stethoscope, medications, band-aid, scissors
Image by Derek Finch on Unsplash

Abstinence-based recovery and faith healing


In my specialty of addiction medicine, we routinely recommend that our patients attend mutual support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Regular participation in such meetings has been found to be very helpful for many in recovery. However, patients often say that when they attend these meetings, they cannot admit to others that they are on medications like methadone or suboxone, because the general feeling in those groups is that being on those medications means they are not completely “clean” or “sober”.

Unfortunately, such attitudes can prevent people from getting the help they so desperately need.

Scientific advances have shown that addiction is a disease of the brain. As such, patients will often require medication for effective treatment.

Reflecting on this, I recognized the similarity between an “abstinence- only” approach to addiction recovery and faith healing. (In this instance, “abstinence” refers to medication- free treatment). There are numerous stories of people who stopped taking their medication because they wanted to rely on their faith alone for healing, sometimes with fatal consequences.

“I once was blind, but now I see?”

A friend who was a medical student at the time stopped wearing her contact lenses, because a minister had prayed for her healing and even though she couldn’t see clearly without her lenses, she thought it was an act of faith to stop wearing them. When I asked about the quality of her eyesight, her response indicated that she really couldn’t see clearly yet, but believed her healing was in progress. It didn’t take long for her to revert to wearing her contacts.   Years later, an acquaintance told me about how her friend had gone to a pastor to retrieve her glasses because she was unable to “maintain” her healing after she had been prayed for. Fortunately, from the way the story was told, she did get her glasses back after initially surrendering them “in faith.”  (I have actually seen a pastor break someone’s glasses to prove that she had been healed and didn’t need them anymore).

Are medical interventions any less “divine”?

With opioid addiction, most patients will need medications and we have FDA- approved medications – methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone – for this. Research has shown that methadone treatment can be effective in preventing relapse, in addition to several other benefits. Of course, these medications are not magic pills, but together with counselling and other supportive activities, can significantly improve the chances of recovery.

Faith healers often teach their followers that they should not need medical intervention if they have enough faith. I personally believe that healing that comes through medication and surgery is no less “divine” than miraculous healings that occur without medical intervention. Just as God can heal without medications, He can also choose to heal through medical intervention.

To support their claims, faith healers will often quote, amongst other Bible verses, Isaiah 53:5:

 “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

The emphasis is placed on the phrase “with his stripes we are healed”.

A closer look at the context indicates that this is a reference to being saved from sins, not a guarantee of physical healing. Jesus healed many people while he was on earth, but he didn’t heal everyone, so why should we think that everyone who believes in him will receive physical healing, just by having faith?

“Do as I say, and not as I do?”

Another interesting observation is that the ministers who tell their followers that they shouldn’t need medical care, don’t necessarily practice what they preach. They often seek medical intervention when they or their family members are faced with serious illness, while their followers are avoiding medical care based on their teachings. This speaks to the importance of thinking and making decisions for oneself. Pastors and other religious leaders are fallible human beings like the rest of us. They can make proclamations that sound convincing, only to defy their own teachings when “push comes to shove”. If what your pastor is preaching doesn’t feel right, it’s OK to ask questions. Your pastor isn’t God. He (they’re mostly men) is human and subject to making mistakes just like any one of us.


Making informed decisions and asking the right questions

A few years ago, I heard that a former co-worker had passed away from lung cancer and that she had declined medical intervention. I wrote about this in a short essay about choices. As long as she was making a fully informed decision with all the relevant information, this was a valid option. Medical science doesn’t have all the answers and treatments are not without side effects, so there are times when it makes sense to forgo medical interventions and let “nature run it’s course”.

Accepting medical care and exercising faith are not mutually exclusive

Accepting medical care is not a sign of lack of faith. As mentioned earlier, the people who promote this idea often end up seeking medical interventions for themselves and their families. Remember the medical student who stopped wearing her contact lenses? The pastor at that church wore glasses! He explained that his eyesight was “getting better”. As far as I know, he never stopped wearing glasses.

It’s OK to wear glasses or contact lenses if you need them. Why not be grateful for scientific advances that made it possible to improve your eyesight? Similarly, if you are in recovery from an addiction and you need medication, it’s OK. We don’t tell our insulin-dependent diabetic patients to stop taking their insulin, so why should we tell our opiate- dependent patients to stop taking their medication when they still need it?

Medical science is a gift from God….. as is the ability to think critically, ask the right questions and make informed decisions.

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