‘In his novel Nineteen Eighty Four George Orwell describes four ministries through which ‘The Party’ holds power: A Ministry of Peace concerned with war. A Ministry of Love for law and order. A Ministry of Plenty to deal with scarcities. A Ministry of Truth where a vast system of brain washing is planned and executed. He did not need to describe a Ministry of Health which deals with disease: we already have one.’
So wrote a great missionary doctor and teacher, Michael Wilson, in the early 1970s (Health is for People published by Darton, Longman and Todd). Wilson understood that health is more than the absence of disease, and that the way we speak and deal with the idea of health is often unhealthy. A nurse told me the other day that she had been censured for talking to her patients rather than focussing her attention solely on the technical equipment to which the patient was connected. It’s so easy for mechanical expertise to completely overshadow the ordinariness of human interaction. Without those human touches (quite literally) healing is stymied. But those human touches don't appear in efficiency schedules, and are overlooked in the striving after cost effectiveness.
The thought comes to me as I prepare for worship on this Saint Luke’s Day. I’m to read verses from the Book Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) that praises the God-given work of physicians (chapter 38). A rather obvious choice perhaps, but worth thinking on nevertheless. It makes plain that healing skill comes from God; indeed that healing is God’s work—‘from him health spreads over all the earth.’
Then I notice that the word translated as ‘health’ is actually ‘shalom.’ This is a word that Jesus used a lot. Indeed it was his first gift to his followers after his resurrection (John 20.19; Luke 24.36). It speaks of well-being in the widest possible of senses—between nations and communities as well as in families, between individuals, and within the heart and soul of any particular person. It’s a word that shouts positive human connections as part of the will of God.