Redemptive Suffering And Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh -- By: Ronald Russell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 39:4 (Dec 1996)
Article: Redemptive Suffering And Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh
Author: Ronald Russell


Redemptive Suffering
And Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh

Ronald Russell*

I. Introduction

Recently an evangelical theologian ventured into the field of medical ethics with the tone of an old-fashioned evangelist on the sawdust trail to urge a return to Hippocratic medicine and a rejection of a “new medicine” practiced today whose focus is the relief of suffering. 1 Nigel Cameron understands Hippocrates (the “father of modern medicine”) and his followers as a reform-minded enterprise in ancient Greek medicine that championed the physician as healer with a sense of the sanctity of life within a society where the relief of suffering was the normative medicine model and included physician-assisted suicide. 2 An opposing viewpoint bemoans the modern medical preoccupation with prolonging life and terms this pursuit a “new medicine.” This concern to prolong life is thought to be rooted in Baconian science, which sought to exercise dominion over nature. On the other hand, the method of Hippocratic physicians is found to be less aggressive. The Hippocratic corpus, it is said, offers the purpose of medicine as “to do away with the sufferings of the sick, to lessen the violence of their diseases … (and) to refuse to treat those who are overmastered by their diseases (The Art 3).” 3 This viewpoint claims that the Hippocratic Oath, with its prohibitions of practicing surgery and performing abortions, was an esoteric document that did not begin to gain acceptance until the Christian era (the first known reference to it comes from the first century AD) and as the Church termed abortion, euthanasia and suicide sin. 4 This academic debate about the historical Hippocrates and the meaning of “new medicine” reflects the modern problem of how to respond to human suffering.

Eric Cassell has defined suffering as “the distress brought about by the actual or perceived threat to the integrity or continued existence of the whole

* Ronald Russell is oncology/hospice chaplain at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, 1924 Alcoa Highway, Knoxville, TN 37920–6999.

person.” 5 Pain can produce suffering, but suffering can be present in the absence of physical pain. Suffering can arise because of the threat of future pain or the loss of purpose, creativity or meaningfulness. This has led Cassell not only to say the goal of medicine is to relieve human suffering but also to educate modern physicians to respo...

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