William F. HAYNES, Jr. and Geffrey B. KELLY, Is There a God in Health Care? Toward a New Spirituality of Medicine. The Haworth Pastoral Press, 2006. Pp. ix-222. pb. ISBN-13: 978-0-7890-2867-9.
Reviewed by Dolores L. CHRISTIE, CTSA/John Carroll University, University Heights, OH 44118

The premise of this book is that God is at work in the mundane activities of medicine, especially in serious illness and death. Practitioners and patients should not be shy about seeing God at work or injecting God explicitly into the medical situation and even into the doctor-patient relationship. Written cooperatively by a retired cardiologist and a professor of theology, the work is punctuated with personal narrative and in places blatant testimony about God’s work in the authors’ lives. Although they do not cite specific studies, the authors point to a demonstrated relationship between healing—they are careful not to promise “cure”—and the bodily wellbeing of patients. They emphasize the connection between psychological healing and a spiritual perspective. The horizon of the book’s sprituality is Christian.

The earlier chapters consider faith and its connections to work with the sick and needy, the nature of prayer and its relationship to the journey of faith. Author Haynes advocates strongly that doctors should pray with their patients. His premise is that there is an abundance of untapped “compassionate energy” which God has given human beings, and which can flow from the medical practitioner to the patient to bring healing. Later chapters deal with suffering, terminal illness, and death. At the micro level of health care, the authors stress the importance of listening and forgiveness. At the macro level, they see a religious mandate to address the serious health problems of the contemporary world.

Both authors allow the reader into their personal lives, opening doors to their respective faith journeys and their perception of God at work in their lives. At times these accounts are quite powerful. Particularly poignant is the section in which Kelly describes the illness of his young daughter. The devotion, compassion, and eventual healing is beautifully and compellingly written. Haynes appears much quicker to name the outcome of the events he narrates as explicit interventions of God than does his co-author.

The book provides some footnotes, a bibliography, and an index. These are always helpful tools for the interested reader. Much of what is written is moving and/or psychologically sound. Yet there is left an uneasiness about truth claims surrounding God’s work. This is sometimes made with little evidence other than the authors’ subjective certainty. The book asserts that a strong faith is necessary to effect healing. Not only does such a statement seem to place limits on God’s possible intervention into the lives of the faithless, it may provoke guilt in faithful patients or caregivers who do not see healing results in their personal situations. Success stories of healing through prayer in the text may reinforce such guilt. Perhaps the authors themselves say it best: “No reassuring literature can ever remove fully the fright and frustration of coping with chronic suffering and terminal illness.” [93] “No facile theological or ascetical formula exists for the healing of one’s ills, whether physical or emotional.” [107]

Certainly the two authors have taken on a difficult task: to examine whether there is a place for God, God-talk, and prayer in medical practice while avoiding appearing overly pious or theologically light weight. In some portions they have been quite successful; not so in others. While the book is both passionate and sincere, it has flaws. Particularly when the book takes on a testimonial mode it does not serve the authors’ purpose well. Further, there is a danger, I believe, in blurring the healing work of medicine with the healing work of the spiritual. It is not altogether self-evident, for example, that it is appropriate for physicians to lay on hands or pray with patients in the office or elsewhere. Naming the authors in the first few pages “Doctor Bill” (isn’t this what the patient owes that the insurance does not cover?) and “Theologian Geff” (oh my!) does not start the reviewer (and perhaps the reader) with a favorable disposition toward what is to follow. At the end, it is not altogether clear whether a new spirituality promised in the title has been offered. Assessment: in general this is not a bad book. But it not a great book either.


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