Medicine and miracles
Published: 9 February 2019 (GMT+10)
Barbara N. from the US wrote in response to the article Gene editing babies? A dangerous, pointless experiment:
All this monkeying of genes, I believe, is a huge slap in the face to our Heavenly Father, including tampering with genes to help those who are dealing with illness. The ill still need the intervention of the God who knows everything hand knows how to heal and wants to be their healer. The ill need to hear the truth of God’s gift of His healing and understand how to receive it by His powerful Word given to us. Because many have not learned nor heard the promise of supernatural healing, they turn to man’s understanding of science and continue to believe that’s where the answers are. So disturbing to hear of this report and I hope we find it is not substantiated.
First, I think it’s important to affirm that God does do miracles—we find them throughout Scripture, and God is certainly able to do anything He wants, including miraculous healings. So, given that we believe that God can do any miracle He wants to do, how should we think about medical intervention?
Anything we do to help our bodies recover from or function under the effects of the Curse is a medical intervention. If we wear glasses to help us cope with near-sightedness, take an aspirin for a headache, or put a band-aid on a cut, we are effectively using natural means instead of relying on a miracle. And that isn’t wrong!
Medical interventions range from superficial, like the examples above, to much more invasive, like internal pacemakers, kidney transplants, and brain surgery. But the principle is the same. Medical interventions that help to alleviate the effects of the Curse are good. We are thankful for doctors and their skills and do not accuse them of trying to subvert the will of God. Their tireless work to bring succor to the suffering is a blessing to humanity. Of course, the ends do not justify any unethical means—just because a kidney transplant can be good because it saves the life of someone in kidney failure does not mean we can murder someone else to harvest his organs for transplantation, for instance.
Perhaps the most invasive intervention of all would be editing the DNA code itself. But using the reasoning we’ve established above, we would judge it by the same standards. Does it help to alleviate the effects of the Curse? If we could erase the gene for cystic fibrosis, for Huntington’s disease, or for sickle cell anemia, that would be good, because those harmful genes were not part of God’s original creation. Of course, we would also have to ask, can it be done ethically? For instance, we can’t kill someone to harvest his organs, we can’t create a bunch of embryos and kill most of them to end up with a few healthy individuals, and we can’t edit the DNA of an embryo because that risks bringing harm to the individual without their consent.
Does this entail a lack of faith in God? Not at all! If God wanted to heal every single person with a genetic illness, it would not be hard for Him to do so, and He could do it at this very moment. But miracles, by definition, are rare, and we shouldn’t presume that God will perform a miracle just because we affirm that He can. While we can pray for a miracle and ask that God would heal people who are suffering with various afflictions, we can also be thankful for the means of medicine that He has given us.
Even in Scripture, we see the reality of miracles and medical intervention coexisting. The apostles were able to perform miracles. Even the shadow (Acts 5:15) of an apostle, or a piece of cloth they had touched (Acts 19:12), could heal someone. But Paul told Timothy to take some wine for his stomach ailment (1 Timothy 5:23) which was a natural treatment. Paul did not tell Timothy to touch the parchment he had written on to receive a miraculous cure. James prescribed prayer and anointing with oil for someone who was ill (James 5:14)—anointing with oil was a common medical intervention in that day. In that one command we see medicine and faith together. In fact, only cults like Christian Science (founded by Mary Baker Eddy, 1821–1910) deny this.
God can act miraculously—any time and in any way He chooses. But we also affirm that God often graciously provides for us by using means that He has built into the creation itself. When God heals through a miracle, a physician’s skill, or the body’s own mechanisms for fighting disease, we are no less dependent on Him for the healing, and no less thankful to Him.