Why ‘Prescriptions’ from God’s word†?
Why ‘Prescriptions’ from God’s word†?
The strapline ‘Prescriptions from God’s word’ on this website (under ‘Etheldreda.net’ above) reflects its main theme, which is about seeing and applying scripture as medicine for the soul. This page explains a spiritual discipline that I find helpful in that regard, a fusion between puritan expository technique*, traditional monastic lectio divina** and a medical way of thinking, which I like to call ‘scripture-medicine’. I use this method to prepare (or formulate!) the website’s main content, a collection of short blog-like posts, which for similar reasons I call Rx (the medical abbreviation for a prescription, but here ‘from God’s word’).
Please note though, as much as making use of my little efforts on Etheldreda.net, I like to encourage other Christians to try this underlying method/discipline for themselves. Some might like to adopt elements from it at least, for use in their own approach to scripture. I’ve found it a source of blessing over the years, and I’m sure there are some readers out there, with particular gifts, who could make great use of this approach, blessing us all through what they might prepare with it.
So first in brief overview (or click here for a simple summary below***):-
Before doctors attempt to diagnose, treat or prevent disease, we (I am a medic) regard it as essential to understand human anatomy/histology, physiology/biochemistry and pathology. Scripture-medicine is a method of understanding and learning from Bible texts that mirrors this medical approach. So although the purpose of this discipline is the personal application of scripture (treatment/prophylaxis), it builds up to that through three foundational stages: firstly, detailed analysis of a text’s composition (anatomy/histology); secondly, prayerful meditation on the text to understand what God is teaching through it (physiology/biochemistry); and thirdly, in the light of those findings, honest reflection on our spiritual condition and vulnerabilities (pathology/diagnosis).
To explain further:-
First, in your general Bible reading etc., collect texts that strike you as potentially especially therapeutic, then work though the following stages with each…
[Note: if you become familiar with practising this discipline, you’ll find that thoughts relating to later stages in the sequence come to mind during the earlier stages. That’s fine. Simply make a note of them, perhaps even dwelling on them for a time, then return to the stage that you’re on. This is intended to be a helpful logical sequence and guide, not a taskmaster. God’s Spirit might want us to see something out of sequence, and He should be our Master and Guide!]
In secular medicine, anatomy and histology are the study of bodily structure. This includes defining the exact nature, shape and position of each part. Scripture-anatomy/histology involves the equivalent analysis of a Bible text. This includes defining any key words and phrases, examining the text’s layout, and observing how it’s set in the wider passage/book. It also involves considering relevant background information such as the literary genre and historical context. A basic framework is thus revealed upon which a more profound understanding of each text can be built.
The body can be dead and yet retain its anatomy/histology. In contrast, physiology and biochemistry are the sciences of how the body functions as a living organism. Similarly, scripture-physiology/biochemistry seeks by prayerful, faith led, investigation/meditation to find God’s word alive with divine truths – indeed, to meet God Himself there. It seeks to understand what God taught in the original historical setting of each text. It then considers what He is still saying through the text today, identifying eternal truths.
In secular medicine, physiology and biochemistry are understood more easily when studied in the context of the body as a whole. The same is true with scripture-medicine. Scripture-physiology/biochemistry checks any teaching derived from a specific text, against the truths taught by God in the Bible as a whole.
[Note: often it’s not until we’ve seen God in His truth, as above, that we start to see our pathology, cf. Isaiah 6:1-5. Be sure to dwell here, in prayer, not racing on. It will prepare the ground for the next stage.]
