Among savage tribes religion and medicine are so closely linked as to be inseparable, with the witch doctor and medicine man often becoming one and the same. From the dawn of history religion has been linked to the supernatural. From its beginnings medicine, too, has had its roots in phenomena that go beyond the natural world. Both religion and medicine have grown, religion coming up from the pagan days of fear, superstition and mysticism to a search for spiritual truths, and medicine developing from primitive magic to science.
It is well known that body, mind and spirit are so integrated that disorders of one often affect the others. For example, one can become so physically fatigued that he cannot think clearly.
Elijah, after defeating and slaying the prophets of Baal and being hunted by Jezebel's messengers was so tired and discouraged that he fled a day's journey into the wilderness and lay down under a juniper tree, saying: "O Lord, take away my life for I am not better than my fathers." Elijah's physical exhaustion and fear had depressed his spirit. And most of us are like Elijah at times. After a hard day's work, a strenuous day's work, we come home tired and irritable. Dinner isn't ready, the wife has had a worrying day too, the children are annoying—any little noise or antagonism sets us off and our pent-up tension breaks loose. The result is a cross word or sharp criticism, and wife or children are offended.
This situation reaction is a form of temporary illness. The remedy is rest. The preventive is keeping rested.
Physical sickness also affects both mind and spirit. Prolonged pain, an extended weakness, a tired-out, exhausted feeling all wear on the mental and spiritual reserves, sooner or later breaking them down. The disease may be apparent or obscure, acute or chronic, curable or incurable—anemia, perhaps unsuspected for a long time, arthritis, crippling and painful, deformities from infantile paralysis or accidents, a weak heart, lung troubles of various sorts, high blood pressure or toxic goiter making one sensitive and irritable. All these tend to wear down the physical body and the nervous system and undermine our spiritual reserves.
In such situations we need superhuman aid to guard against depression and discouragement. Then it is that faith gives courage and a will to overcome the handicap results in a will to live.
Several years ago I had as a patient an ill, elderly gentleman. For years he had had symptoms suggesting a stomach ulcer. In spite of the urgings of his family physician he refused to have a thorough examination, including X-rays. Actually, he was afraid to face the issue.
But one noon, when he was home for lunch, the ulcer ruptured. The pain was so great he had to call the doctor. He was compelled to enter the hospital. An immediate operation was performed and the perforated ulcer closed. Peritonitis was beginning, but because of the promptness of the physician in bringing the patient to the hospital for the operation, he did unusually well for a week.
Then a complication, involving the prostate gland, required another operation. This was done by a consultant, under spinal anesthesia, and again the patient did very well. After about two weeks the man's wife insisted that he have a large hernia repaired, saying he would never come back to the hospital again. She knew how deeply rooted was his fear. As a matter of fact, he had ruptured the stomach ulcer, for which he had been brought to the hospital, while trying to reduce this same hernia from which he had suffered for many years. The patient consented, and for the third time he came through the operation successfully. When he left the hospital, twelve weeks after admission, he was well and happy, having undergone three major operative procedures.
The interesting part of this story is that for the first few days following the first use of surgery, the man was frightened, worried and uncooperative. Entering his room one morning I found him fussing, worrying and in tears. I asked him quite abruptly whether he read that book, pointing to the Bible on his bedside table. He said that he did. I asked whether he believed it, and he confessed that he did. Then I said: "Why don't you obey it ? Why don't you have faith in what you read? Here you have the promises of help and comfort, yet you won't take hold of them. Why don't you use the promises you say you believe in?"
He saw the point and from then on, through the next two major operations and convalescence, he was a different person, brave, courageous and uncomplaining. He was different because he practiced his faith.
If it is true that physical ills exert their efforts upon mind and spirit, it is also true that disorders of the spirit affect the body. There is the so-called hypochondriac, or neurasthenic patient who apparently imagines many ills, or overestimates and exaggerates minor aches and pains until he believes them to be more serious than they are. More often than not such persons are classified as hopeless mental patients.
They are sick—mentally sick—and they need sympathetic advice and help. Careful search into their lives and environment may reveal such emotions as fear, jealousy, or inferiority feelings. Perhaps there is an unhappy home situation, a silent burden hidden from the world, financial worries, a sick child or parent, or other worries that serve as a foundation for illness.
