With this posting I’d like to highlight a section for Dan Fountain’s work, “Health, the Bible and the Church.”  

Inadequate Understanding of Health

As persons, individually or collectively we have considered health to be a right rather than a responsibility. We assume that someone is going to deliver health care to us, be it the medical profession, the government, or some agency. We are content to be passive recipients of “health care” rather than active participants in the multitude of activities necessary to maintain and promote our own health. From this community default, has developed an understandable attitude of paternalism on the part of the medical profession-”We will do it for you.”
As members of the community, we deceive ourselves by assuming the implication that health is the responsibility only of doctors (healthcare professionals, let’s say. mjs) and hospitals. We fail to realize that health has to do with the way we live in our homes, how we do our work, how we play, and with our attitudes, feelings, and emotions. Health is life, and no one can “deliver” it to us nor can anyone but ourselves improve it or destroy it. We ourselves must take the primary initiative for our own health, using many resources available to us from various health and sickness care programs. (HBC, pg 12)

While we could debate the points made here (others can do much to destroy our health, for instance) I believe the gist of what Dr Fountain writes is perfectly applicable to today as it was in 1989 when this work was published. An especially important point made here is that which surrounds the idea that health is a (human) right and thus someone must be responsible for delivering it to us! This is the language used in global health circles and has been bought into by many Christians. But I think Dan has it right. The vast majority of what it takes to live a healthy life is up to the individual and is not something we should expect someone/something else to provide to us.

What can we as Christian health professionals do in light of such proclamations? (that health is a human right) First we need to be in the conversation. We need to be attending events hosted by non-Christian faith based entities (this includes WHO, MSF, SDG, etc) and while agreeing that access to affordable, local, quality and culturally relevant healthcare can be considered a right, it is not reasonable to argue that health is a human right. And into the conversation we can add that whenever human rights are discussed we should also remind our non-Christian associates that of more importance is the human responsibility we all share for living and helping others live healthy lives.

I wanted to make know the availability of a resource I have come to appreciate greatly these past several months. Most probably are not aware of Rev/Doctor John Wilkinson. A Scot who wrote this work in 1998. He has since passed into glory but I have received permission from the publisher and the author’s family to make this available as a PDF. Here are some quotes:

“the predominant interest of the NT is in healing and it assumes the concept of health previously set forth in the OT. (in the preceding chapter) If there is any difference, it does not lie in the substance of the concept, but in the place where the emphasis is laid and in the fuller light shed on the concept by the NT revelation…the understanding of health in the NT is as many-sided as we found it was in the OT. This is because any adequate definition of human health and wholeness can only be in terms of the life and perfection of God who created human beings for fellowship with Himself and whose will it is that they should share and enjoy the same life and perfection as His own.”

Health as Life: John 10:10 says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Wilkinson states, “This statement by Jesus of the purpose if His coming has often been regarded as a definition of health. Health is the abundance of the life of which He speaks. The word Jesus uses for life is zoe…It emphasizes the quality of life as opposed to bios which emphasizes its quantity or duration. It was not only life which Jesus came to bring, but life with a special quality and even a special quantity of that quality … means ‘more than sufficient’ or ‘with a surplus.'”

“Nothing could be healthier than the life of God producing in human beings that wholeness, soundness and righteousness which constitute true health and holiness. The relationship of divine and human life is a vital and basic element in the NT concept of health. Life apart from God is mere existence and duration. “…where human life is infused with the life of God and lived in a close and constant relationship with him, there is life indeed. Here life means health and health is life itself.”

Let me know if you would like access to this important resource – [email protected]

This past Saturday I was volunteered (by someone whose name will remain anonymous) for duty at our USCWM/WCUI foodbank. We receive just about to expire and some unsellable food from some local Trader Joes (thanks to TJ) stores and the food is divided into categories and then we each pass through to pick out food we would like to take home. This day I was accompanied by my daughter, Leah, who was to help me see what I needed to do so that I could actually be of some use. Also helping out as a “setup” person (they get to go through the line after the drivers and before all the rest) was Anne who is from Africa. She was there with her 2 lovely daughters and has been involved in this Saturday AM event for some time. I heard her accent and struck up a conversation as we were waiting for the drivers to arrive with the goods.

