IF THOU wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee" (Ex. 15:26).
We are acquainted with God's gracious plan to make Israel a light among the nations, a spectacle of physical and mental health. God separated Israel from other peoples because He desired to give them an education second to none, to qualify them to be His personal ambassadors to mankind. They were destined to be God's own representatives to guide and to inspire. But this exalted station they could not reach unless they were clean, first physically, then spiritually. I say first physically, because body hygiene is the foundation for all other progress. In vain are our dreams of heaven if we live in a self-indulgent fashion. Prayers for victory, for sanctification; efforts at Bible study and the maintenance of numerous religious forms, will all lead to defeat as long as the termites of secret and not so secret physical violations are permitted to live in our body or mind.
It is not a matter of accident that the Almighty called the attention of His rescued people to the importance of physical health at the very outset of their journey.
If the maintenance of physical health is the foundation of the splendid temple God intends to build, then such declarations made while still in sight of Egypt were not only timely but well timed. Healthful living, according to God's own standards, underlies all life and practice.
Embarrassment to Heaven
It is encouraging to read a report from the pen of David concerning the results of even imperfect compliance with God's instructions. It states that "there was not one feeble person among their tribes" (Ps. 105: 37). Who can imagine the results of total and continued obedience? God, who knows the human heart, expressed His feelings and hopes through Moses with these words, "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever" (Deut. 5:29). The sad fact is that they did not have such a heart. That is why the Israelites succumbed to all the diseases of the nations around them. They became an embarrassment to Heaven. Their spirituality declined in proportion to their physical and mental degradation. They became incapable of pursuing God's training farther. He cast them off as unfit. When the Master came to His own, they presented a sorry spectacle of physical and mental degradation. Far from welcoming
Him with songs on their lips and with radiance of physical vigor on their faces, they shrank from Him in feebleness and suspicion. The ever-pitying Saviour went from house to house, healing them. How different things would have been if they had had a heart to keep His commandments always!
But ancient Israel is gone! Today God deals with spiritual Israel. To us belong the same challenges, the same promises. The same attentiveness to and compliance with Heaven's rules will produce the same glorious results.
Do we really believe that if we as modern Israel obey God's will and put aside our numerous excuses, God will again take all sickness from us? We should not be urged merely by self-interest to follow God's rules. It is human to say, "Let's try a program of total hygiene because it pays rich dividends in better health." As desirable as greater physical and mental vigor may be at any time, we should carefully remember that we are to represent God to the world in this final generation. We are called upon to prepare the way for the return of the Master. This is the first and most important reason. Do we have such a heart today that will urge us to comply with Heaven's laws?
Deaths Only Half
It is very heartening to know that members of the remnant church have better health to the extent that they obey God's commandments. The May, 1967, issue of Science Digest contains the following statement under the title "Clean Living." "The Seventh-day Adventists don't smoke, don't drink, avoid tea and coffee and have, in the words of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 'a way of life which includes adequate rest, recreation, exercise, avoidance of tension and worry, good hygiene, and prompt cooperation with medical care.' A study of 11,071 male members of the group conducted between 1958 and 1962 showed that they were outstandingly healthy as compared to men of comparable age from the general population. The deaths from all causes in the Adventist group were only half that expected for most men. Deaths from respiratory disease were only one quarter that expected."
We feel pleased at such a discovery. It is but a modern fulfillment of the unchangeable promise of God that He will not put any disease upon the obedient. But although Adventists are comparatively free from many prevalent heart and respiratory diseases, the comparison with the world at large in other areas is not so impressive. The reason is clear and close at hand—we are not as obedient to God's laws in other areas as we should be. To achieve total health as God designed we should, we need both to study far more carefully the laws of our bodies and minds and to trust in divine power for obedience.
It is a healthy sign that in the medical world more emphasis is being placed upon prevention. But again there is danger that we shall be the tail in this respect rather than the head. We hear almost endlessly about the healing arts. That these will remain vital until the Lord returns needs no proof. Furthermore, there exists little danger that efforts at healing will ever be neglected among us. The erection of numerous hospitals and clinics, some in the multimillion-dollar class, witness to this.
Fraction of the Cost
But are our efforts at prevention progressing as dramatically? Comparatively speaking, prevention and all efforts combined to avoid illness cost only a small fraction of the cost of restoration. Prevention of disease is much less glamorous and dramatic. It may even at times become a boring task. Efforts at educating men and women in ways of healthful living require much tact and adaptation. Personally, I would rather be enlightened about how to postpone a heart attack for a good many years, or how to maintain the health of my kidneys a little longer, than to have to be attended prematurely by the most skillful internist and the most gracious and understanding nurses in the shiniest and most aseptic of hospitals.
Surgical Scar No Badge of Merit
Prevention is achieved quietly, unglamorously, and with much less know-how and expenditure of very scarce dollars. Let us train our minds more than ever to think that prevention is better than cure, that surgical scars are no badges of special merit, but all too often marks of our neglect. God's desire for ancient Israel was that the diseases that plagued the world as a whole and which were due to ignorance and selfish living, should not afflict His people. This is prevention par excellence. II is needed among God's Israel today more than ever.
No Resurrection Needed
Loma Linda's splendid motto is, "To Make Man Whole." This is the task of both minister and physician. Let us never resurrect again the false idea that the physician attends to the needs of the body only, whereas the pastor is the nurse of the soul. We have made gratifying progress in considering the doctor a physician of the whole man. In harmony with this true concept, our medical students are given sufficient training in matters spiritual to qualify them to carry on a balanced practice. I fear that this cannot be said of the training of a minister of the gospel. We have not yet reached the place where the ministerial curriculum emphasizes knowledge of the physical as much as that of spiritual or Biblical. No doubt the time will never come in this present world when every minister can serve as Jesus did in His total capacities and perfect skills in all three areas of life. This is why we need both ministers and doctors, who although their responsibilities include the whole man, must of necessity limit their ministries to a more or less partial service.
Ministers Need to Practice Preventive Medicine
But why limit it to an area far smaller than we can reach. Although physicians could do more to help the mind and soul, it is primarily ministers who have fallen short of reaching man's body. I conceive that nothing short of a practice of preventive medicine, requiring no license and only a reasonable preparation, will permit us to say sincerely that we are doing what we can to make man whole.
Minister --physician cooperation is a splendid and necessary thing. We have made sincere efforts to increase it. But I submif that this cooperation will remain superficial unless we can join with physicians in actually teaching our people in all methods of disease prevention. It is not enough for the pastor merely to ask the overburdened doctor to come in and talk about this or that. This may be desirable at times. But why does not the minister himself teach health. Ellen G. White insists that he should.
Excellent courses are being offered at Loma Linda that qualify a minister to discharge his responsibility as a health educator. Is it not true that the time is long overdue when our curricula should make room for such studies in favor of others that are much less needed, however interesting in themselves?
We are modern Israel. If we are to see God's promise realized regarding the health of His people, it will come largely through our ministers teaching our people how to fulfill the conditions in classes in hygiene, physiology, and proper living.