Have you noticed that alternative medicine is becoming more popular? (This will have something to do with biblical counseling, just give me a minute.) Acupuncturists are busier than ever. Wretched tasting herbal drinks are the new coffee. Food is no longer just for bodily maintenance—it can now be a treatment.
This trend signals a few different things.
First, it says that traditional medicine doesn’t have as many answers as we thought. While modern drugs can do wonders, there are too many times when the efficacy of our modern pharmacopeia is questionable and its side effects are dangerous.
Second, it says something about the value of spending time dealing with the broader issues in people’s lives. Practitioners of alternative medicine typically spend more time with patients than the harried family physician, and somehow that blend of herbs, interest in other aspects of our lives, and attentiveness is highly valued. And though there is no scientific evidence that these treatments work, the entire package of alternative medicine which is far broader in its approach to health, is more curative than we probably know.
Here is how this intersects with biblical counseling.
There have been two times in my life when I went to work (as a counselor) while there were lingering tensions in my marriage. Both times I should have made a U-turn in the CCEF parking lot and headed back home, because I was good for nothing at work. My stomach hurt, I felt depressed, I was distracted. My inner zombie was taking over.
Medication, however, wouldn’t have touched these symptoms. When I finally went home and reconciled—voila, my stomach felt better, the darkness lifted, and I was a gung ho worker who could focus as long as necessary. The alternative medicine—repentance and restoration of relationship in this case—had done its good work.
Alternative medicine can occasionally be very narrow (as if raw carrots could cure most anything) but it usually considers diet, lifestyle and relationships. And, in those larger interests, it is on to something. The Bible teaches us that we are embodied souls, which means that our bodies can affect our souls and vice versa. Bodies can make us depressed, forgetful or disorganized. Our souls, aka our hearts or inner being, can affect our bodies with, yes, stomach aches and depression, along with who knows what else. To put it more clearly, our moral decisions can affect our health. Now, I’m not saying there is a predictable relationship between sin and bodily struggles (e.g., Psalm 73). If there were then you could distinguish the righteous from the unrighteous with a blood pressure cuff. But we can say this—sickness is always a fine time for a spiritual check-up.
Do I have a clear conscience? Is there anything I am trying to hide before God and other people?
Have I done what I can to seek peace in my relationships?
Am I living with regrets that have yet to be treated with the many benefits of the death and resurrection of Jesus?
Allow these questions to move you toward faith, repentance and obedience and you might find some fatigue and a few aches and pains loosening their grip.
Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF and holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a neuro-psychology specialty from the University of Utah as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. Ed has been counseling for over twenty-six years and has written many books and articles on biblical counseling.