One hundred and forty years ago, almost 50 percent of the patients undergoing major surgery died from infection due largely to the filthy conditions. Doctors were bewildered why 80 percent more women died giving birth in hospitals compared to those who had their babies at home. Back then, doctors wore bloody aprons and went from patient to patient without washing their hands or instruments. Patients with minor wounds often died from infection or blood poisoning transmitted by the doctor.
In the 1860s, a deeply religious English surgeon, Joseph Lister, was disturbed about the staggering number of patients dying from infection. He read in the Bible where God told the Israelites to wash after contact with the sick or a dead body. Based on this and Louis Pasteur’s discoveries, Lister recognized germs as the likely source of infection. He suggested surgeons dress cleanly, wash their hands, and sterilize instruments before operating. He insisted that the operating room be kept clean. He also developed a method for preventing infection during an operation by treating wounds with an antiseptic.
At first Lister was regarded as eccentric, and nurses resented the extra work caused by his obsession with cleanliness. Then there was a period of significant mocking and resistance from his peers. Lister, a shy but determined man, was firm in his purpose. He humbly believed he was directed and inspired by God in this endeavor. In spite of all the opposition that he faced, he never gave up.
As the mocking went on, everyone began to notice a change. The deaths from blood poisoning, infection, and gangrene were greatly reduced in Joseph Lister’s hospital ward in Glasgow. Eventually, British and American hospitals saw the benefits and gradually adopted the sterile procedures promoted by Dr. Lister. Before he died, Lister’s services to medicine were recognized and he was awarded a knighthood. Louis Pasteur described Lister as one of the greatest men of the 19th century.
It’s amazing how the world has been transformed by applying the simple rules of sanitation found in the Bible. But did you know there are many other biblical secrets of health the world is neglecting? The God who formed us knows the principles of caring for the bodies He has given us. He lovingly shares that wisdom with us in His Word.
KEY BIBLE TEXTS
He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days. Numbers 19:11He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean. Numbers 19:12