As Christian provider, many times I have divided my work into a false duality. There’s the medical management of my work. Then there’s this other part where I try to impact patients spiritually. However, I recently read an article that made me reconsider these categories.
In an article by Douglas Tilstra entitled, “What Type of Healing?” from the journal The Medical Evangelist, the author discusses the New Testament Greek word sozo. This is the word Paul uses to describe salvation – a very theological and spiritual term. It’s the word the jailer uses when he asks the Apostle Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30. Paul responds by proclaiming to him the Gospel, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
However, the term sozo is not only limited to a theological meaning. In fact, the Scriptures uses the term sozo to describe physical healing, too. The woman who had been bleeding for 12 years said to herself, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed (sozo)” Mark 5:28. Jesus says to the leper and blind Bartimaeus, “Your faith has healed (sozo) you” (Luke 17:19, Mark 10:52, and Luke 18:42).
The implications are significant. Scripture doesn’t divide physical and spiritual healing and neither should we. One patient comes to mind as I think of this. I’ll call him Derek.
Derek was a middle aged patient who I saw for a Department of Transportation (DOT) exam. It’s a thorough physical exam for truck drivers. Patients without medical problems pass with a DOT card good for 2 years. Patients with chronic medical conditions such as hypertension require an exam at least every year. I had seen Derek just the year before. The only issue he had was hypertension. When I compared exams I noticed he was lighter by 8 pounds; he also noted more energy. He was only on one blood pressure pill. Perhaps most surprising was the improvement in his vision. He had improved from 20/70 in the right eye to 20/40. Vision in both eyes had improved from 20/40 to 20/25. Derek told me, I grew up on a farm where we ate blood for breakfast, lunch , dinner and dessert. Now I’m mostly vegan and do a lot of juicing.
I asked him what lead to these changes and I didn’t expect his answer: I was upset at you last year because you didn’t renew my DOT card for 2 years like the other doctors. But then I realized the problem wasn’t you. It was me. I needed to change my attitude.
Everyday I struggle to get patients to change their diet and lifestyle. For this patient I had merely performed a physical exam. No long talks about the benefits of a plant-based diet. No lecture on reducing sodium intake. Just a physical exam. And that was enough for him to change his life. He changed his physical habits resulting in greater health and longevity. But he also changed his attitude, which speaks to a change in his spiritual condition. God is in the business of changing hearts. Somehow, through a physicial exam, God was able to work a change in the spiritual nature of this man.
We talked a bit more about life. I shared with him about how I was getting married in the summer. At the end of our visit he told me, Doc friends know me as the Giver. If you give me your card, I’d like to give you and your bride a wedding gift.
Our work is not divided. Healing is not only physical, nor is it only spiritual. But when we provide healing – whether physical, emotional, mental, social or spiritual – we are participating in God’s desire to restore this broken world. The question is not whether or not I prayed with a patient. It’s not about whether or not spiritual topics were addressed. Or even if the name of God was uttered. What matters is the condition of our hearts. Do we recognize the opportunity given by God to heal this person in a way no one else can in that moment? Have we opened our eyes to the gift we have to serve and bless? Because if you’re like me, I’m usually feeling overwhelmed with work and thinking about what I need to do to get to the next patient.
So I’m learning to pause. I’m desiring to be fully present. I want my eyes to be open. Because I don’t want to miss the meaningful holiness of the moment. And this work I do, and the work you do – whether physical healing or spiritual healing – is being used by God to transform lives.