Paul Tournier – Healer, Teacher, Doctor, and Counselor
Paul Tournier (1898 – 1986) was a very famous physician that lived in Switzerland during the latter part of the twentieth century. He had an incredible gift of healing, and doctors would often send patients to him they could not heal, and they became well. Often doctors wanted to know what he was doing. Tournier wrote many books about his ministry, the most famous probably being The Meaning of Persons. A 2006 Christianity Today magazine listed this book as one of the top 50 books that has influenced the way Evangelicals think. Outside of the Bible, this book has had more influence on my life than any other book I have read.
In the late sixties Tournier’s writings had impressed my life so much that I traveled to Switzerland to hear Tournier speak at a conference. Although he spoke in French (with an English translator for us), his communication ability was profound and not limited by language. Again, in 1984, I wrote to him for a possible lunch as I again planned to travel through Geneva within a few weeks. He replied, graciously accepting. Unfortunately, when I arrived in Geneva, he was too ill to meet me. Instead of canceling, he sent HIS doctor to take me to lunch. He died two years later of carcinoma.
What was it that Tournier learned that enabled him to be such a healing gift for his patients?
Tournier lost his father shortly after he was born and his mother when he was 6 years old, He lived with his step-parents, an extremely painful experience in his life. Although Tournier became a Christian when he was 12, later in life he had some type of spiritual re-birthing took place. He refers to it as a “face-to-face encounter with God” and it was a very transformational experience. As a result, he wrote each of his patients and let them know that he had to radically change his medical practice. What was it he learned in this experience?
In the healing process today, our modern world separates the physical, psychological, and spiritual in healing. Tournier believed you could not do that. There was only one person there, created in the image of God, chosen by God and in the eye of God even before the creation of the world (Psalms 139, Eph 1:4). Tournier called his ministry the “medicine of the whole person”. For the rest of his life, he wrote, traveled, and lectured in an effort to share what he had learned. Moreover, he lived it. The word “salvation” in the New Testament is actually translated from the Greek word “to make whole”. The healing that Jesus brought healed everything – physical, mental, and spiritual. The partitioning we do today was never there with God.
What was this that Tournier learned? Tournier began to notice that people in his life did not always project the same image to the world. They go to work and become “manager” or “engineer”, then go home and become “husband” and “father” (or “mother” and “wife”). Roles. Defined by cultural forces and needs. Broken people in a broken world. Tournier called this the personage. We spend most of our life as an actor in these roles. Underneath all this is one person, created in the image of God, and only a step away from healing. To share at this level is a difficult and risky step. Yet it is only at this level that the healing can take place. There is always a tension in our life between the personage and the person. One doctor told me that the main problem with some 90% of the patients that come into his office was a stress problem, a stress between the person and personage.
Tournier would invite the patient to his home and begin talking with the patient by the fireplace with perhaps coffee, tea, and perhaps biscuit. As the patient shared, they would soon drop from their personage level and role (the role of patient) to another level, sharing as person. If a patient had trouble dropping to this level, Tournier would drop to that level himself and share from his own person. (If you are assuming this was a strategy on the part of Tournier, you are wrong. If you try this from a role as doctor or pastor or whatever, you will fail. Tournier had to be himself, free of roles for the healing to be initiated). It was a lifestyle for Tourner, everyone he met.
Tournier actually incorporated living at the person level into his personal lifestyle. Moreover, he learned to pick up the non-verbal clues to the person from people. Since the person and personage always remain in conflict, Tournier learned to read the conflict and discern the person. If I had connected with him at the lunch meeting in Geneva, he would have been most comfortable with the French language, of which I have little skill. If you read the stories of Tournier, however, I realize now that would not have been a problem.Today we live so fast with so much stress if is difficult to see these clues in each other. A doctor today in his 15 minute visit with you might ask how your job is going or your love-life. You respond by telling the doctor how you are doing with that particular role (engineering or husband, for example).
Most of our messages to others are non-verbal, and Tournier could read the hidden person messages. The person level is only there in a human man or woman. It is not there in an animal.
Exercise: Who knows you at a person level?
I praise God for what I learned from Paul Tournier.