Doctors agree you shouldn’t smoke, and if you binge drink every weekend you’re likely to get liver disease, just like baking in the sun increases your chance of skin cancer. Constant studies from countless “experts” are detecting the correlation between cancer and a range of all most anything from cell phones to licorice. Apparently red wine is good for your heart, cocoa is good for your memory, and if you stand too close to the microwave when it’s on, you may get a brain tumour.
The human race is fixated with the search for the holy-grail, the trick to long and healthy living. Thanks to modern medicine, doctors do a fantastic job in keeping us alive when we get sick. Doctors resuscitate heart attack patients daily, prescribe drugs, insert a new hip where needed, but what if your GP told you to pray? What if your Doctor prescribed a dose of religious faith to keep you physically healthy?
I don’t think recognition of religion in the medical industry will occur any time soon in a post modern secular society terrified of offending people. However significant studies show that people who prescribe to a religion and people that believe in a higher power and have some kind of a faith live more healthy lives. It’s interesting that scientists would even want to try and measures something like faith and religion, as its one of those topics usually regarded as slightly taboo. Yet Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center in the United States lectures on this very topic. (Oman & Thorensen, 2003).
He has published work where he’s found that religious beliefs and practices are associated with, lower suicide rates, less anxiety, less substance abuse, less depression, a greater well-being, hope, and optimism, more purpose and meaning in life. Koenig has found religious beliefs and activities have been associated with things that are also more tangible, for example, lower death rates from cancer (5 of 7) and less heart disease or better cardiac outcomes (7 of 11). The list goes on and covers, better sleep, less smoking and even a longer life span.
Koenig’s research is increasingly demonstrating a relation between religion, spirituality and health, and he thinks Physicians should be aware of this research and understand its clinical implications. He thinks if spiritual issues are present, referral to chaplains or other spiritual care experts is recommended. “Scientists have concluded religion is not only ‘researchable,’ but it is also of essential interest to doctors and patients. Religion has the benefit of empowering the individual through connecting him/her to a community, and to a superior force, that might in turn give psychological stability.”
These scientific studies haven’t been trying to prove the existence of God but more the connection between faith and health. The main link here is how faith affects your mental health and well being. Put simply, if you have less anxiety and less stress your body is all the better off for it. Wasn't it George Mueller who said that … “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”
Although the research in this area fascinates me, I think it only skims the surface of something far bigger. Even though the research doesn’t define any particular religion, I think that the God of the bible wants to bless and heal us if we let him, keeping in mind the three score and ten figure from Genesis. I think anxiety, stress and depression has a tendency to spiral downwards, and keep us locked in darkness, and further from the truth.
In Romans chapter 1 in the Message, Paul writes...”God's way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: ‘The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.’” Paul goes on to say...”They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life… So God said, in effect, "If that's what you want, that's what you get.”
I don’t think there is any coincidence that if you follow your own way in life, and ignore God, that ultimately God will let your will be done. Indeed death will come to us all, but an eternal hope in something bigger, as I’ve found so far in my life, helps me to face daily struggles. It’s not prosperity theology either, as believing in God never promises a lack of ill health, in fact far from it.
My friend Jared is 31 years old and he has bowl cancer. Doctors gave him possibly two years to live if he was lucky, and that was over three years ago. He holds the record for the most rounds of Chemotherapy in New Zealand. Not a bad stat, but not a good one either. Chemo is a nasty time, and God hasn’t healed Jared even though he has remarkable faith.
Jared's faith in trying times has been the topic of many television and radio interviews, as people ask the question of how can you still believe in God while getting a death sentence so young. I’m still holding out for a miracle, as are many others that pray for him regularly. With Jared's story and his grappling with faith, it’s clear how important and all the more bearable it’s been for him to lean on God.
Jared knows it’s essential to have a faith community to gather around him, to pray, to hope, and to celebrate the small milestones. Having Faith doesn’t mean you’ll live in a bubble of protection, but it does mean you’re better off than having no faith at all.
If you want to follow more on Jared’s story, check out his Boredom Blog: jarednoel.wordpress.com
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Broadcasting Group in Auckland New Zealand.