Why ‘Prescriptions’ from God’s word?

The ‘prescriptions – Rx’ on Etheldreda.net are a collection of short expositions-essays-homilies-reflections on Bible texts. They’re called prescriptions because they’ve been researched then written using a spiritual discipline that’s a fusion between puritan expository technique*, traditional monastic lectio divina** and a medical way of thinking, which I’ve chosen to call scripture-medicine. Using this discipline I’ve prepared/formulated each ‘Rx’ in several stages, as I explain in more detail under the headings below.

Please note though, as much as making use of the Rx on Etheldreda.net, I’d like to encourage other Christians to try this spiritual discipline for themselves. I’ve found it a source of blessing over the years. Moreover, I’m sure there are some readers with particular gifts who could make great use of this discipline, blessing us all through what they might prepare with it.

So first in brief overview (or even more concisely in the footnotes***):-

Before doctors attempt to diagnose, treat or prevent disease, we 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 approach. What I mean by this is that although each Rx emphasises the personal application of scripture (treatment/prophylaxis), it’s built on three foundations: firstly, detailed analysis of the text’s structure (anatomy/histology); secondly, prayerful meditation on the text to understand what God is teaching through it (physiology/biochemistry); and thirdly, in the light of these 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 especially therapeutic, then for each work though the following stages…

[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!]

Scripture-anatomy/histology

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 concerned. 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.

Scripture-physiology/biochemistry

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, c.f. Isaiah 6:1-5. Be sure to dwell here, in prayer, not racing on. It will prepare the ground for the next stage.]

Scripture-pathology/diagnosis

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. In a similar way, spiritual ‘disease’ 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 disease. These can involve the thoughts, emotions or will, which in turn determine actions and behaviour. Scripture-pathology/diagnosis attempts to identify and diagnose diseases of our souls that may result from an inadequate grasp of eternal truths identified by scripture-anatomy/histology : physiology/biochemistry.

[Note: sometimes the 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.]

Scripture-treatment/prophylaxis

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 diseased 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 prevent our spiritual diseases identified by scripture-pathology/diagnosis.

For the word of God is living, and active,
and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing
even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow,
and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’
(Hebrews 4:12)

‘Don’t be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,’
(Romans 12:2)

[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 the 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). 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 rather spiritually therapeutic, 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.

*** The four stages of ‘scripture-medicine’ could be summarised as follows:-

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) to heal and protect.

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†Etheldreda.net regards the Bible as the inspired word of God – hence ‘from God’s word’