The Bible's General Description of Health
Walt Larimore, M.D., author and vice president at Focus on the Family, details the scriptural theme of the physical and the spiritual in his book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Person2:
Health in the Bible is a multifaceted concept. The Hebrew word shalom, while sometimes connoting “peace,” is not just the absence of conflict, just as health is not just the absence of disease. Its root meaning is that of wholeness, completeness, and general well-being—but not just physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It also carries a strong emphasis on relational well-being, with regard to one’s relationship with God: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” The Bible seems to indicate that one cannot be highly healthy physically, emotionally, and relationally unless one is also growing spiritually.
Also in the ancient Hebrew scriptures is the root word rapha, which more than any other word describes the process of healing. The various noun and verb derivatives of this root occur at least eighty-six times in the Bible’s Old Testament. The variety of uses of rapha tells us that God’s activity as healer is not limited to the physical realm. He is depicted as wanting to restore every aspect of a person’s life-physical, mental, social, and spiritual.
The Bible uses various terms to describe health broadly and comprehensively. King Solomon connects emotions to physical health: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries bones.” King David poignantly describes how guilt over wrongdoing affects physical, spiritual, and emotional health. After committing adultery and murder, David wrote, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” The apostle John links our overall well-being to our spiritual vitality: “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”
Health is a major topic in the Bible, and it is viewed primarily as the restoration and strengthening of one’s personal relationship with God. It is also viewed as a healthy lifestyle (physically and emotionally) that focuses on pursuing healthy relationships with your family and with other people. The biblical view on health can be summed up with the word blessed. Blessedness is a theme in the Old Testament and is most clearly described in the New Testament in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Bible makes the bold assertion that people who aren’t socially, financially, physically, or mentally gifted can be blessed by God, not rejected by him, and as a result their overall health is enhanced.
Our overall health depends not just on our physical health, important as that is, but also on our inner life. It is this inner emotional and spiritual life that God most wants to nourish and promote, for he knows that without spiritual and emotional well-being, we are less healthy than we were designed to be.
Understanding Holistic Health
Clearly, the differing "parts" of our existence are connected, if not intertwined. One area cannot be ignored without directly impacting the other facets. Without question, the spiritual is the center, the core of our experiences that can only be right when in relationship with Jesus through repentance and faith. Accordingly, this hub will impact the physical, emotional and relational areas of life. The spiritual "inner" will work its way forward and out, thus touching all components of " being." Isn't the Christian driven to be balanced and resilient? Doesn't the call to discipleship include a concern for whole personhood and thus, provide the best possible platform for incarnational ministry and maximum cultural impact of the Gospel?
Vertical. Is your relationship with God all that it should be through Christ Jesus? Vocation ministry demands a course that steers clear from the lukewarm waters.
Visible. Is there ample proof that the vertical relationship is growing, as evidenced in care for self and others? "Dis-ease" for the pastor comes in many forms, including a drifting away from the Gospel fire.
Vigilant. Are you on guard for the inevitable attacks? Refusing to ponder the employment of wholeness in ministry, can lead to a divided heart.
© Jim Fisher, Ph.D.
Christian Education and Leadership Concepts, LLC.
Fit for the Fight, October 2010
1 Much of the information is taken from the author’s dissertation: The Relationship between Selected Disciplines of Physical Wellness and Spiritual Wellness among Southern Baptist Pastors, 2006.
2 Walt Larimore, Walt, God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Person, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 29-30.