The Christian, COVID, and our Medical Authorities

Honor the physician for his services, according to your need of him. For the Lord created him, whose gift of healing comes from the Most High, and whom the king will reward. The physician’s skill will distinguish him, and, in the presence of the great, he will be admired.

The Lord created medicines from the earth and a sensible person will not despise them. Was water not made sweet with a tree so the Lord’s strength might be known? So also did God give skill to people, to glory in his marvelous works, through which the physician heals and takes away pain, and the pharmacist prepares his medicines. Thus God’s work continues without cease and well-being spreads upon the face of the earth. My child, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to the Lord, for it is he who heals you. [Sirach 38:1-9]

With a fleeting glance, we might think, “Where is God in our current pandemic?” From the Old Testament, Luther gives us some wise words to contemplate.

With our eyes, we can realize doctors are essential, and experience teaches we can’t do without them. The Scripture shows us the practice of medicine is a useful, comforting, and worthwhile domain, but also points us to God because He created and established them. In Sirach 38, the Scriptures devote almost a full chapter praising medical doctors…. Now, preachers should expand on this and show the people better than I can… [Luther’s Works, vol. 46, pgs. 253-254 contains a more formal translation of this.]

The Reformer praises doctors, medicines, whom God uses to heal us in this sin-sick world. Though doctors aren’t infallible, Martin, nevertheless, urges pastors to preach on this text. Sounds a bit strange since Sirach disappeared from our Bibles when we Lutherans transitioned to English. Still, the text is not without value, teaching us of God’s desire to use something in creation to help His created people.

The written Word honors doctors and pharmacists, to which we can add nurses, technicians, and specialists. Why? To “glorify God in His marvelous works.” So, when you visit a doctor, you should not go because you lack confidence in God. No, you go because you trust, through them, God will work in some way.

Two-thousand years ago, Jesus traveled from village to city and healed people. On occasion, He restored others by speaking (Matt 8:16, 15:28, Luke 17:12-14); at other times, He used His spit (Mark 7:33, 8:23; John 9:6). For some, recovery came through spit and our Lord’s hands (Mark 8:23). For others, He placed His hands, or hand, on someone and spoke (Matt 9:29, 17:7; Mark 6:5, 9:27; Luke 4:40). To give sight to a blind man, our embodied Lord once put mud into the man’s eyes (John 9:6).

Those healings didn’t come straight from heaven’s throne. No, Jesus gave health to others, often with touch, spit, or clay attached to His words. The incarnate Doctor Himself, true Divinity in blood, flesh, and bone, treated others through physical means.

A malformed faith might bring you to believe that going to a clinic means you don’t think God can cure you. So, should you stay at the house? On the flip side, a weak faith can cause you to rush to the hospital since you don’t trust the Almighty is, well, mighty. So, you rely on the doctor, not God.

A proper understanding directs you to go to a doctor, trusting God works in and through him. In this way, you honor God by honoring your medical doctor, whom He calls to accomplish His will for you in your life. In God’s chosen ways, using molecules of matter, He acts in this world. Did Jesus not become a flesh-and-blood man for your salvation? Yes, so His incarnation proves this point!

Holy Scripture tutors us on God, including how He wishes to work—through people, in their callings, for our well-being. So, when you are injured or ill, you go to the physician, but you also cry out to heaven. Don’t presume medicine and prayer are incompatible. “Do not be negligent when you are sick but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you…. Yet still, give your doctor his place because God created him.”

Nowhere else in Scripture will you find such wisdom about health and healing—how our eternal Father functions for the welfare of His creation. No wonder when you read the writings of our Lutheran fathers, you will find Sirach quoted, preached on, and referred to more than any other book of the Apocrypha.

So, God listens to our prayers, while He is acting through the Emergency Medical Technician. Through nurses, doctors, and skilled technicians, God is with us, performing His wonders, “hidden” behind them, using their skills and abilities.

Those in the health profession aren’t unique, however. No, everyone is given a calling, including you. In truth, many callings, which can change based on where you live, who is in your life, and how old you are. Your career may first come to mind. For those of you who work in the home, a housewife (or househusband) is a vocation, too. Through people—actual, real physical beings—our Father is active in His doing.

Other undertakings also fill your life’s resume. Those places involve your relationship with others. So, father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, grandparent, aunt, uncle, and so on are also vocations. Let’s not stop, for we find God operates in other areas through created matter.

In the beginning, God formed the first man, creating Adam from the soil of the Earth. Next, Eve, built from the bone of Adam’s side. How God made us, using substance He earlier spoke into being, implies He will continue to use material matter for our well-being. Well, if so, Peter’s words, “baptism now saves you,” no longer comes across as weird but typical (1 Peter 3:21). So, Jesus tells us to drink the wine in His Supper “for the forgiveness of sins.” Oh, so this is not an unexpected way for God to act. Again, this is true when a pastor absolves another—because Jesus authorizes this, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (John 20:23).

“By water and Spirit,” God gives you spiritual birth from above (John 3:3, 5). Now you are in His family, so He summons you into a life of love and living service. Connected to Christ, the Father bids you to follow in the steps of His Son, to cherish God with your entire heart, soul, and mind. Of all your duties, this is your first. Though, as a baptized child, God also beckons you to love your neighbor as yourself, to be a blessing in Christ.

These heaven-sent taskings move you into areas of joyful service. Though, if we’re honest, we’ll also find ourselves in conflict and suffering, situations where our callings may take us. Here’s why. Every area we work in is an intersection of our double citizenship, of heaven and earth.

Perhaps, this might help. An intersection forms a cross-like shape. For us, this is the coming together of God and man at Jesus’ cross, where He fulfilled His highest vocation. Like Him, we strive to benefit others. The cross-shaped convergence of our dual residency—this world and heaven—may likewise bring hardship into your life. For example, you might need to lift a burden off another, from family, friends, or co-workers—but now this becomes a task made holy by God!

In every vocation, Jesus sends you the Spirit from the Father to love Him and others as you do yourself. What does this include? Think about what you desire. Like other people, you want health, employment, peace, safety, and eternal deliverance. So, in your God-given callings, you help others in those areas.

In simple terms, you wish for your friends, family, or neighbors what you want for yourself. Such is your calling, your vocation. Through those tasks, you are exalting God since He is working in, behind, and through you. In your caring of others, you are carrying out His remarkable works of love and service.

So, as a congregation, our response to the current COVID crisis is not shrunken down to recognize God only operates through our medical authorities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and hospitals. To sputter and stop there is to stop short. To honor them is to heed their directives when they oblige us to act or not act, serving in their vocations to protect life. In this way, God is training us to strain toward the Day when He will restore us in both body and soul for all eternity.

With Gospel eyes, God is telling us, “You are mine, and I will not forsake you. All will be well, for I will bring you home in my way and time.” Until then, we serve those in our lives as a reflection of God’s love for us, doing what we can to help prevent the spread of this virus. Why? So, our hospitals will have nurses and medical equipment, medicines and doctors to care for those who do become sick. Oh, these actions are much more than being worthy citizens of our nation, for they also reflect our heavenly citizenship. So, if and when they require us to stop gathering as a congregation for medical reasons, we will follow their lead.

“All praise to God who can do far more than we can ask or imagine by the mighty power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Amen.