Such irritating factors often vie with the patient's desires and ambitions and set up a conflict of loyalties. People are literally torn asunder by a feeling of duty to family on the one hand, and loyalty to a cherished ambition on the other. As an outlet they project their emotional conflict into a physical ailment. On examination nothing physically wrong appears. So, the treatment is not so much medicine, except for a mild sedative perhaps, but rather careful guidance and advice about carrying out their duties to family or friend and at the same time dropping their own ambitions in order to make others happy. Here's where trust in God's guidance comes in.
Hate, revenge and jealousy are emotions often hard to control. Someone hurts our feelings, or says a cutting word, or turns away the affection of a friend, and we begin brooding. We turn the whole batch of thoughts into hate. We plot how to "get even." We actually wOrry ourselves sick over the matter. The remedy—forgive your enemy—"do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you." And this means going to the one you hate and asking forgiveness.
Jealousy is a green-eyed monster that tears us to pieces, spirit and body. How frequently people worry about the better opportunities their friends have--better house, better furniture, better education, prettier children, better anything and everything! And, to gain attention, they project their feelings into bodily symptoms, especially heart symptoms—faintness, tachycardia (rapid pulse rate) and smothery sensations, even pain in the chest.
Here again the remedy is mental adjustment. Recognize and confess the sin of jealousy. Take stock of your own blessings. Develop the one or two talents you have, if you do not possess five—and few of us do—and stop worrying about the five or ten some others may have.
Idleness is a great cause of illness. Medical histories of the idle sick are numerous in any physician's or hospital's files. People who sit around doing nothing think about themselves and unconsciously find aches and pains to cultivate. Soon they are mentally sick, and often they become physically ill as well. What they need is an interest in a job or in others.
Over-stimulation by over-active nerve impulses causes many disorders of the gastro-intestinal tract. This over-stimulation may cause hyperactivity of the secreting glands of the stomach, with the flow of too much acid, resulting in symptoms suggesting ulcer. And true ulcer may develop.
Over-stimulation of this sort may be unknown to the patient. He may be a high-strung, hard-working individual, never stopping for recreation or relaxation. On the other hand, the high-strung personality may show itself in worry, irritalibity and a tense nervous state. All of these emotions have the same effect in these people. The remedy is medication, perhaps surgery in severe cases, but above all a readjustment of living and thinking and in attitudes toward life.
Another gastro-intestinal disorder frequently caused by emotional upsets or occurring in tense, never-relaxing persons is colitis. There are many types of colitis—mild, without much physical change in the large intestine, to severe forms with ulcerations, high fever, severe malaise and sometimes hemorrhages. There are many causes. One is the so-called ideopathic type, that is, of undetermined physical origin. The personality of the patient may appear to the onlooker to be serene and contented. Inwardly he may be tense, always restless, unless working and doing things—never idle, never relaxed. Other emotions already mentioned may have their part to play or may be the sole factors.
In this type of colitis, where all organic causes are ruled out, there is hypermotility (over-action) of the intestines. This over-action sooner or later traumatizes the lining of the bowel with subsequent ,bleeding and ulceration. Pain results from the over-action or cramping of the bowel muscle. The best remedy here is prolonged rest, supplemented by medication. Along with the rest must go a readjustment in one's mode of living. Life must be more moderate and less tense, allowing time for relaxation, sleep, and recreation.
For many of the illnesses herein discussed sleep is the most important remedy. Sleep is a God-given therapeutic agent. It is always right at hand for the taking, but so few of us use it as we should.
To conquer our emotions and Make them serve us instead of making us serve them is one of our most important health problems. "He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city." Our spirits cannot be ruled alone. God's help is needed.
The practice of medicine, including all specialties, is dry and hollow unless the doctor and nurse, as well as the patient, utilize the religion of Jesus Christ as a basis of personal relationship. Science without Christianity is limited in its usefulness. But scientific medicine, practiced with Christian love, knows no bounds. —The Christian Advocate, Aug. 21, 1947. (Reprinted by permission.)