The Greek physician and philosopher Hippocrates is considered by historians as the father of Western medicine. It was his school of thought that developed the study of medicine as a distinct discipline. And he is, of course, the thinker after whom the Hippocratic Oath is named, which includes the pledge to “do no harm” and the commitment to physician-patient privilege.
But Hippocrates, who lived about four centuries before Christ, actually knew relatively little about the human body. He thought, for example, that the veins carried air rather than blood and that disease was caused by vapors secreted from undigested food. But whatever other mistaken ideas he may have taught, Hippocrates’ chief contribution to the field of modern medicine was his belief—a radical one at the time—that the medical treatment of a human illness had to take into account the entire body, rather than simply the immediately affected part.Both before and since the time of the ancient Greeks, the study of the human body has been a source of the closest study—and wonder. Even centuries before Hippocrates, the psalmist David sang, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps. 139:14, NIV). It doesn’t take a physician—or scientifically trained physiologist—to realize that being made in God’s image means that humanity occupies a unique place in the earthly ecology. Even a lowly shepherd boy like David could appreciate “full well” God’s wonderful works.
And notice that David’s focus was not on how amazing the human body was, but on how wonderful God had made humanity. At the end of five days of awesome creativity in which God merely spoke “and it was so,” with a decidedly different—concrete—creative touch, God sculpted from “the dust of the ground” the first human being and breathed “into his nostrils the breath of life,” and he “became a living being” (Gen. 2:7, NKJV). This, after all, is certainly one of the most important points of the creation account: God loves us enough to mold us physically into His own likeness with His own hands into a wholistic organism.
This wholeness is all-ecompassing. “The Hebrew word for ‘being’ means life or person, not some eternal separate entity. In the Bible people do not have souls, but are souls/beings/persons.”1
It could be said, then, that Hippocrates’ understanding of physical wholeness was preceded on an even more comprehensive scale by Scripture’s representation of the wholeness of the human being to include the physical and the spiritual.
Ask any group to make a list of the organs of the human body, and they will usually begin with the heart and brain—maybe the lungs and the stomach, the kidneys and liver and pancreas. Very often, however, they will forget that even the skin, too, is considered by physiologists to be one of the organs of the body. This big, form-fitting suit that we walk around in every day is as important to our health as any other organ. Just think where we’d be—not to mention what we’d look like—without it.
A square inch of skin can include as many as:
● 20 blood vessels,
● 78 nerves,
● 13 cold sensors,
● 78 heat sensors,
● 165 pressure sensors,
● 650 sweat glands, and
● 1,300 nerve endings.
With all this microscopic infrastructure humming along under the coordination of the brain, it’s clear to see that the skin isn’t just for looks. And Job must have recognized this when he remembered that God had “‘clothed me with skin and flesh, and . . . knit my bones and sinews together’” (Job 10:11, NLT). At the time, Job was desperately groping for an explanation for his pain and disappointment, and he was wondering why God would have gone to such trouble to create him as such a wondrous being if he were just meant for a life of suffering.
A story is told of a woman who was suffering from prolonged, almost crippling, depression. She had become so apathetic and withdrawn that she never left the house. It just became so much emotional effort for her even to rise and care for herself that she retreated into an ever-darkening world of isolation. She was experiencing the disillusionment of the biblical character Job, though she could not specifically identify in her life any of the more obvious adversity that he had endured.
After her physician had tried many other conventional approaches—all to no avail—a package arrived in her mailbox from the office of her physician. Although she was so indifferent that she was inclined not even to open the package, she noticed a note written on the outside wrapping: “Open this package and use what is inside for at least ten minutes each day.”
Somehow this cryptic message sparked her curiosity just enough that she opend the parcel. Inside was an ordinary magnifying glass. Listlessly, she glanced through the glass at the blanket covering her bed, and something very small and oddly interesting woke within her. This led, over the next few days, to her ever closer examination of the single half apple she ate for breakfast next morning, the soap bubbles formed when she washed her hands an evening later, the small spider crawling along her dusty windowsill, the dandelion bloom in her unkempt backyard lawn. And ultimately she was able to respond more positively to the other treatments prescribed by the physician through her growing sense of wonder and gratitude.
She was finally able to come to a realization in her life that, as one writer has put it, “at creation we were made in the image of God, implying—among other things—that we have the same . . . sensibilities as He does.”2
And these sensibilities reflect a wholeness that even Hippocrates had not imagined. As was typical of the culture of his time, the father of Western medicine still did not recognize the indivisible nature of the physical and the spiritual. Indeed an increasingly impressive number of studies in today’s scientific literature are indicating, however, that these two human qualities are “organic” to one another.
Being created in the image of God “points to physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual endowments that would be needed for humanity to fulfill God’s purpose for them.”3 And the decision to embrace God’s purpose for us, to submit to His intention for our ultimate happiness, will bring the fulfilment of human wholeness. This is where Job arrived after his ordeal: “‘I know that you can do all things,’” he proclaimed, “‘and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted’” (Job 42:2, NRSV).