Friday, August 7, 2009

Health Idolatry

"No, eating this stuff just makes you feel like your living longer"

The current focus on "Health Care" reform (in reality, it's health care costs that need reform) brings to light one of the driving forces behind the skyrocketing cost of health care- health idolatry.

Health idolatry is the worship of health.

The bible certainly gives general principles that compel us to be good stewards of the physical bodies God has given us. Paul writing to the Corinthians, a church dealing with all sorts of carnality, said-

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. -1 Corinthians 6:19-20

David extols the great creative act of God in giving him his body-

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. - Psalm 139:14

Further, Solomon speaks about being wise in this physical life so as to be good stewards of the amount of earthly time we have-

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? -Ecclesiastes 7:16-17

Later in his same letter to the Corinthians Paul uses discipline of the body as a metaphor for spiritual discipline-

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control,lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. -1 Corinthians 9:24-27

By calling out "health idolatry" I do not mean to undercut clear Scriptural instruction regarding the faithful stewardship we are called to exercise concerning our physical bodies. Instead, I am referring to the seemingly ridiculous lengths people will go to stay healthy physically. I regularly meet people who are consumed with what they eat, how much they exercise, what kinds of medications, vitamins, diet pills and supplements they ingest, and obsess over every little ache or pain. Tae-bo, spin classes, Pilates, cycling, jogging, yoga, and on and on. There is no end to the publications and individuals who preach about eating foods that are "all-natural", free of trans-fats, chemicals, hormones, and all those other bad influences. More people are shopping at health food stores and buying ground up weeds (herbal "remedies") then every before in history. I just read that organic food sales should be roughly $33 billion by 2010, representing 4.8% of the total food market! One would think life expectancy would rise with such a spike in healthy eating, yet there has been no change in the U.S. for 15 years (it's currently 77.7). One might argue the jury is still out on the positive effect of health food ingestion, and maybe so, but does anyone really think a diet of expensive "health" foods will make a monumental difference? My blood pressure would rise every time I saw the health food bill, so eating "all natural" rice cakes wouldn't be worth it for me.

I could go on.

Why this infatuation with health? What's with "health idolatry"? I think it has to do with several fears people have:

1. People fear aging. People don't want to look old. People in our culture will go to crazy lengths to appear younger than they are. Plastic surgery, liposuction, blemish-removal, hair weaves, you name it, no matter the cost, many people will pay for it. There is a stigma with getting old in our culture. Instead of honoring gray hair and the wisdom it should represent, there's a shame attached with aging. So much is about looks today. People judge based on looks. People are scared of rejection they think aging will bring.

2. People fear illness. People don't like to suffer from or with sickness. We view sickness as entirely negative, as if it never fits in the plan of God. We don't want pain. Don't get me wrong, sickness stinks and should be avoided whenever possible, but living in fear of getting sick is futile. We will all die of sickness unless Christ comes back first. The one sure thing about your physical life is you will get sick and die. Period. Obsessive dietary and exercise habits coupled with life-altering germaphobic habits can really rule a persons life.

3. People fear the process of dying. Sickness is bad enough, but the process of dying is most to be loathed. Stave off death as long as you can by whatever means possible. How many people do you know that have died of cancer treatment before the actual cancer killed them? I know many. Again, don't get me wrong, there's plenty to live for so extending your physical life isn't wrong by any means, but worshiping this physical life can lead to excessive efforts causing you and your loved ones more pain, the very thing you were trying to avoid. Add to this fear our apprehension about what final sickness will do to our physical appearance. We don't want people to remember us the way we look physically when in the process of dying.

4. People fear what comes after death. Few people really think there is nothing after physical death. Polls consistently show the majority of people know that physical death is not the end. Despite this innate sense of the immortality of the soul, many people are outright scared about what comes after physical death. While not spoken of in the checkout line of the health food store or at the health club, there is an underlying fear of the life after that drives people to stay alive and be physically healthy.

