Bishop's Message

When the medicine is worse than the malady

KING GEORGE III OF ENGLAND was a contemporary of John Wesley. Born just days after Wesley’s heart-warming experience in 1738, the king died in 1820 as a deaf and blind madman.

George began experiencing bouts of madness in later life. He exhibited bizarre behaviour and wild outbursts (such as straying from his speech texts, and addressing the crowd as “My lords and peacocks” or shaking hands with a tree thinking it was the king of Prussia). Once he spoke nonsense non-stop for 58 hours. He had to be tied in a strait-jacket and chained to a chair to control his mad outbursts.

In the 1970s, two psychiatrists, Ida MacAlpine and her son Richard Hunter, went through the king’s medical records and found out that he had a rare blood disease called porphyria, an incurable and devastating disease, with symptoms such as dark red urine, abdominal pains, cramps and epileptic fits. Even today, the disease can be misdiagnosed as mental illness. Poor George!

Then, in 2003, a scrap of paper containing a few strands of hair, with the words, “Hair of His Late Majesty, King George 3rd” was found hidden in the vaults of a London museum. e hair was scientifically tested and found to have 300 times more arsenic than the toxic level.

A search through the medical records found that George had been given James’ powder, a medicine that was used in those days. It had high arsenic content. George was given this medicine to treat his early symptoms of porphyria, which made his condition even worse. Poor fellow.

At times, the medicine is worse than the malady! is is still true today. A significant number of medical conditions today are iatrogenic – caused by medical treatment.

This is why doctors take extra care in introducing medical solutions, mindful of side-effects and potentially serious consequences.The body is a very complex organism. Introduce a solution at one location, and you may start a new problem somewhere else.

The same principles apply in other areas, whether it is environmental management or economic policy. In an article, Ivan Amato gives three examples where solutions are worse than the problems they try to solve.

Firstly, Freon discovered in 1930, and used enthusiastically as a refrigerant and propellant, was later discovered to cause serious damage to the ozone layer. Secondly, studies show that cyclists who wear helmets (a good solution one would think) have a greater tendency to attract accidents. irdly, biofuels (seen enthusiastically as a good alternative
to fossil fuels) have come to be seen as causing numerous problems such as reduced and costly food supplies.

Our solutions often cause problems of their own because they tend to be narrow-sighted; we rarely see the whole picture. at is why we need to turn to Jesus, our true Solution, for only in Him do all things hold together (Col. 1:17).

In the story in Mark 5:24-34, we meet a woman who suffered from a medical condition for 12 years. As a result, she suffered religious (because she was ritually impure) and social problems (she was a social outcaste, and could have been divorced). She saw many doctors and suffered greatly under their care. Not only did she use up all her financial resources, her condition became worse! (Mk. 5:26).

She had no one else to turn to except Jesus. She touched his cloak and was healed. Jesus felt spiritual power leaving Him. He said to her, “Daughter (a term He used only for her), your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mk. 5:34). He “exposed” her publicly to create confidence in her and in Jairus (who was waiting and worried about his dying daughter), and also to “certify” her healing which is difficult to prove (unlike leprosy).

Jesus healed the woman who had run out of options. She was in a desperate situation; coming into contact with her made people impure. Her condition had cut her off people and normal life. But Jesus was the Pure One who, instead of becoming ritually impure like the others, made her whole.

There are two lessons we can learn here.

Firstly, sometimes the medicine is worse than the malady. We live in an age which worships technology, techniques, tools and management astuteness. We may go away with the idea that these would solve all problems. But at times they may be like the medicine that makes the illness worse. Sometimes the solution lies elsewhere, in things we may have come to look down upon – simple things like prayer, faith, love, things like patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

In human foolishness, people may try to solve their problems with solutions which themselves create more problems. For our most basic problems, the ultimate solution is Jesus Christ. at is why we need to turn to Him to live; all other solutions, on their own, will not deliver. Scripture does encourage us to place our trust in God rather than in ourselves or in human abilities or strategies.

Secondly, we need to reflect on how we touch Jesus. at is, if we want to touch Him. Do we jostle with the crowd, or touch Him in faith? Is our contact with Jesus casual, accidental, and incidental, or is it deliberate and intentional? As Augustine put it, “Flesh presses, faith touches.” Do we happen to touch Jesus casually because of our background, church involvement, and the like, or do we touch Him deliberately? e first has no effect; the latter heals and transforms us.

How many church goers touch Jesus casually, brushing past Him with the crowds, being carried by custom and circumstance, and by duty and ritual? How many actually come to church to deliberately touch Jesus, by praying earnestly, listening carefully, and worshipping God in the heart reflectively and silently?

May God give us wisdom to know when to use what and help us to keep away from the kind of medicine that can maim and make matters worse, medicine that is worse than the malady itself, and solutions that are worse than the problems. And may we have the spiritual sense, instead, to turn to Christ who alone is able to solve our problems, and seek to touch Him earnestly and sincerely, with faith and hope.