(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and made their Top Ten blogs of 2020. It was also published by the National Christian Foundation website, and was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)
Over the past two months, I have been teaching a class on Wednesday nights on the topic of God’s presence at work. I have had only student. He is a U.S. Army orthopedic surgeon, working at the hospital on post. When we got to chapter eight in my book, regarding the kinds of work that we may be doing in the New Jerusalem at the end of the ages, I was concerned about how he would react. I had written that doctors (among many other professions) would no longer be needed because all residents will be healed. This is based on Rev. 21:4, where it states in part, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (For further discussion on the eternal value of work, read my article here.)
As I have gotten to know my brother in Christ better during this time, I have come to a deeper understanding and appreciation for those who work in the healing profession. I will address this topic from a biblical and theological perspective to encourage those whom God uses to heal, as well as those who are on the receiving end of their valuable work.
Healing in Scripture
A good place to start this discussion would be to provide a brief biblical overview of Jesus’ healing ministry and His purposes for it. I see a few obvious ones:
1) His ability to heal pointed to His divinity.
2) Jesus clearly wanted to relieve suffering when He had the opportunity to do so, even on a Sabbath.
3) His healing also pointed towards the day when God’s Kingdom would come in all its fullness, and there would be no more sickness, pain, disability, or death.
Throughout the Gospels, we see that Jesus worked as a healer. We see in Matt 4:23 and 9:35 that Jesus healed “every disease and sickness” among the people. In Matt. 11:2-5, when Jesus was asked by John the Baptist’s disciples whether He was the Messiah, Jesus replied, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
The list of the kinds of people that Jesus healed is impressive: a woman with internal bleeding (Mark 5:25-26), a crippled man (John 5:2-9), a man born blind (Acts 10:38), and many others. Jesus’ healing ministry is another example in Scripture of the concept of Immanuel labor, God’s divine presence that is clearly linked to human work. Peter states in his gospel presentation to Cornelius’ family that Jesus healed because “God was with him” (Acts 10:38).
What do healers bring to the table?
I know and love many kinds of dedicated healthcare workers. My eldest sister is a medical laboratory technologist; my youngest sister is a physical therapist. My daughter is a speech therapist. I have over twenty friends who are doctors, physician’s assistants, nurses, pharmacists, or dental hygienists. God uses each of them to bring healing and restoration to thousands of people every day.
If we were to consider the kind of work that God models today, as described in Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling, you might categorize what they do as compassionate work, God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding. (See previous article written two years ago.)
Like most professions, this is not a single-player game. In my discussions with the surgeon attending my class, he has emphasized on many occasions the importance of teamwork in this field. In a rather complicated and potentially serious procedure he did recently, he painted a clear picture of the absolute necessity of relying on a variety of workers at the hospital who were responsible to handle critical pieces of the joint operation. He mentioned fellow surgeons, radiologists, nurses, and anesthesiologists, to name a few. Every link in the chain was needed.
If we were to expand that list a bit more, we would have to include the wide range of healthcare workers that God uses to meet the medical needs of our families, friends, and us. I know that when I have been hospitalized on several occasions for various procedures, I have personally benefited from all who maintained the equipment, cleaned the floors, delivered the meals, scheduled the appointments, issued my medications, and handled insurance claims, plus the hospital administrators who kept everything running smoothly.
As we see the value of each worker who contributes to the healing process, the natural thing for us to do is to express appreciation to those we come into contact with. It may also give us opportunities to mention that when we pray for healing, God is using each of them to bring restoration of health to us.
What are their thorns & thistles?
Like any other profession, there are unique challenges in this field. Things that make our jobs more difficult than necessary are referred to as thorns and thistles. (See Gen. 3:17-19.)
One struggle is the long or irregular hours, especially when these professionals go through their rigorous training. Another is the mountains of paperwork that accompany each patient or client they encounter. My daughter works as the speech therapist at an elementary school mentioned this specifically a while ago. It never ends. Additionally, there are often unexpected delays in insurance approvals for expensive procedures, which can negatively impact the health of patients in their care. And occasionally, you lose a patient you thought you could save.
Those who serve in professions like these are often perceived as workaholics. In their defense, I asked this question in my book: Can Christians be doctors, young mothers, or farmers? Of course they can! I would not accuse any of them of being workaholics merely because of the extremely long hours they normally have to put in to meet their God-given responsibilities that come with those callings.
However, I would counsel them to find a way to keep the Sabbath in some manner—not as a legalistic requirement but as a pattern for living a balanced, healthy lifestyle, enabling them to rest, worship, and recreate so they can pace themselves to survive and thrive over the long haul.
As I wrap up this discussion, let me return briefly to the discussion with my surgeon, re: his possible vocation in the New Jerusalem. He totally surprised me with his reaction that I was so concerned about. He said that since the majority of his surgical skills involved reinforcing various joints with screws, he could see himself performing carpentry work for all eternity.
What a great perspective! I appreciate my brother’s humble servant’s heart so much. This is the power of a transformed life in Christ.
I have one final word for Christians who serve in this field. God has placed you right where you are to best glorify Him. You know the Great Physician and you are His healing hands. His power to heal can flow through you to others in very practical ways. You know the limitations of medicine that often fail to bring healing to many of these finite bodies. You know that when medicine fails, death is not the end. You can bring comfort to those who mourn. You also know that complete healing of the mind, body, and soul is ultimately found in Christ alone.
Those whom God uses to heal, keep doing this great work, in His strength and for His glory.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.