The Precariousness of Health

Another quote from Larchet’s “The Theology of Illness”:

Nevertheless, for them (what the calls “holy people”) as for all mankind, perfect health of the body during this life can never be attained. In this world perfect health never exists in absolute form; health is always a matter of partial and temporary equilibrium. We can even say that health in this present age is simply a matter of a lesser illness, The very notion of ideal health is, in fact, beyond our comprehension, since it reflects no experience known to us in the life. In our present condition, “health” is always in some sense “illness” that has simply not appeared as such and/or is not significant enough to be identified as such. 

The Theology of Illness by Jean-Claude Larchet

“And there is no question that people today have far fewer resources than their ancestors did to deal with the entire problem.” (of suffering from illness) So states Jean-Claude Larchet, a French Orthodox researcher who is described as a foremost Orthodox Patristics (early church fathers) scholar  in the intro to his book called The Theology of Illness. The author goes on to say “Without question, modern medicine has attained a remarkably high degree of scientific knowledge, technical ability and social organization….Yet we have to admit that this progress has its limits, and even its failures, due less to medicine itself than to various values – or ideologies – that in certain cases underlie its application and development.”

“The development of medicine in a purely naturalist perspective served to objectify illness, making of it a reality considered in itself and for itself. Illness came to be construed as uniquely physiological and somehow independent of the afflicted person, Rather than treat the (whole – my addition) person, many physicians today treat illnesses or organs. This fact – complicated by diagnostic methods that are increasingly quantitative and abstract, together with therapeutic methods that are more and more technical – has had as its primary consequence the effect of considerably depersonalizing medical practice…By regarding sickness and suffering as autonomous realities of a purely physiological character – and consequently as susceptible to treatment that is purely technical, applied to the body alone – modern medicine does practically nothing to help patients assume them. Rather, it encourages patients to consider that both their state and their fate lie entirely in the hands of the physicians, that the only solution to their trouble is purely medical, and that the only way the can endure their suffering is to look passively to medicine for any hope of relief and healing.”

He goes on to state that …”the fear that of all that can endanger, reduce or eliminate that enjoyment (of biological life); the refusal of all forms of suffering and the suppression of pain as the highest value of civilization and the consummation of social development;  the fear of biological death considered as the absolute end of human existence: all of this leads a great many of our contemporaries to expect that salvation comes from medicine and encourages them to make of the physician a new priest of modern times, a king who holds over them the power of life or death, and a prophet of their ultimate destiny.” (for a review of this intro check out THIS link)

Pretty strong words. But also pretty accurate. I’m looking forward to reading through this relatively short work but from the reviews it’s a short work with a lot of truth. This question continues to haunt my thinking. Why can’t the Church of the 21st century regain the initiative in caring for the whole person? Where are our local churches where this is happening effectively? Where pain and suffering find their proper place and the role of the physician and healthcare team are not seen as the main means by which people experience true health.

Another interesting conversation is one that the Roberta Winter Institute is promoting regarding why the Church is not strategizing about how to destroy the works of Satan which often show up as deadly viruses and bacteria that cause endless suffering among the worlds poorest.

Inadequate Understanding of HEALTH: from Health, the Bible and the Church

With this posting I’d like to highlight a section for Dan Fountain’s work, “Health, the Bible and the Church.”  

Inadequate Understanding of Health

As persons, individually or collectively we have considered health to be a right rather than a responsibility. We assume that someone is going to deliver health care to us, be it the medical profession, the government, or some agency. We are content to be passive recipients of “health care” rather than active participants in the multitude of activities necessary to maintain and promote our own health. From this community default, has developed an understandable attitude of paternalism on the part of the medical profession-”We will do it for you.”
As members of the community, we deceive ourselves by assuming the implication that health is the responsibility only of doctors (healthcare professionals, let’s say. mjs) and hospitals. We fail to realize that health has to do with the way we live in our homes, how we do our work, how we play, and with our attitudes, feelings, and emotions. Health is life, and no one can “deliver” it to us nor can anyone but ourselves improve it or destroy it. We ourselves must take the primary initiative for our own health, using many resources available to us from various health and sickness care programs. (HBC, pg 12)

While we could debate the points made here (others can do much to destroy our health, for instance) I believe the gist of what Dr Fountain writes is perfectly applicable to today as it was in 1989 when this work was published. An especially important point made here is that which surrounds the idea that health is a (human) right and thus someone must be responsible for delivering it to us! This is the language used in global health circles and has been bought into by many Christians. But I think Dan has it right. The vast majority of what it takes to live a healthy life is up to the individual and is not something we should expect someone/something else to provide to us.

What can we as Christian health professionals do in light of such proclamations? (that health is a human right) First we need to be in the conversation. We need to be attending events hosted by non-Christian faith based entities (this includes WHO, MSF, SDG, etc) and while agreeing that access to affordable, local, quality and culturally relevant healthcare can be considered a right, it is not reasonable to argue that health is a human right. And into the conversation we can add that whenever human rights are discussed we should also remind our non-Christian associates that of more importance is the human responsibility we all share for living and helping others live healthy lives.