Holy Healing is Genuine Healing
What should be done when parents rely on religion instead of medicine to heal sick children?
In 14th-Century Marseilles, 5% of the population was Jewish, yet almost half of the doctors were Jews. In the 16th Century when French King Francis I was imprisoned, he asked his captor, Charles V, for his finest Jewish physician. When the doctor arrived Francis asked if he was not tired of waiting for the Messiah to come. The doctor replied he was not, since he was a Christian. Francis sent him away and arranged to be treated by a Jew, brought all the way from Constantinople.
Jewish devotion to the practice of medicine is not new. The command to heal is central to Judaism. From the bible onward, Jews have understood that human beings are God's agents in battling illness.
As someone who has survived both a brain tumor and lymphoma, and whose wife has survived cancer as well, I am enormously grateful for the skill of doctors and for my tradition in encouraging that healing art. I prayed, but I did not and would not rely on prayer. It is bad theology, and when done for someone else in place of treating them, it is the cruelty born of credulity or of simple ignorance.
Rabbi Israel Salanter is credited with the lapidary saying that one should worry about one's own soul and other's bodies; too often we worry about our own bodies and other's souls. To believe that God doles out healing according to the intensity of the prayer is a peculiar conviction. We know that prayer, if it "works" does so unpredictably with regards to wealth, happiness, good fortune - any of the goods of life. To suppose that in the case of health, the central good of life - God works with the reliability of a Skinner box is bizzarely mechanistic.
No parent has the right to deprive a child of treatment. Indeed, no person has the right to deprive another, and assume the posture of spiritual arrogance that substitutes prayer for medical care. Holy healing is genuine healing, not sham healing with a patina of holiness. Repudiating the progress of human reason is something one may do for oneself, but not for another. It is narrow, it is mistaken, and ultimately, in cases of serious illness, it is evil.
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