Enthusiastically she shared her story. Anne had grown up in a central African country and her was family was so poor that their poor neighbors considered her family as poor! But through the messages delivered by her pastor in their home church Anne began to hear God speaking through her pastors teaching and what she heard transformed her mind and her life. My immediate thought when she mentioned the name of her church (the name is too long for me to remember) was that it was probably a “prosperity” gospel church. Oh no Anne replied. What the pastor shared was not the prosperity gospel as most people understand it but a gospel of hope and encouragement that God did not intend that His people sit idly by suffering with poverty and ill health. No, He was a God of true prosperity but prosperity as understood in the concept of shalom. He wants His people to live lives that are full of His peace, the peace that passes all human understanding. This pastor taught that his congregants were responsible for their own well being and that their lives could be made better with their own efforts in tune with the work of the Holy Spirit active and alive in our lives! WOW I wanted to shout thanks be to God that He would allow me to hear such a story. But what has this to do with Zeal and Knowledge?

Let me take us back to the purpose of this blog. It is primarily intended to assist those with a passion/zeal for doing good to acquire a deepening knowledge base for how to match their zeal with sufficient knowledge so as to maximize our efforts for kingdom transformation. This story gets to the heart of this purpose. This story illustrates that there are indeed some excellent churches globally whose pastors are preaching and teaching sound messages that have enough impact to transform thinking and thus lives. There may be more sound messages such as this being preached globally than in the church in the west. So for those in the western church who are involved in global missions activities remember one of the principles we think is foundational to effective involvement cross-culturally is working through local churches who have leadership that is preaching and teaching the truth about the overwhelming good news that not only did Jesus die for our sins that we might have eternal life but that He also, along with the Father and Holy Spirit, desire to see His people living lives of shalom and not lives of poverty and dis-ease. We must acknowledge that God is working through His Church all over the world and if we involve ourselves and our churches in cross-cultural global ministry without being connected to such churches and leaders as Anne describes then we are not practicing zeal with knowledge and we are probably causing more harm than good.

 

#2 God is the source of all healing, and desires to heal His people and move us toward wholeness.

We humans are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139: 13-16 phrases it this way as translated in the Message version of the Bible: 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God – you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration – what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

In our reductionist world (especially in the healthcare fields – or should I say disease management field) we too often forget that we as ser humanos (human beings) are intimately know by our creator and that He has made us to be integrated/whole/complete in mind, body and spirit. And He has designed us in such a way that our physical dis-eases are generally resolved by our own immune system. Studying this system of the body during medical school was fascinating, and not just a little difficult, as we learned the intricacies of how God has designed us to heal ourselves in most cases. But too often, through no fault of our own, (though in our modern day this is probably due more to own actions) we are smitten with a physical illness that we need help with. For this reason God has granted us the grace of discovering His knowledge of various elements that aid healthcare professionals in helping us overcome our dis-eases. Antibiotics have saved millions of lives as has modern surgical and anesthesia techniques. But it is all too easy for us to forget and acknowledge the true source of this knowledge. We become puffed up with our own ability to innovate and discover and fail to give credit to our Creator for making these things known to us. This dis-integration of what God intended to be whole has led to the mechanistic approach to caring for those suffering from illness. Perhaps a story from Africa will help illustrate the point. 

A story from the DR Congo as told by the master story teller, Dr Daniel Fountain:

John Malinga,an 18-year-old high school student, was admitted to our hospital in Africa with advanced pulmonary tuberculosis. He complained of a chronic cough, fever, and loss of appetite  and weight.   His sputum contained  many tubercle bacilli.

Tuberculosis is a physical disease affecting primarily the lungs.  The cause is a bacteria whose characteristics are well known.  The treatment is physical, with numerous effective medicines being available.  Nutritional improvement and general hygienic measures are also a necessary part of the treatment.

As soon as John’s diagnosis  was confirmed, we began treating  him with a combination of three medicines.  However, during the first month of treatment, John did  not improve.   The cough, fever, and weight loss continued.  We presumed  that his tubercle bacilli were resistant  to the medicines being used, so we stopped  these and started  three other more effective and  very expensive  medicines.   But in spite of this, the fever, cough, and  weight loss progressed· and John’s condition  steadily  worsened.

One.of our student nurses, Denise Katay, was caring for John, and she discovered a very significant element in his medical history.  His parents had borrowed  money from an uncle to pay for his high school education. The uncle demanded reimbursement, but the parents were unable to do this. In anger,the uncle put a curse on John in his presence, saying that John would become ill and die in spite of whatever treatment he might receive. We now knew why he was indeed dying of tuberculosis.

This history made it clear that fear and despair were depressing John’s immune  mechanisms and recuperative  powers.  Anti-tuberculosis medi­cines do not destroy tubercle bacilli. They act on the bacilli to reduce their virulence and make them more susceptible to the natural defenses of the body.   But it is the body (and not the medicines) that destroys and eliminates  the bacilli.   Furthermore, the body  must  repair  the  tissues damaged  by the bacilli. In John, neither process was functioning.

