How Can Christians Tell the Difference Between a Spiritual Issue and a Physical One?

September 25, 2014

How Can Christians Tell the Difference Between a Spiritual Issue and a Physical One
Heath Lambert

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Heath Lambert

How Can Christians Tell the Difference Between a Spiritual Issue and a Physical One

BCC Staff Note: This blog was first posted at the ACBC’s blog site and is re-posted with the permission of the ACBC and Heath Lambert. You can also read the original post here.

I respond to this question in two ways.

First, God made human beings with the two constituent parts of body and soul.  That means it is just as “Christian” to go to the doctor for a medical problem as it is to go to a pastor for a marriage problem.  Christians embrace medical science and medical treatment as a mark of God’s common grace to care for bodies, which God made good.  Because of this theological reality my personal creed is, “When in doubt, check it out.”  That means I encourage a physical evaluation from anyone who is manifesting symptoms that could be interpreted in any way as an organic medical problem.  The physical findings of a competent medical professional are our ally in caring well for people.

A second response is to make a distinction that Ed Welch discusses in his book, Blame it on the Brain.  Welch encourages us to evaluate symptoms according to biblical categories of morality.  If a person is having a problem that the Bible defines in moral terms (like repeated lying, for example) we say they need spiritual care and the grace of Jesus to address that problem.  If a person is experiencing a problem that is not a moral or spiritual issue in any way (like the hallucinations of a Parkinson’s patient) then we say they have a medical problem that requires treatment.

Things get even more complicated when we realize that some spiritual issues have a biological basis.  For example, if your body fails to produce enough thyroid hormone you will be depressed.  This underlines my point above about relying on physicians as our ally in understanding what is wrong with people who are struggling with serious problems.

As we evaluate these complexities we need to do it humbly, understanding that our grasp of both medical and spiritual problems are incomplete.  There are issues we do not understand and problems we do not yet grasp.  Christians need to pray for wisdom and charity as we seek to sort through these matters.


One thought on “How Can Christians Tell the Difference Between a Spiritual Issue and a Physical One?

  1. It will often be difficult to know where the line is between physical and spiritual problems lies. There will almost always be a spiritual element in our heart’s response to a physical trial. We can feel confident about addressing that without seeming to say “it’s all in your head “.

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