Last week, I posted reflections on our pastor’s message on the Christian in Sickness under the title “A Healthy Attitude Toward Sickness”. This past Sunday he spoke on the Christian in Health. One of the assertions he made at the beginning caught my attention. This was that, when we consider things on a global scale, health is not the standard experience of human existence, but rather sickness in some form or other. Instances of full, abundant health are the welcome exception. Some of the sicknesses may be chronic, such as inadequate nutrition or chronic parasitic afflictions or malaria. In other cases, infections or illnesses readily treated through our advanced medical care go untreated and may threaten one’s life or quality of life in serious ways.
Many of us tend to enjoy health for relatively long stretches of time, where we begin to assume this is the norm and a right rather than a gift. This was brought home to me recently when I was bitten by a dog tick in my backyard, and spent two weeks of watchfulness for a possible serious illness that could result from that bite. I’ve spent the past 24 years working in that yard and this never happened before. Several years back, I was running half marathons, and in the midst of this contracted cellulitis in my right arm that got so bad I was hospitalized and put on intravenous antibiotics because other antibiotics were not working. Had these not been available or worked, I’m not sure I’d be writing this blog!
Rich’s point was not to get us to live in dread fear of the next looming sickness but rather in recognizing health as a gift to respond in worship, service, and friendship. God is the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17) and when we enjoy health, thanksgiving and worship make sense. We are also healthy to serve, including serving the sick, and healthy in order to enter into community “just because”, rather than because there is some need we or others have. Sometimes it is just a joy to hang out and enjoy good things together.
As I’ve reflected on all this, I’m struck with one further thought about health. When we are healthy we have some sense that “this is how life was meant to be”, and I believe that is right and not to be denied. Sickness, suffering, and death were not God’s original intention for human beings, nor are they the ultimate end for those who trust in Christ. Our moments of health are glimpses of our once and future destiny and pointers to the new life already at work in us, even while we deal with the physical decline of these present bodies (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
In many areas of the Christian life we share our future hope by bringing it into the present. We look forward to God’s peace where the lion and lamb will lay down with each other and we pursue peace. We look forward to God’s people from every nation gathered in worship and seek to reach those from every nation with Christ’s gospel. We believe in a renewed creation in the new Jerusalem, and so we seek to tend God’s present creation toward that day. And similarly, it seems to me that our belief in new, resurrection bodies no longer subject to illness, pain and death should move us to the work of not just comforting and caring for the sick, but as much as possible to not only alleviate but to prevent the suffering of illness, and particularly for those who lack these resources. For example, things as cheap as mosquito nets, and low cost water purification systems are saving the lives of thousands of young children. I work with young, mostly healthy graduate students, many doing biomedical-related research. I see this work as an act of worship providing means to extend God’s gift of health to many more people.
So I would suggest that one further way we might think about the gift of health is as an opportunity to seek the blessing of that gift for others who don’t have the same access to it as do we. Along with health, God gives gifts of expertise, skill, financial resources and time. How might we use these to extend the gift of health and the experience of the goodness of God to others?