Good Health Can Become an Idol
Many of the more recent controversial developments in conventional medicine (cloning, assisted suicide, embryo research) have arisen because some believe that the purpose of life is to promote life itself — and not just any life, but life that is judged by human standards to be valuable or of good quality.
Good health can become the most important thing in a person’s life. Sometimes this is good. Other times it may be harmful.
Our modern world makes it easy to become consumed with maintaining a very high quality of physical life for as long as possible. Cosmetic surgery, pills such as Viagra, and medical “treatments” for baldness or wrinkles become central to maintaining a certain quality of life, or “health.”
Each of these treatments can have a legitimate use in specific cases, but their popularity is a natural outgrowth of the idea that the purpose of life is to promote life itself. This sort of focus can also lead people to pursue whatever spiritual, relational, or emotional factors they believe will contribute to their goals in this life.
If religion and spirituality are said to help people live longer, healthier lives, they are willing to try them. Whether the beliefs are based on truth doesn’t matter to someone with such a mind-set. To such individuals, the purpose of life remains rooted in the here and now, the period from birth to a painless, gentle physical death.
For many within the New Age movement, this attitude toward life is taken one step further. Health involves self-actualization. This requires getting in touch with one’s intuitive side, the inner self. Various forms of meditation become important. One’s own health becomes of central importance. And only the individual is able to judge what is beneficial.
According to one commentator, this leads to a view that “anything that could conceivably contribute to human growth, whether scientifically verified or not, [is] admissible — and [is] admitted.” Such thinking underlies the openness within New Age thought to alternative therapies.
With health defined as broadly as “well-being” — and the most important test being how people feel after a therapy — almost anything could be included as “therapy.” If the ultimate purpose in life is good health, then a person ought to pursue anything that might improve health.
This belief actually makes it more difficult to accept illness, limitations, aging, and death. When physical health is most important, a lack of health can be devastating — and even lead people to belittle their own value, worth, and purpose. A person’s very identity can be shaken by illness.
This may partially explain why people expend huge resources to keep their bodies “healthy” and demand assistance in suicide when they deem their lives to be of no further value.
What Value Should We Place on Our Health?
It is good to be healthy. We should maximize our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health. But they should not become ends in and of themselves. The pursuit of physical health must be balanced against other values.
Jesus proclaimed that the two greatest commandments are to love God and serve others (Matthew 22:36 – 40). Good health is a means toward these goals.
Paul expressed a similar idea when he told Christians, “You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
In God’s system, there are sometimes good reasons to sacrifice our health and even our lives. Jesus touched the lepers and other “untouchables” of his day for the greater value of their spiritual health.
Doctors, nurses, and others still imitate Jesus when they take care of those with infectious diseases. Those who go on the mission field to countries where little health care is available make these same choices for themselves and their families. They are to be admired. They know that there is more to life than just physical health.
The entire law of God is summarized in both the Old and New Testaments as loving our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; Galatians 5:14).
This sometimes involves decisions to give the health of others a higher priority than our own health. This can range from a relatively small decision to get less sleep in order to care for someone in their illness to a major decision to move to an underprivileged country or the inner city to serve the poor.
Putting others’ needs before our own is never easy. The teachings of many popular “gurus” within the alternative medicine movement make it even more difficult.
Secular sociologists have pointed out that the gurus’ message is very much focused on individuals and their own health. This approach fits into an individualistic lifestyle, which attracts many.
God’s view of a healthy lifestyle is dramatically different. It is one of significant relationships built on people’s commitment to serve one another before themselves.
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). And even science is starting to show that this leads to better health.
You can read more on this topic in my book, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook.
Also, citations to all of the studies quoted in this blog are found in the book.
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