There is a tendency in the Western world to be of the opinion that being healthy simply implies one is free of disease, as best can be determined, and that one is in good physical condition.
This is not, however, how we see health explained in God’s word. Perhaps Dr Dan Fountain has said it best; ‘In the Bible, health signifies a functional wholeness which includes the person, the full spectrum of social relationships involving the person, and how the person relates to God and to the physical environment. The goal of healing is to restore strength and function to all dimensions of this wholeness.’1
The World Health Organization has attempted to define health in the body of their constitution. It reads, ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ Spirituality is also a very significant part of the WHO Quality of Life Assessment which includes: ‘Physical, Psychological, Level of Independence, Social Relationships, Environment, and Spirituality.’ It is obvious WHO recognizes the importance of the spiritual side of a person’s well-being, however, they are limited by their secular constraints from acknowledging the true source of all health, which comes from God through Christ alone.
We believe health can best be understood by the Hebrew word shalom, which is often translated as peace or wholeness and from which is derived the Arabic word Salaam. ‘Shalom means just relationships (living justly and experiencing justice), harmonious relationships, and enjoyable relationships. Shalom means belonging to an authentic and nurturing community in which one can be one’s true self and give one’s self away without becoming poor. Justice, harmony, and enjoyment of God, self, others, and nature; this is the shalom that Jesus brings, the peace that passes all understanding.’2
While this idea of health as wholeness is central to what the Bible reveals to us about God’s plan for his people, we also recognize that his plan for his anointed Messiah [Son] was also to be involved in the curing of disease as well. This can be seen in the Old Testament Hebrew words such as marphé and raphá as well as in the New Testament where we find the Greek words hugies, therapeuo, iaomai, and sozo, used in various settings to represent the healing by Jesus and his disciples. We acknowledge the importance of excellence in curative health-related mission work but are concerned that the emphasis is too heavily weighted toward drug-based therapies and high-tech solutions that do not address the underlying causes of the presenting health problem. Many of the health problems would be served better through promoting healthy lifestyles as outlined in the Bible and disease prevention. We seek to promote this holistic understanding of health so that those who involve themselves in health-related mission, be they a secular or religious organization, will have the greatest impact possible for God’s kingdom on earth. We also seek to help local communities of Christ followers understand their God given role in health and healing.
This can be summarized in the following ten points as adopted from ‘Health, The Bible and the Church’:
- Health means wholeness, with a person’s body, mind, and spirit integrated and coordinated, and able to function creatively in the context of his or her particular community.
- God is the source of all healing and desires to heal his people and move us toward wholeness.
- Health involves the community as well as the individual. What one person does affects family, neighbors, and the larger community, both present and future. In like manner, what the community does affects the individual.
- An adequate understanding of health requires an understanding of the biblical worldview. This includes knowledge of God, of the created world, and of who we are as persons created by God and living in the world.
- Disease is everything that diminishes the image of God within us. In many cases disease is a result of sin in our lives or the lives of others, but disease also reflects the actions of Satan on God’s created order and should be opposed with every means God has given us.
- A complex relationship exists between health and our behavior. What we allow or agree to do collectively, as a community, state, power group, or as individuals has a powerful influence on the health of all.
- God, in Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is the key to life and health. He has overcome the power of evil to destroy us through disease, despair, disorder, and death. He has shown us how to apply this power to the disorder in the world so that we may move toward the restoration of wholeness and order in humankind and in the created world.
- Global communities of Christ followers are God’s chosen channel for healing, for the restoration of wholeness, and for the transformation of society. This involves vastly more than medical activities and technical development programs. It has to do with all endeavors that restore wholeness to persons and move persons and communities toward God’s intended plan of abundant life for everyone now and in eternity.
- God uses disease and death in order that people might seek him and find him. It reveals to man his need for God, his sin, and his need for forgiveness. God can ultimately bring good from disease and suffering, by his grace.
- We also seek to promote better stewardship of the natural environment, including restoration, maintenance, and improvement of the land, forests, water, and air reserves.
- Health, the Bible and the Church, BCG Monograph 1989.
- Nicholas Woltersdorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983).