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Health and Wealth Gospel: Part One

February 23, 2013

Before we begin this blog post, I would like to ask you to send a donation to The Cold Composure Ministries, preferable in unmarked tens and twenties. If you do so, I will send you St. Thomas Aquinas’ wall-mounted telephone, which will answer all of your prayers and redirect your mother-in-law’s calls to the rejection hotline and/or Alcoholics Anonymous. For questions, comments, exorcisms, or emergency ordinations, please call our 24-hour hotline at 1-800-OMG-FAKE

Oftentimes we hear the term “health-and-wealth” gospel, usually said with a sneering tone. It brings up images of dishonest televangelists asking for donations, and telling churchgoer’s that God’s biggest priority is giving them a big house, a nice car, and a comfortable life, something that he evidently did not care to give to Moses, Jeremiah, John the Baptist or Jesus. It is true that the “health-and-wealth” gospel is a sickening cancer on the body of Christ. But it is also true that there are good Christian ways to view the areas of health and wealth, and those of us in the West, having been given copious amounts of both, are responsible for managing them in a wise, God-honoring manner. This four-part series will go deal with a vision for properly dealing with these issues, using wisdom from both Scripture and ordinary human experience. Hopefully I can shed some light on these complex, fascinating, and imminently relevant issues.

Health

The issue of healthiness occupies a place in modern Western thought that it has enjoyed nowhere else. Throughout most of human history, health issues have been something like this: If you are healthy, good; if you get sick, you die. Somewhere along the way, an important advance in medical history was made, so the paradigm shifted to this: If you are healthy, good; if you get sick, call the doctor and he will cut a vein and bleed you, and you will die. P.J. O’Rourke says “When you think of the good old days, think one word: dentistry.”

“This might sting a little.”

So it should be surprising that, in these days of surplus health, health crises keep popping up everywhere. Despite the fact that we have invented medical miracles such as vaccines, X-rays and Tylenol Cold and Sinus (R), we are still beset with health crises. Some of these are semi-legitimate problems, like the different flues named after animals (Bird Flu, Swine Flue, East Indonesian Brown Tapir Flu) that the newspapers keep saying will kill us all every year. But some of the other problems seem laughable if viewed from a distance. The “obesity” epidemic would seem like a joke to anyone not from the 21st or late 20th century. It’s would be the equivalent of saying “life is terrible; I have too much money.” Another health crisis, smoking, also seems extremely weird from an outside perspective. We are essentially worried about people injuring themselves. Smoking is not an unstoppable habit–it is a form of recreation. A dangerous and harmful form of recreation that I do not condone, but a form of recreation nonetheless.

The problems that Westerners have had in these areas of health go to show that the more resources one has, the harder it is to be responsible with them. A person who has five dollars will be more careful about his spending money than a person who has five billion dollars. This idea is implicit in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve–they were given the greatest amount of responsibility, an almost infinite amount of resources with unlimited time. They did not do well. Neither have we.

 

Jesus said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”(Luke 16:10-12) Unfortunately, many of us have not been faithful in this area. Part of this has been a reaction against the obnoxious health-worshipper types, part of this is an expression of the American individualism that has crept into the Church, and part of this is due to sheer laziness. Faced with the responsibility of taking care of our own bodies, we have reached sluggishly for another cookie. And despite our excuses that we make (some of which are pretty good), we still cannot avoid the realization that we often squander the health we have been given.

“I am thinking such deep theological thoughts sitting here on the couch,” said the rebellious young Calvinist, “I don’t have time to clean my room.”

St. Paul’s admonition in 1st Corinthians, “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God?…So glorify God with your body,” seems an apt for this issue. However, I think we should dig deeper into the meaning of this verse rather than using it merely as a prooftext. One reason that we should take care of our bodies is that if our bodies are unhealthy, frequently we are not able to do Kingdom service as well as we could. Juvenal’s ideal of Mens sana in corpore sano (A sound mind in a sound body) is a good goal for the Christian. If we are tired, worn out, or sick because of negative lifestyle choices, it becomes harder to reflect Christ in our actions. We can’t afford to be dualists here–the body affects the soul and vice versa. Sometimes the best way to serve God is to hit the gym.

Another reason that it is good to take care of our bodies is because our bodies are in and of themselves good, and we miss out on many good opportunities to serve God. I have found that since I have started working out, I have come to enjoy working out for its own sake, and not for the benefits it would give me. (This is primarily because I realized that even if I did have a killer six-pack of abs, I would still be socially awkward around girls). Taking care of our bodies does not have to be a chore–it can be fun and intrinsically rewarding. A final reason is that it helps develop responsibility. If a person cannot control themselves when they walk by the cookie jar, how will that person respond when they are faced with a much greater temptation. Much unhealthy behavior is sinful not because it is evil, but because it is stupid. It may come as a surprise, but there are more rewarding things to do than sitting on the couch eating Oreos and playing Call of Duty: Black Ops (incidentally, that describes my ideal Saturday). Wasting time is not advancing the kingdom of God. We are not making disciples if we are propped up in the La-Z-Boy all day.

“Dude! Level 20!”

I don’t claim to have a foolproof program for healthy living. I certainly don’t want to be a food Nazi, and I will continue to eat at McDonalds. (but only the apple pies.) However, I think we all need to be more active in making good health choices. One thing that could be helpful is thinking of short-term pain vs. long-term gain. Sure, it is hard to go to the gym and run, or forgo eating a delicious chocolate chip cookie (or better yet, a box of chocolate chip cookies.) But the results of healthy living will, in the long run, be more enjoyable. While it is not easy to make good health choices, I think that making them would help us to live healthier, more God-honoring lives.

In the next installment, I will deal with those nefarious health-Nazis, and the problem of “foodolatry.”

Current Listenings: “Mule Skinner Blues (Live from Bean Blossom, 1973),” by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, “I’m With a Crowd But Oh So Alone” by Ernest Tubb, “Positively 4th Street” by Bob Dylan, My Favorite Things by John Coltrane

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2013 7:12 am

    Your blog is so legit.

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