Having said all this it strikes me that much of the current talk about "health care" for all Americans and the notion that health care is a human right may be driven by an overemphasis on physical health. Health idolatry might be making us irrational. Advancements in food processing, vitamin understanding and administration, medications, and exercise science are all gracious allowances from God, but their purpose is to give us a sense of praise for God, the ability to live more energetically for His service, and a manifestation of how we are fearfully and wonderfully made. At the same time, this side of the Fall, when our bodies break down there is opportunity for God to bring glory to Himself by giving us the grace necessary to believe Him when our bodies fail. Whether you believe Paul's "thorn in the flesh" to be physical or spiritual, His words apply to human weakness that is certainly shown when we get sick-

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

-2 Corinthians 12:7-9

I can understand how unbelievers would view health care as the most important thing on earth. If you fear what comes after death, indeed if you think it's the end, you might do whatever it takes to extend your earthly days. Physical life for many is existence. There is nothing else. This physical life is the end in the minds of myriads of people, don't tell them they can't do whatever it takes to live longer. No one should be denied this, right? Health worship I tell you. Health idolatry, don't you think?

Please don't take this post as a license to be unhealthy- that would be foolish and could even be sinful (gluttony is indeed a "deadly" sin). Don't take this as being insensitive to those dealing with sickness or toward those who have just lost a loved one because of sickness. Jesus was extremely compassionate toward the sick and so am I, by His grace. I hate what I see sickness do. It's an awful reminder of what's wrong with this sin-torn world. Do take this as a challenge to not be obsessed with physical health to the point of believing you are the one who ultimately controls such a thing. Don't worship this physical life, it's only a very small portion of the time you will exist-very small. One day those who are united to Christ by faith will receive new bodies fitted for eternity, set your mind on that!

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. - 1 Corinthians 15:42-49

So, pass those twinkies....just kidding...sort of.


Jim said...

Agree entirely on the overall point.

In 1 Co 6, however, Paul is talking about using your body for immoral purposes -- the specific context is uniting sexually with a harlot ("the two shall become one flesh").

Given that uniting sexually with a harlot does not destroy your physical body (I seem to recall that VD came from the New World), the use of this passage even to create "general principles" for healthy practices would seem to be a highly attenuated application of what Paul teaches here.

Again, no argument on the overall points.

Frontier Forest said...

I was in my Urologist office this morning waiting for my check up and picked up an interesting magazine called “Her Form”. It seemed to be a local publication because of the local advertisers and some of the articles were about women from our area. This month’s addition featured the very attractive and most aggressive Gail Worth, the Harley Davidson entrepreneur. Anyway, the pages were filled with plastic surgeons, liposuction and fat doctors, all day message palaces, and beauty salons, cosmetic dentistry and hair therapy. All about me was the theme of this magazine. As I read some of the “world’s” medicines for temporary cures and beauty treatments, I thought, “Nothing in here about eternal and everlasting beauty. No one is telling the readers how to secure your spot in the forever beauty shop. Nothing about sharing your internal beauty secrets to this lost and dying world.” What a shame, millions of beautiful people will go to hell looking good?

Roger Mann said...

Excellent post, and needful reminders, Pastor. Now maybe I can give up eating that high-fiber All Bran cereal that tastes like dried little sawdust twigs! But I absolutely refuse to give up my favorite health and vitality tonic -- fine Scotch! God expects us to be thankful and enjoy certain things in life, after all. :-)

Reepicheep said...

We have a first for Reepicheep...someone started their post with- "I WAS IN MY UROLGISTS OFFICE THIS MORNING..."

Rick Calohan said...

John Calvin writes, “Every person should attend to his own health, not for the sake of prolonging life, but that, as long as he lives, he may serve God, and be of use to his neighbors.”

1 Timothy 5:23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and thine often infirmities.

This was Paul’s advice to Timothy who was ailing.

5:23 1 the sixth rule: Let the Elders have indifferent consideration of their health, in the manner of their diet.

That's why tonight I had Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner, Ribs, Chicken Tenders, Hot Wings, Potato Wedges, Onion Rings, Slaw, and two Budweisers for thy stomach’s sake.