Thursday, 29 May 2008

Karl Barth on sickness, health, and doctors

My poor father (who also happens to be F&T’s most devoted reader) has lately had more than his fair share of doctors, hospitals and waiting rooms. In his ethical section on “Freedom for Life” (CD III/4, §55), Karl Barth discusses God’s own opposition to sickness – so that doctors and patients are together following God’s will as they resist the demonic power of sickness:

“Sickness, like death itself, is unnatural and disorderly. It is an element in the rebellion of chaos against God’s creation. It is an act and declaration of the devil and demons. To be sure, it is no less bound to God and dependent on Him than the creature which He created. Indeed, it is impotent in a double way. For like sin and death, it is neither good nor is it willed and created by God at all, but is real, effective, powerful and menacing only in its nullity, as part of that which God has negated, as part of His kingdom on the left hand.…

“The realm of death which afflicts man in the form of sickness … is opposed to His good will as Creator and has existence and power only under His mighty No. To capitulate before it, to allow it to take its course, can never be obedience but only disobedience towards God. In harmony with the will of God, what humans ought to will in face of this whole realm on the left hand, and therefore in face of sickness, can only be final resistance.… Those who take up this struggle obediently are already healthy in the fact that they do so, and theirs is no empty desire when they will to maintain or regain their health” (pp. 366-69).

Furthermore: “When one person is ill, the whole of society is really ill in all its members. In the battle against sickness the final human word cannot be isolation but only fellowship” (p. 363).

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