The Hope and Hype of Medicine and Technology

Return to Intersections Home
Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen — yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.”[1]

The Hope and the Hype

Hope is a powerfully propelling attitude that confidently anticipates positive outcomes for the circumstances of one’s life or events in the world. As noted in a previous forum (“Taking and Keeping vs. Receiving and Giving: A Kingdom Framework for Evaluating Contemporary Issues in Medicine, Technology, and Life”), hope can spring from different sources: from the finite and fallible or from God and His promises. For many, as in the quote above, hope is more than a passive attitude; it is an active pursuit that consists of a goal, a pathway to that goal, and agency—the belief that one can instigate change and achieve the goal.[2]

There is no doubt that the lure of medicine and technology today is related to the hope that it inspires—hope fueled by the technological advances of recent decades. Two are particularly noteworthy: First, many infectious illnesses that claimed the lives of young and old alike have been eradicated while others have been rendered curable; second, diseases once considered fatal—claiming the lives of many young adults—are now regarded as chronic illnesses. Through these two endeavors, great strides have been made in our ability to ameliorate the ravages of the Fall. In short, due to technological advances, we are living longer.

Not only are we living longer, but we are also dying longer. People who once would have died at a young age from sudden causes now live in a debilitated state due to chronic degenerative conditions, whether coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, or cancer. And in that debilitated state, much of their lives and resources are consumed by being inextricably entwined in the machinery of medicine. While medicine and technology have successfully increased the quantity of our lives, they have not been as fruitful with regard to improving the quality of that longer life.

The media has played a crucial role in fostering fallible hope. In the interest of a story, it quickly attempts to present recent discoveries for the general public in ways that promote the glory of science (the “path”) and the hope of immortality (the “goal”). In the process, facts are decontextualized, benefits exaggerated, risks minimized, and mere associations are masqueraded as causal. The ambiguity of science, the uncertainty of medicine, and the complexity of the human organism are ignored.

But the progress that has been made, combined with this hype of decontextualized and often exaggerated claims by the media, continue to fuel the hope of medicine and technology: “If we could only accomplish a little more . . . .” But more is never enough. And hope, commingled with the fear of death (Heb 2:15), can fuel an attitude of “taking and keeping” (the “agency”), one that grasps at and clings to the technological hope of immortality. From here one can easily (and subtly) fall prey to worshipping technology and progress as gods.

Depersonalized Medicine

The changing world of medicine has also contributed to this misplaced hope. In light of technological advances, medicine has transitioned from a personal art to an impersonal science, shifting its focus from caring to curing, focusing on the disease entity rather than on the patient who is ill. Physicians, educated and nurtured by this same technological hope, have been trained “to do” and “to fix”; they are not trained to quit or give up, as might be inferred from the lack of early referrals to palliative care or hospice. To give up is to fail, so another test is ordered and another option is presented. Dying is medicalized to the very end. This combination of technological progress, depersonalization of medicine, and the medicalization of dying have created many of the ethical dilemmas we face at the end of life.

Furthermore, despite the progress of medicine and technology, the “devil is in the details.” Human technological abilities have outpaced our moral sensibilities. As has been presciently stated, “Whenever science makes a discovery, the devil grabs it while the angels are debating the best way to use it.”[3] We, too, are quick to grab a new technology and put it to use, failing to consider long-term ramifications, or to ask the question, “Because we can, should we?”

Cutting through the Hype

I would argue that our failure to entertain such questions is related to an understanding of our role in this world as one of co-creator. We are deceived when we believe that we are the creators of our lives and our world, that the self is self-created (with or without the help of God), and that our lives are ours to do with as we please. Moreover, society should maximize our freedom and ability to create ourselves.[4]

But to be a co-creator is to lose sight of life as a gift and our responsibility as stewards; it is to turn the gift into a task to be reworked, remodeled, and remade.[5] In reality, we are not co-creators but participants with God,[6] whose calling is to protect and cultivate creation and life as gift.

As receivers and givers, how are we then to understand medicine and technology? They are gifts of God’s grace to be received and over which we are stewards—gifts given to ameliorate the effects of living in a broken world—gifts for our fulfillment and flourishing. As gifts of grace, they are not meant as ultimate solutions, for when they are allowed to become such they threaten our dependence on, need for, and willingness to seek God. Nor should they be allowed to become the source of our hope, for our hope is in God and in His higher purposes for us both here and eternally, purposes that transcend our life on this earth. Moreover, flourishing and fulfillment are not achieved by increasing the quantity of our lives by our own “might or power” (Zech 4:6), but by increasing the quality of our lives found in living in relationship with God. Therefore, as gifts of grace, they are to be received gratefully and used with wisdom and discernment for the good of others and for the glory of God.


[1] Bradley Whitford, “Spring Commencement: Transcript of Address by Bradley Whitford.” University of Wisconsin, Madison, Spring Commencement Address, 2004. (accessed November 22, 2016).

[2] Charles D. Snyder, The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get Here from There (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 7-8.

[3] Alan Chester Valentine, 1913: America Between Two Worlds (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 213.

[4] Jonathan R. Wilson, God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 117.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 101–102.