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Scientific research has established a link between physical and spiritual performance which was not apparent in Bible times.

Problems like epilepsy and schizophrenia are now recognised as having genetic roots, whereas in Bible times they would have been classified as demon possession. (Though it is interesting to note that even in the Old Testament times curses were seen as being passed on from generation to generation. Exodus 20:5 and Exodus 34:7)

Many presumably "spiritual" problems such as depression, impatience, lust, laziness, pride, gluttony, and fear have their root causes in physical ailments, including infections, viruses, hormones, and other chemical imbalances.

For example, a simple tablet can make a schizophrenic stop hearing voices or having delusions of grandeur. But is this "cheating"? Is prayer the only weapon that a Christian is allowed to use, to achieve victory over such an evil?

We do not believe that medical science provides the whole answer, but we do believe that what it has given should be used. Genes are, indeed, physical. But what we do with our genetic inheritance is a spiritual matter.

One person can be born with a handicap and turn bitter because of it, while another radiates only sweetness. A person suffering from paranoia must work harder than most at conquering fear; but someone with very high testosterone may have just as much trouble controlling anger or lust.

The Bible teaches principles which should help us to incorporate new knowledge about medical science into our understanding of Christian faith. Christian teachings about love and mercy are a big part of this. The Golden Rule is that we should treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

A Quaker leader says to a young Quakeress, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, "Thee uses thyself only to learn how to love thy neighbour."

And she replies, "To be sure. Isn't it what we are made for?"

If we would "use" our own bodies as a loving guide to understand others, we would realise that even a common cold can have a spiritual impact on us, making us impatient, lazy, or depressed. At such times we appreciate receiving sympathy and understanding more than we appreciate condemnation. So isn't it reasonable for us to show the same consideration to someone suffering from depression or overeating?

One of the problems with a very short list of vices is that some people may be able to master the entire list and thus have no way to feel mercy toward those who do not. Churches which have rules against drinking or using drugs rarely have rules against overeating or being addicted to money. If they did, the people in them might be a little more merciful toward alcoholics and drug addicts.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." (Matthew 5:7) How much do we remember our own need for grace with our besetting sins when it comes to focusing on the sins of others?

There is a teaching amongst Pentecostals and other "healing" ministries that all sickness is of the devil. Yet physical limitations of one sort or another are universal; and they are one of God's best tools for teaching us mercy.

A Pentecostal preacher once said to me, "There is no excuse for any Christian to have a nervous breakdown." Obviously this man had never suffered a nervous breakdown. The result was a hard, self-righteous spirit that could offer little comfort to anyone who had.

Sickness, handicaps, and so many other experiences in our lives which could be regarded as tragedies, can often become the means through which God fashions us into the kind of humble, loving servants that he really wants us to be. It is only natural that we should pray for health, wealth, and protection. But we should always be open to the possibility that God may have a higher calling for us... one that involves suffering and apparent failure... one that teaches us the kind of love that only comes through carrying a cross.

(See also Willing To Be Made Willing?.)

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