Article Content

For the past twenty-five years, Christian health care professionals have been striving to convince the world that the spiritual dimension really does matter. To some extent, we've been too successful. Today, spirituality reigns-spirituality in more varieties than ice cream flavors. Almost any nurse will tell you that the person is a holistic unity of body, mind and spirit. We know that the spiritual is important. However, now the tables have turned. We are beginning to neglect the body.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

Short-staffing and pressures to do more with less combine with postmodern thinking to make spiritual care more attractive than tending to bodily concerns. Even many nurses who value good physical care complain that they simply don't have time to provide it. However, just as poor spiritual care impedes physical healing, the physical care that nurses provide affects the spirit.


The Bible says some surprising things about the body, with profound implications for nursing care. First, throughout the Scriptures we see how holism works. We are not divided into separate parts, labeled body, mind and spirit, but we are embodied spirits who think, feel and relate with one another and with God.


The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery puts it this way: "The holistic view of 'body' as the whole person, which permeates the Bible, makes for certain other implications for 'body' as image. For it means that body becomes the place where we meet God and live out our service to him. It is the expression of our divinely given creatureliness, where obedience is practiced. And it is seen always, therefore, in relationship, with God and the fellow creatures with whom we share our corporeality, our 'bodiness.'"1


From the beginning of Genesis, we read that God made man and woman for companionship-with him and with one another. Furthermore, God's ultimate revelation of himself came in bodily form, in the person of Jesus Christ. We also see that the body transcends earthly existence. When we get to heaven, we will stand before God in bodily form (Job 19:26; 1 Cor 15). We need bodies so we can recognize each other and enjoy one another's companionship.


Throughout Scripture we see a continuous thread of God's concern for the physical needs of his people. God constantly fed, clothed, refreshed and healed his people, culminating in the ministry of Jesus, who did a lot more physical care than preaching and teaching. God cares about our physical bodies and wants to make us whole. Jesus instructed "go and do likewise" (Lk 10:37).


The idea that we need bodies for interpersonal relationships has some interesting implications for nursing. In Ezekiel 16:39 we read about God's judgment on idolaters, saying, "They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful objects and leave you naked and bare." Being stripped of their clothing and jewelry was the ultimate shame. Clothing and accessories indicate status and reflect personality. Yet, the first thing we do upon admitting patients is to tell them to take off their clothes and valuables and put on a hospital gown that leaves their backsides exposed. What does that communicate about the power balance in the nurse-patient relationship?


We also learn that God is not impressed with our outward appearance (1 Sam 16:7; 1 Pet 3:4). He loves us as we are and for what comes from our hearts. He expects us to care equally for the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the lovely and the unlovely-in fact he favors the latter in each case. God loves and values our bodies, even when we don't. We are called to do the same for those in our care.


Even though God loves us just the way we are, we are also called to discipline our bodies so that they honor God (1 Cor 9:24-27). They are "temple[s] of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19). We need to watch our diets, exercise regularly, stay away from immoral lifestyles and worship faithfully. We really don't need all the latest research to prove that faith and godly living are good for our health.


Almost 3,000 years ago, the prophet Isaiah declared, "Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Is 40:31). As nurses, God calls us to teach people how to care for their bodies through healthful living.


The Scriptures also teach that aging is a natural process. The body declines with age. Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 gives a vivid description of the aging process, reminding us that getting old poses unavoidable challenges. However, the Bible also makes it clear that we are to care for those who are old, weak, suffering and alone (1 Tim 5:1-8).


Finally, the Bible directs us "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1). We do that through spending time in prayer and Scripture reading, but primarily through holistically serving those in our care. How does this look in nursing practice? Read on.


Living sacrificially is a nursing student suiting up (again) in isolation gear to comfort a frightened woman, or a nurse gently caressing an abused child as he dies. It is carefully stitching the wounds of a drunk driver whose reckless driving has just killed a child, or providing a safe place for prostitutes to come for help. It is setting up a nationwide network of caring for a critically injured colleague living in a foreign land, or providing for orphans half-a-world away, or leaving the comforts of home to care for the victims of war. It is drawing our strength from God as we give unselfishly of our time, money, energy and passion to care as Jesus did for those created in God's image.




1 Leland Ryken; James C. Wilhoit; Tremper Longman III, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press) 2000, p. 109-110. [Context Link]