Medicine as “Art restoration”: How a biblical worldview can instruct medical ethics

As evangelical Christians we uphold the Bible to be the final word on all matters. And yet, can we go to the Bible for guidance in matters of bioethical controversy? How can a book written in pre-scientific times, in a world technologically primitive and predominantly rural give us answers to the questions that modern technological advances has thrown up?

The Bible has much to say and enough to guide us in these matters if we approach it in the right manner. If we look to it for ready-made answers, we will be disappointed. For God has not given the Bible as a dictionary of quotations or as a trouble-shooting manual. Instead the scriptures are a comprehensive revelation of God manward, that covers the whole of world history. Rather than turning to the Bible in the hope of finding proof-texts which will apply directly to the ethical dilemmas of genetic engineering, stem cell research or in vitro fertilization, we need to immerse ourselves in the Biblical revelation so that our transformed minds can lead us.

We all have our worldviews, the spectacles with which we see and interpret all the data in the universe. Our worldviews influence how we see things and thereby influence our decisions. Not every Christian need necessarily have a Christian worldview (see Rom 12:1,2). Even the new birth does not ensure that we automatically think scripturally (2 Cor 10:5, 1 Cor 14:20). Hence it’s very important to develop a Christian mind or a biblical worldview so that we can see and think about every issue from that perspective. How can we learn to think biblically or formulate a Christian worldview? The Scriptures divide all of human history into 4 epochs: the creation, the fall, redemption and consummation. When we look at any issue in the light of this framework for the world, we gain a fresh and balanced perspective. 

As an example let us consider ethical issues related to use of technology. How much of technology is acceptable in tampering with the human body? Can we go to any extent in trying to improve it or are there limits that we ought to impose? In order to think biblically on this issue, it’s helpful to look at the 4 grand themes of human history. Man was created by God in His image, originally good, even “very good”. Then came the corruption due to the Fall. Since that fateful event in the Garden of Eden, God is at work in restoring man and indeed the whole of creation to its original glory. While this work of restoration and reversal is going on side by side with sickness and disease and death, it will be consummated only at the end of the ages. Seen from this perspective, what is the role of medical intervention? It can be best described as ‘Art restoration’. The original masterpiece, created with much love and artistry has become defaced, flawed and contaminated. But through the imperfections, we can still see the outlines of the original masterpiece which still inspires a sense of wonder at the underlying design. If a biblical perspective on human beings views them as flawed masterpieces, then our responsibilities are to act as art preservers and restorers. 

As co workers with God in reversing the effects of the Fall, our duties are to protect the flawed masterpieces from further harm, and attempt to restore them in line with the original artist’s intentions. Art restorers are not free to change or improve the masterpiece as they like. Provided they are operating within the constraints fixed by the original artist’s intentions restorers may decide to employ highly artificial and invasive technology. As medical professionals faced with mind boggling possibilities led by technological advances, we have to keep asking the basic question, “Does the use of this technology allow the maker’s original intention to be fulfilled, or is it changing the design at a fundamental level?”

The article has been based on and drawn extensively from the book “Matters of life and death” by John Wyatt (Intervarsity press and CMF publishers).

Dr. Satish Thomas,

Dept. of Ophthalmology,                                                                                              

CMC Hospital,                                                                                                      

Ludhiana  

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