Care or Cure?

Stanley Hauerwas:

“One of the demonic things that has happened to medicine is to change its purpose from care to cure, and that puts an unbelievable burden on doctors. It gives them a lot of power, but they break apart under the strain.”

Not being a medical doctor, I can’t speak for their stresses & strains. Given our societal conviction that every disease and sickness can – and ought! – to be healed, I can imagine that the strain Hauerwas is identifying is very real.
From my own standpoint, as a pastor of hundreds of people who will die, I experience the strain differently. I follow a Jesus who healed people. When we see programmatic statements describing his ministry as “Healing every disease and sickness,” we start expecting to see that pattern in our churches, assuming we are practicing real Jesus-style Christianity. But then we don’t. While some we pray for are healed, some by apparently normal means, some by apparently extraordinary means, others don’t get well. Some linger in pain and misery, while others just die. We think we – or they – must be lacking in faith.

But there’s another side to Jesus’ ministry, perhaps most blatantly in John 5. We get the idea that there are many, many sick folks gathered at the Pool of Bethesda. Jesus goes up to one man. I can imagine him carefully stepping over dozens of people just to get to the fellow. Out of all the sick folk there, only one healed.

In some ways our congregation is a typical United Methodist congregation. Since our membership is more heavily toward the elderly, we have plenty of funerals every year. Though it sounds crass, it is normal for old people to die – and none of our folks are growing younger. We’ve lost some key people in the last five years, and so far haven’t had people step up to fill their shoes. But that’s not the hardest part. The hardest part is the number of younger people who have been brought low with major illness, cancer and death. When I consider how many of our younger leaders have gone through major tragedy in the past few years, I become reticent to invite more to take up leadership in such a dangerous place.

As I think about the Hauerwas quote above, I become aware how much more congenial I find the idea of a cure than of care. Mixed up with that is my continued half-hearted acceptance of the call to effectiveness, originating in our culture echoing loudly in the church. We’re supposed to be effective. Being effective means getting things done. And I find getting things done to be harder and harder as more leaders are sidelined.

I’m thinking I need to learn some things.

First, I need to learn to let care supplant cure more often. I’m not going to stop praying for healing, but (maybe) be less insistent about it.

Second, I need to identify what really needs to be done and how my calling has been distorted by our hunger for effectiveness.

In Ephesians Paul speaks unfavorably of being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. I need to move beyond being tossed to and fro by every wind of circumstance, to let Jesus be the anchor of my soul – the anchor of our congregation.

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