By Dr. Jim Ferguson

Occasionally, people write and complain that my essays are not always about medical or health issues. They call attention to the heading of section D in the Focus entitled Health & Well Being. When I mentioned this to my wife, she, like others, hadn’t considered the second part of the heading.

What defines well being? You might say, a person whose body is healthy. Can you have a healthy body and yet not be well? The tragedy of mental illness was depicted in the wonderful movie, A Beautiful Mind. It is the story of the Nobel Laureate, John Nash who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and whose mind was not well. Obviously, we have physical and mental spheres which define a well human being, but there is more. I believe we are even more than the sum of our various body parts and an integrated nervous system.

Because I’m a doctor, I’m always thinking about health issues. Likewise, a lawyer friend recently told me that people see him first as a lawyer and often pepper him with legal questions. I once had a patient corner me as we were leaving church to discuss a lump in her breast. This same woman had sought my medical opinion on numerous other occasions outside the traditional medical office in what we doctors call, “curbside consultations.” These incomplete medical evaluations are fraught with liability and represent poor medical care.

Sometimes you have to say no to people if it’s not an emergency. So, in order to end her practice of curbside consultation, I told her to open her shirt and I’d check her lump right there in the narthex. As she began to unbutton her blouse, she hesitated as understanding suddenly appeared on her face, and she then said she’d make an appointment to see me tomorrow. I said that would be wise.

I am a spiritual person which I maintain is another aspect of my being. Humans have many creation stories, including two different ones in the Bible (Genesis chapters one and two). Genesis 2:7 presents a beautiful vision of God forming man from dust (organizing matter?) and imparting to him the “breath of life.”  More importantly, at that crucial point scripture says, “the man became a living being.” I’m not a literalist when reading the Bible and might ask the question if other humans existed on the earth at the time of what I perceive as Adam’s “ensoulment.” Perhaps this does shed some light on the question of where Cain and his son’s obtained wives after his banishment (Genesis chapter four).

A man’s soul has no anatomical reference. In the so-called Dark Ages efforts were made to measure the soul by weighing a condemned individual before and after execution. It was reported that there was a minute difference in the weight of the deceased thought to represent the departed soul. However, I doubt the rudimentary scientific method and the imprecise scales of that day. However, I do believe that philosophically and spiritually, the soul represents the essence of a human being.

My minister at First United Methodist Church is doing a series of sermons on the Apostles Creed. In that context, an apostle is a follower of Christ, and a creed is a collective belief. In the early 4th century AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian and ordered a convocation of Church leaders to codify orthodox beliefs. The Nicene Creed came out of that consensus of experts. About fifty years later the shorter Apostle’s Creed with greater emphasis on Christ became increasingly used. When I say these creeds I carefully parse them just like I do the words of the Pledge of Allegiance and The Lord’s Prayer. Too often these are said in rote fashion without consideration of the ideas and ideals they embody.

As I’ve said before, words are the tools we use to share our ideas with others. Beyond body language, this is all we have to communicate. I’ve been thinking about love and lately parsing it’s meaning. In English we have modifiers of love such as the love of chocolate, grandkids or my love for my wife. All are real, but different. The Greeks have multiple words for love including eros for erotic love, philia for brotherly love, storge for love between parents and children, and the sacrificial love of agape.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant described the world of things as phenomena. He labeled non-tangible, conceptual things as noumena. An example is the notion of love which can’t be defined by the five senses, but we feel its existence in our minds and hearts. Perhaps God is another noumenal concept because He is not usually seen or heard by the senses; yet I know HE/SHE/SPIRIT exists. The evidence of the Creator is in the universe around us which extends from quasars to quarks and perhaps beyond. And the changed nature of a man is also evidence of God who softens man’s heart. The evidence for this is love.

In antiquity a person’s name was a reflection of their nature. One of the fascinating stories in the Bible was Moses encountering a burning bush. God spoke to Moses from the bush, and Moses asked to whom he was speaking. “I Am that I Am,” was the mysterious and majestic answer of God.

Humans continue to seek the great I Am because we are curious by nature and because we have a great need. Augustine in the 4th century said, “Our souls remain restless till they rest in thee, O Lord.”

I’m leading a Sunday School class on aspects of love. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but by searching for the truth I believe I praise Him and fulfill my destiny. Since I’ve never seen a burning bush or heard His spoken word, I’m like others seeking to know Him. I see the Creator’s hand in nature. I know I’m a different person because of The Spirit which resides in my soul and directs my thoughts and actions through what we call our conscience.

Materialists and atheists would argue that all is chance and there is no God. They refer to this as science and intellectual honesty. I call it hubris. Succinctly put in 1 John 4:16 is what we can know of the Creator, Sustainer and Savior; “God is love.”