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Volume 16, Issue 1: Childer

The Medicine Chest

Douglas Wilson

Children get sick. In some instances the illness is serious enough to see the doctor, but in many instances, the sickness is of the kind that calls on Mom to be a competent nurse. This means that a father and mother together should develop a biblical worldview that includes direction on how to treat illness, when to call for the doctor, what kind of doctor to call for, and so on.

But having a biblical worldview when it comes to medicine is not the same thing as any view on treatment held by someone who happens to be a Christian. If you were a Puritan mother in Massachusetts Bay Colony, and you were having a difficult time in childbirth, one solution was to take a lock of hair from a virgin's head (a virgin half the age of the woman in labor), and cut the lock of hair into fine powder. Then you were to take 12 ant eggs dried in an oven, grind them to powder with the hair, put it in a quarter of a pint of milk from a red cow. If such milk was not available, a strong ale wort could be substituted, and the elixer downed.
If a child came running in with a strong nosebleed, one solution was to open a vein on the same side and cause the child to smell a dried toad or spiders tied up in a rag. As mentioned above, a biblical view of medicine is not any view of treatment held by someone who is going to heaven. In fact, if we are considering instrumental causes, lots of born-again people down through history have found themselves in heaven because of the medicines they took.
Given the fact of the Fall, and our resultant sicknesses, God has obviously structured the world in such a way as to supply us with medicines and various treatments. The world is a medicine chest, and so it is not really a problem that help for pain could be extracted from ant eggs. Remember the lowly origins of penicillin. The history of the last century seems to indicate that God has supplied us with an unending stream of medicines. It is the glory of God to hide things, and the honor of kings to search out such matters (Prov. 25:2). One of the things the Lord has hidden is medicine, and He has chosen some really odd places to hide it. But how do we know if "the king" really has found something out? Parents have to make decisions about this kind of thing regularly, on everything from innoculations to sore throat treatments. What are parents to make of touted vitamin regimens and the "healthiest" of foods?
The principle of two or three witnesses is fundamental to a Christian approach to knowing the world. We apply this, not only to court situations, but also important decisions like medical treatment. The principle embedded in this law is that of independent confirmation. Another word for it is accountability. Paul says that those who compare themselves with themselves are not wise (2 Cor. 10:12). We have to be willing to be contradicted, and we have to submit to it humbly and willingly when the contradiction takes down one of our treatment "loyaties."
Illustrate it this way. Suppose someone claims to be a great connoisseur of fine wines. He knows how to swirl the wine in the glass, smell it the right way, cluck knowingly when he looks at the label, and so on. This means that he may be a great wine connoisseur—or a fraud and a snob. Let's blindfold him and try it again—here is our principle of independent confirmation. This time if he exudes breathless joy over the bouquet of the Sweeny Mountain Grape Surprise, we know that something is amiss.
In the same way, the world of treatments is full of testimonies acclaiming some of the strangest things. If someone claims that cancer can be cured by shaking a box of corn flakes over the troubled spot, the problems in this are not solved by have two or three witnesses make the same claim. The principle is independent confirmation, not two-ness or three-ness. There were multiple witnesses at the trial of Jesus—they had more than the necessary number, but because they contradicted themselves, they did not meet the standard of independent confirmation.
As Christians who want to reject the world of scientism, we have to be very careful here. The Enlightenment, and the misbegotten world of the philosophes, is to be rejected. But the pattern that has developed for testing medicines is in many ways preeminently biblical. We ought not to forget this simply because the current jargon of conventional medicine is awash in scientism. The principles followed in the use of placeboes in testing, double-blind studies, and so on, are the principles we find in Scripture. Witnesses should be cross-examined, tested, and their words should be independently confirmed.
Parents should look for commitment to these principles as they think through how they will treat their children. The absence of such principles is not a big deal, but only if the ailment itself is not a big deal. If a home remedy is suggested, there is nothing wrong with trying it (obviously, not counting the dangerous ones, or the ones that involve worshipping idols). If it appears to work, there is nothing wrong with telling someone else about it. This kind of anecdotal referencing is fine when dealing with hiccups or a dry scalp itch. I wouldn't suggest it if your child is bleeding on the carpet and the bone is sticking out.
And to apply the wisdom of P.J. O'Rourke, we can say that anyone who does not believe in medical progress can be refuted in one word—dentistry.

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