Biblical Caring Comes Full Circle

Lisa Trafecanty
July 5, 2006

As a profession, nursing has always been characterized by caring. Caring is considered the central concept of nursing—it’s what we do. Some say it’s what nursing is. But is “caring” how we relate to our patients or is it what we do for our patients? Although such questions may seem like academic hair-splitting, nurses are being bombarded with ideas about caring. A central question for Christians is, do these caring perspectives coincide or collide with a biblical Christian perspective, or has the concept of care been hijacked by postmodern philosophy?

Identifying what constitutes caring in the 21st century is necessary to define nursing. Unfortunately, no single definition is accepted because, in accordance with postmodern relativism, care is different from one individual to another. Obviously, care includes technological aspects and physically providing for patients what they cannot provide for themselves. Postmodern caring entails looking holistically at the patient, including social, psychological and spiritual aspects, combining science with other forms of “care.”

However, postmodern caring goes beyond whole person care, to a “nonlocal” space-time matter-energy view of persons who exist as manifestations of the universal energy. Thus, a critical difference between holistic and Christian perspectives is: Who or what is God? Is he some universal energy or the God of the Bible? And, who gets to be God—God Almighty or us human beings?

Caring as a Christian nurse requires much from us, but Jesus Christ promises to be with us and give us the strength to go on (Phil 4:13). Historically, caring in nursing began as a call to live out Christ’s command to love and care for others as we would treat Jesus Christ himself (Mk 12:29-31; Lk 6:27-36). Sadly, nursing lost its Christian foundation for care with the evolution of modernism and postmodernism. However, the call of the Christian nurse remains the same: caring in Christ’s love.

Another challenge to caring in a postmodern society is that patients demand genuine concern from the nurse. This entails emotional involvement, which isn’t always neat or safe and cannot be easily controlled by the mind. Prominent nurse leader Luther Christman describes studies reporting that even though “tender loving care” is emphasized in nursing literature, patients and other staff say they do not experience or observe it in nurses.

For Christian nurses, caring can begin with acknowledging God and who he is. Because we have a personal relationship with God, he can empower us to care more like he cares. Our caring does not have to be dependent on how we feel, who we are caring for, or our job situation; godly caring is dependent on God himself, the unchanging one who never leaves us or forsakes us (Deut 31:6-8; Heb 13:5-6).We care for others out of a sense of gratitude for what God has done for us. And because our lives are to be about bringing glory to God, the purpose of our caring becomes glorifying him.

Christian nurses represent God, his saving power, and his love for humanity. We are called to a ministry of reconciling people to God (2 Cor 5:11-21). Not only do we have an opportunity to spread the love of Jesus Christ to our patients and coworkers who are searching for spiritual fulfillment, but we have the opportunity to help restore nursing to its core values.

How can we do this? Shelly and Miller* offer the answer in their definition of Christian nursing: “Christian nursing is a ministry of compassionate care for the whole person, in response to God’s grace toward a sinful world, which aims to foster optimum health (shalom) and bring comfort in suffering and death, for anyone in need.”

*Judith Allen Shelly and Arlene B. Miller, Called to Care: A Christian Worldview of Nursing, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006): 68.

This is a greatly condensed version of the featured article in the Summer 2006 issue of the i>Journal of Christian Nursing, published by Nurses Christian Fellowship. The full article is available online in a pdf version.