Our secular culture sees health as something we can buy. The technological discoveries of the past century have all but eliminated many diseases including smallpox, polio and malaria. They have extended life expectancy. Advances in surgical techniques allow surgeons to operate on all the organs of our body. We turn to specialists in the health-care industry to diagnose and treat our illnesses. Our primary-care physician refers us to oncologists, neurologists and gynecologists. To improve our health, we turn to personal trainers, nutrition counselors and therapists.
Health has become a puzzle. Specialists must draw on technical skill and knowledge to restore the function of whatever organ is malfunctioning.
We have privatized our health. It takes a lot of money to restore our health if we get sick. Health insurance for a family of four costs at least $10,000 per year. We have come to see good health as an entitlement. We complain about how expensive it is, but we are entitled to it. We all expect to live to be at least 85. And if we get a disease, we expect a physician to cure us.
The World Health Organization has a broader definition of health as: A “complete mental, social and physical well-being.” The Hebrews had a word for it: “shalom.”
Ancient religions had insight into health that we have lost. Shamans treated illness as if it were more than a private problem of one patient. It was a sign of a cosmic imbalance. Scientists today are exploring the link between pesticides and diseases such as allergies and asthma. Pollution to the environment may be responsible for some disease.
Jesus was known as a healer. There are different types of healing miracles in every gospel. He didn’t rely on technology; he fused healing and salvation in his ministry by forgiving and accepting people and bringing them back into community. Healing was about restoring the unity that ties people together.
Different streams of Christian tradition have lost that sense of unity. Pentecostals celebrate faith healers. Christian Scientists refuse medical care and rely on prayer. Mainline Christians turn to health-care professionals for their physical illnesses and seek out their ministers and their churches only for spiritual problems.
If we put health in a theological light, we will see health as a gift rather than a right. In fact, our entire life is a gift.
Life itself is an expression of God’s creativity. God created a world in which randomness still exists. God created order out of chaos, but there is still some chaos. A child can die in a tragic accident. EF-5 tornadoes can flatten communities. Good people can get cancer.
We can rely on the creativity of health-care specialists to treat our diseases, but we should recognize that they have a limited role. They are focusing on the function of one organ. They can’t do anything about the cosmic imbalance.
Health is about more than physical well-being. Health includes spiritual and social well-being. A cancer patient can rightly be called a healthy person if they are spiritually grounded and if they are connected to a loving and supportive community of family, friends and church.
If they are spiritually grounded, they accept reality for what it is. They let go of entitlement. They are thankful for the good health that God had given them up until the time of their illness. I can’t imagine anything more difficult than losing a child but at least you enjoyed the company of an angel for a little while.
Part of the damage caused by illness is social isolation. The sick in ancient societies were ritually unclean. They were excluded from society until they were purified. Who can forget the leper colonies in the movie “Ben Hur”?
God heals brokenness, whether it is our bodies or our spirit or our relationships that are broken. God restores our health. No charge. It is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
DON HEATH is pastor of Edmond Trinity Christian Church. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.