|A Brief Review of Death and Life in America:
Biblical Healing and Biomedicine.
Paperback: Herald Press, 2008.
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Reviewed by Rev. Karen Altergott.
Is biolife an idol and biomedicine an overly powerful force in contemporary society? What is a Christian to do when confronted by a beast of a system that seems able to name our problems, control and limit the potential solutions, and make any choice other than biomedical intervention seem foolish? The option of considering bio-psycho-socio-spiritual healing requires somewhat more of both patient and practitioner. Biomedicine, while not ultimately to be rejected, is quite reasonably questioned. The independence from God that a pure mechanical and physical approach implies should be completely and clearly rejected.
Death and Life in America provides an excellent overview of healing as Jesus healed into the Kingdom of Heaven, and healing as modern physicians, including the author, have healed. Physicians heal through the advances of biomedicine in the Kingdom of this World. While dancing on the edge of gnosticism with the division between physical and spiritual, Downing basically places biomedicine in the realm of the world. He labels medicine as one of the principalities and powers, and since it is tied up with power over others, the market, the illusion of independence from God, it is somewhat dangerous to all.
On the other hand, the power of Jesus, Son of God, heals in another way. The comparison of resuscitated life and resurrected life shows the difference between holding on to biolife and to entering God’s Kingdom and the new life therein. The central chapters provide a good description and analysis of healing in the New Testament record. The power of God through Jesus to name the problem humans face, to heal the body, mind, spirit, relationship, and to change the approach we have to life itself is incarnate healing, embodied healing. If we accept that we are not autonomous from God, that medicine does not rule our decisions or our lives, then there is hope that healing – biomedical as well- may be based on faith. The concept of Christ carrying our pain, and of us carrying others’ suffering moves us into the realm of how are we now to live with one another in a very helpful way. Acceptance of brokenness and suffering – and biodeath when it is time – is a major sub-theme of this book.
What then for medicine and healing? Perhaps here is where Downing doesn’t go far enough. With the burgeoning of alternative healing, by 2008 when this book was written, our good doctor could have taken some stance on the many ways of healing that Americans are seeking. The next book might be notes from the resistance: what it means to combine healing as Jesus heals with a world that accesses – but does not bow down to – biomedicine.