A Reformed view of health, sickness and disease prevention.
Part One: Introduction, some Biblical principles.
The Bible …is a book in which (a person) may learn from his creator the art of healthy living* said Paul Tournier MD.
Paul, in writing to the Romans states,” If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18). Now what relevance has this to health and sickness? Well simply this, we know that however careful we are in relating to others inevitably there will be those who hate and persecute us because of the antithesis created by God when he made enmity between the seed of the woman (Christ and his people) and the seed of the serpent (the wicked). In the same way, however careful you are to maintain health and fitness, inevitably you, and I, will succumb to some disease and die! Nothing makes us immune to either persecution or illness because of the common cause the fall! Death, spiritual and physical, passed upon all men in Adam.
Much of what I write accords with God’s word to the Israelites in Exodus 15:26, the verse used as foundational to the book “None of these diseases“, by McMillen and Stern which I heavily quote and use in this series of articles. “ If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.”
In the way of obedience to God’s law and stewardship of our bodies God will generally reward us with prolonged good health. “The fear of the Lord prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.” (Proverbs 10:27).The diseases sent upon the Egyptians were by way of God’s curse, something to which God’s people will never be subject, though chastisement may take the form of physical affliction including disease or physical hurt (e.g. Miriam, Gehazi, David, King Uzziah, the Corinthians and the warnings given to Israel for disobedience which included physical plagues in Deuteronomy 28:22,26,35,59-61 and note that both physical and mental illness may come from God’s hand. Thus, this is not a promise of good health to all God’s people as I said, we all degenerate eventually, whether believer or unbeliever, and God may have ordained various illnesses or infirmities for us to magnify his grace and glory in us.
Infirmity was often healed by Christ and the apostles as in the case of the man born blind in John 9, alternatively it may be borne bravely by God’s grace as in Paul’s thorn. In both scenarios it is all for the glory of God and the good of the believer.
Congenital club feet-perhaps the problem with the man at the beautiful gate in Acts 3.
We know for sure that good spiritual health is promised in the way of thankful obedience!
If I was to summarize the Christian’s attitude to his or her body in one word that word would be “stewardship”. Actually, the most precious physical, earthly possession we have, is our body. The fact our Lord took a body and raised it from the dead and that we will one day inhabit a new one like his, just adds to its significance. Respect for the body means most believers bury their dead rather than cremate them. Our body is a precious gift to be cherished (Eph.5:29). We may be really well endowed physically-lean, mean and fit as a fiddle, or we may be born with physical defects (Exod.4:11) or belong to a family with a history of disease like heart disease or diabetes. To whom much is given, much is required! (Luke 12:48). Use what you have to the highest standard and the glory of God. However remember, that if blessed with vigorous health, that the greatest sportsmen and women actually have nothing to glory in, because God has endowed them with all their abilities but how few acknowledge this!
Sadly, many of the ungodly, and not a few Christians, abuse their bodies! Galatians 6:7.8 applies—you reap what you sow! Excess alcohol, illicit drugs, illicit sex, gluttony/bulimia/anorexia, lack of exercise, cigarettes and exposure to unnecessary danger are all abuses of the body, which usually have detrimental consequences. Most of us are well aware of drunkenness and its relationship to violence and incidents^, alcoholic liver disease, pancreatitis and foetal alcohol syndrome. Drugs e.g. heroin, LSD, amphetamines and cocaine are illegal because our governments know how harmful they are in ruining lives, families and society. They ruin body and soul, and drug overdoses and completed suicide are a terrible self-harming, sinful reality. Illicit sex and sexual perversion lead in many cases to sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancies and AIDS. Genetic factors notwithstanding, gluttony and/or lack of exercise, persisted in, over years, lead to obesity, a host of other diseases and premature death. There are too many dangerously overweight believers! It is a bad witness. The opposite, anorexia, can also kill. Since the 1960s we have known what cigarettes do to heart and lungs and yet despite all the evidence, many people including Reformed people still smoke! I find this detestable! Women force their feet, in the name of fashion, into pointed, usually high-heeled shoes, and get bunions and weak, shortened, Achilles tendons! The fleeting pleasures of sin reap a sad harvest. I would say many extreme sports involving free rock climbing, jumping out of planes or off cliffs or bridges are not only extremely dangerous but also sinful. Proof that this is confessional and correctly surmised from Scripture is found in the Heidelberg Catechism LD 40 Q. 105. What doth God require in the sixth commandment?