Denise shared her faith with John and, after some days, he entered into a personal relationship with Christ. During further conversations, Denise asked him who he considered  to be more powerful:  Jesus Christ or his uncle.  John was aware that he now belonged to Christ, and he now recognized that the power of Christ surpassed  the destructive power of his uncle. He and Denise prayed together, asking for Christ’s healing power and for his protection.

Denise then tackled a much more difficult problem. She asked John if his uncle had done him wrong. “Of course, he tried to kill me!” She read him the words of Jesus about forgiving those who do us wrong and asked John if he could forgive his uncle. This was difficult; how could he forgive someone who wanted him to die? Mrs Masieta (the Vanga hospital pastoral care coordinator) explained that forgiveness is not excusing or denying the reality of the offense. Rather, it is releasing the offending person into the hands of God, who is the only true judge. John finally released this uncle to God in prayer and asked God to heal the anger and hatred in his heart. God did, and within a few days John’s fever disappeared, his appetite returned, and he went on to a complete recovery,healed in body, mind, and spirit. This is what God through Christ wants to do for anyone who acknowledges Him as Lord. This is true health and wholeness and it can be found in no one else.

 

Most of the points made in our discussion of what “health” is are taken from Dr Dan Fountains monograph “Health, the Bible and the Church,” written while Dan was a missionary in residence at Wheaton College back in the late ’80’s. Dan was famous for saying health could not be defined easily or at all for that matter. But there are elements we can identify as being necessary for living a healthy life of wholeness. The first is the following:

  1. 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.

Here is where there is growing agreement between those of the secular/humanist faith based groups and those of us who function from a Christian faith perspective. But herein also is a line in the sand of sorts. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Within the “social” side of this equation I would imagine they would feel comfortable placing the “spiritual” side of the person. Many now talk about the “Mind, Body, Spirit” paradigm or the biopsychosocial-spiritual model of health. The Osteopathic medical profession especially likes to promote whole person care in the Mind/Body/Spirit mold. Even my own Allopathic profession is acknowledging the importance of the spiritual side of patients. Our agreement with all this is that we do indeed believe that wholeness or health does involve a spiritual side but for us this is a wholeness that proceeds from a personal and intimate relationship with God through Christ. Yes one can appear to be quite healthy and not believe in Christ as the savior of mankind. But those who refuse to believe in the saving work of Christ on the cross cannot know complete health and wholeness. There will always remain a distance between them and God their creator.

I think this also is where we would part with what has become the predominant opinion of many mainline denominational churches which make up most of the WCC. This uniqueness of Christ and His atoning work has been lost as a cornerstone of their existence. Wholeness in their opinion can be achieved equally in the spiritual realm for persons devoted to the Christian faith, Muslim faith, Hindu faith or any other faith system, including those of the secular/humanist faith. In the name of ecumenism, unity and “peace” many have sacrificed what made the Christian faith unique. Christ and Him crucified and resurrected. So in the end one can live a long, prosperous and “healthy” life but if in the end you have no relationship with the risen savior what good has it done for you?

The latter part of the statement has to do with God making us in His image, unique and gifted to contribute to the advancement of His kingdom on earth. This has been one of the greatest human tragedies throughout our history. A life lived apart from a relationship with our creator can indeed produce some amazing results. But this begs a very difficult question. If we do all in our power (let’s just say we provide access to good affordable healthcare to all by 2020) to accomplish some great goal but in the end most have still not heard and responded to the good news of Jesus the Christ and live eternally separated from God then what good have we really done? This again is a very clear distinction between our faith based work and that of ALL others. We believe that God has indeed created man, we are not just a creature of chance that happened over billions of years. Being created by a loving God we are also called to lives of service. To love Him with all our heart soul mind and strength AND our neighbors as ourselves also includes listening to our God to hear His calling on our lives. The Church, His bride, is made up of many different parts with innumerable gifts that are not being developed fully. This is true especially in the majority world where mere existence often depends on barely scraping out a living each day working fields or at some menial job which pays barely enough to sustain one’s family.

So what are we to do as His bride? I believe our churches need to do much more to help her members discover their God given gifts and calling and do all in our power to help them pursue those callings. Not only in the Church in the US but in the Church global. Could this be an effective “missions” strategy for some churches to pursue? I believe so. Can you imagine resource rich churches partnering with resource poor churches glocally (of course this means local and global combined) to help develop this type of ministry? It would require having assessment tools and then means of supporting those churches to help them help their members to accurately hear God’s calling and then supporting them in their pursuits. This would likely cause us to take a wholistic approach to our work in that we would be forced to assess what tools are or are not available for His people to pursue their calling. Are there schools to help educate them? Will there be jobs for them when they are finished and if not why not and what can we do about it? Now that’s a focus on health and wholeness.