Pathology is the study and classification of disease. In secular medicine, disease arises when a defect occurs in the body’s anatomy/histology or physiology/biochemistry to cause abnormal bodily structure or function. This, in turn, produces symptoms and signs of the disease/pathology. In a similar way, spiritual pathology often springs from a defective internalization of scripture-anatomy/histology : physiology/biochemistry – i.e. an inadequate mental absorption of the Bible and its teachings (a sub-optimal knowledge of / relationship with God through His word). This causes an unbiblical and therefore un-Christ-like mindset (attitudes and beliefs), which may express itself as symptoms and signs of spiritual ‘dis-ease’. These can involve the thoughts, emotions or will, which in turn determine actions and behaviour. Scripture-pathology/diagnosis attempts to identify and diagnose afflictions of our souls that may result from an inadequate grasp of eternal truths identified by scripture-anatomy/histology : physiology/biochemistry.
[Note: sometimes a text is actually about pathology, with the healthy state in stage two of this discipline either expressly stated as well, or inferred from it. However, having seen that underlying truth, often further realised or potential distortions and malfunctions of it become evident, on reflection, in the above third stage too.]
Physical disease can be treated medically or surgically. Alternatively it can be anticipated and prevented (prophylaxis). Likewise, the Holy Spirit can apply scripture as a potent remedy to heal spiritually ailing souls, a scalpel to cut and needle to repair un-Christ-like minds, or a vaccine to immunize against future spiritual attack¶. Scripture-treatment/prophylaxis considers how the study text, and other parts of the Bible, could be used to heal or protect against spiritual conditions identified by scripture-pathology/diagnosis.
¶ It’s of note that the pathogen (cause of pathology) ultimately behind all of this, is that identified in Ephesians 6:11-12.
‘Don’t be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,’
[Note: you will see that I don’t write up the Rx on this website in four sections, rather I use the findings from practising this discipline to write each Rx, as a fifth stage, or to prepare a Bible study for use elsewhere, or a speaker might prepare a sermon, etc. It’s not likely that the best form of such expressions would be this four stage underlying engine.]
* For any who don’t know, in brief summary the puritans were keen to understand the meaning of scripture taken in its proper context. Characteristically they would identify the key truths in a text (doctrines), then think though the appropriate implications (applications, ‘use’). They did this expecting to discover a coherent expression of One mind – the ‘body of divinity’. They are remembered as great physicians of the soul, largely as a result of their thorough and thoughtful application of God’s truths.
** Likewise, for any who don’t know, in brief summary lectio divina is a monastic practice that simply means divine reading in Latin. It usually involves prolonged reflection on a small portion of scripture with a view to encountering God there. It has less emphasis on analysing the text, more on experiencing and absorbing it, with a view beyond that to resting in deep communion with God, through His word. Traditionally practised it has four ‘movements’: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.
Obviously there is much overlap between the two approaches above, yet they have different emphases. It seems to me that both are potentially rather therapeutic spiritually, and that combined, plus blending them with a medical way of thinking, enhances their efficacy further in a synergistic way. Like lectio divina, the spiritual discipline explained on this page goes through four stages, the second of which is most closely akin to that practice (although there are elements of it colouring the other stages too, especially the third and fourth). Nevertheless, the analytical approach of the method presented here borrows much from the puritans’ expository technique, but with some obvious additional medical elements and frames as well, as detailed above.
Select a Bible text, then…
– study the facts,
– prayerfully encounter God in His truth,
– reflect on our spiritual condition and vulnerabilities,
– apply the text (with others in support) to heal and protect.
So basically it’s about the use of scripture as medicine for the soul. The idea is first to study the plain background facts (a bit like anatomy, i.e. composition/structure etc.), then prayerfully to meditate on the text, seeking the living truth(s) of God in the Bible (a bit like finding the life in the body of divinity – akin to physiology etc., i.e. function). Next, having seen that healthy state (i.e. the proper structure and function of divine truths as displayed in / conveyed by the living word of God), our spiritual pathology will become more evident, by way of contrast, on deeper reflection. Finally, given that greater insight into what might need healing or protecting against, we can prayerfully apply the scripture that we started with (and other related texts) like medicine to heal us spiritually, &or to strengthen and protect.
† Etheldreda.net regards the Bible as the inspired word of God – hence ‘from God’s word’.
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