A. That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonour, hate, wound, or kill my neighbour, by myself or by another; but that I lay aside all desire of revenge; also, that I hurt not myself, nor wilfully expose myself to any danger. Wherefore also the magistrate is armed with the sword to prevent murder.) God expects his people to protect themselves according to law and common sense: seat belts, crash helmets, lifejackets, ear defenders, gloves, immunization etc.
There is no doubt that John’s prayer in III John 2 for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of his brethren is a good one and one we can emulate, but we know the “health and wealth” gospel is a false one. God NEVER promised perfect health and plenty money or possessions to those who follow Christ, on the contrary God in his sovereignty often sends illness as chastisement or judgment as mentioned above. Many disciples in all ages are poor!
At this point I want to mention the necessity of the medical, nursing and many paramedical professions. These are all worthy callings and may entail a work of necessity on Sabbath days, and there is no doubt medical missions have been and are used of God as an opening for the gospel into closed or hostile needy lands.
I need to remind you at this point that the fall brought death and corruption upon mankind. The cells in all plants and animals die and if they are not replaced or regenerated, eventually the whole creature dies, and that is our future destiny, however hard we try to postpone it! Bodily exercise, a careful diet, weight loss, abstaining from smoking, and measures to reduce stress profit for the short term (this short life!), particularly in the avoidance of arteriosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of arteries that leads to heart attacks, strokes and gangrene). Back in Leviticus 7:22 God prohibited the eating of animal fat which accords with modern guidelines. Exercise invigorates your heart, helps reduce weight and lowers blood cholesterol and reduces risk of diabetes. Regular exercise was part of God’s original plan when he set Adam to tend the garden (Genesis 2:15) and “Six days shalt thou labour “, (Exodus 20:9). God encouraged work and blessed it and if you have a sedentary job you need to PLAN regular exercise into your days. Stress raises blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin.” Stress will come and stress will go; but the peace of God (through prayer) can stay for good—for the good of your heart and the good of your soul**”. God also heals us from trauma like broken bones, exposure to toxins, and many diseases and he has created a powerful immune system to fight infection (see excellent article by Mr. Looyinga in Standard Bearer of RFPA Dec.15th 2018), but despite this, the wages of sin is death and it is appointed for all of us (Heb.7:25).
A few words on vaccination. Vaccination is the deliberate exposure of the body to an invasive antigen, bacterial or viral that causes the body’s own immune system to produce antibodies and thus be rendered immune to infection to the real pathogen (invader bug) in the future. Edward Jenner, a Christian doctor, around 1796, was the first to use vaccination when he used cowpox virus to give immunity to smallpox and thus help towards the eradication of the disease. Today vaccination is in worldwide use against tetanus, measles, mumps, whooping cough, German measles and polio and it is the bound duty of every Christian parent to vaccinate their children, not only for the safety of their own children but for the good of others to prevent outbreaks among the susceptible.
Sanitation, hygiene surrounding dead bodies and the quarantine or isolation of certain sick people is solidly Bible based (Deut.23:12,13, 24:8, Numbers 5:2,3), indeed many Biblical chapters are full of instruction concerning ceremonial uncleanness which have a direct bearing on physical sickness and avoiding spread of disease. These public health measures have been one of the most far-reaching improvements in modern life since the industrial revolution.
^ Incidents rather than accidents because most are due to human stupidity, carelessness or negligence.
* Paul Tournier-A Doctor’s Casebook in the Light of the Bible
**None of These Diseases by McMillen and Stern Revell Book 2000 p183.