Health and Spirituality

WHEN CHRIST was dying on the cross "they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink" (Matt. 27:34). Following the usual practice at crucifixions Jesus was offered the sop to help alleviate His thirst. The purpose of the sop was to deaden the senses of a victim and relieve his agony and suffering. . .

-P. W. Martin, M.D., writes from the Australasian Division.

WHEN CHRIST was dying on the cross "they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink" (Matt. 27:34). Following the usual practice at crucifixions Jesus was offered the sop to help alleviate His thirst. The purpose of the sop was to deaden the senses of a victim and relieve his agony and suffering.

In the closing hours of Christ's life on earth, we find an illustration of the basic importance of maintaining intact our physical capabilities in order to fulfill our spiritual hopes. After mentioning that Jesus refused to take the stupefying potion offered Him, Ellen White tells us that Christ "would receive nothing that could becloud His mind. ... To becloud His senses would give Satan an advantage" (The Desire of Ages, p. 746). If Satan could have tempted Christ at this time, or drawn away His hold on God, the plan of salvation would have been sabotaged at the very climax of its fulfillment.

God's Gateway to Man

In the counsels of the Spirit of Prophecy are two statements that have always intrigued me. The first declares that "the brain nerves which communicate with the entire system are the only medium through which Heaven can communicate to man and affect his inmost life." --Temperance, p. 13.

The second comment from the pen of inspiration maintains that "God cannot let His Holy Spirit rest upon those who, while they know how they should eat for health, persist in a course that will enfeeble mind and body." --Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp. 55, 56.

This means that "Heaven" can only influence an individual to the extent of that person's cells in his brain. This supernatural input is like a divine nutrient that stimulates the cells of the brain, transforming the individual's mind. However, the cells of the brains of "those who, while they know how they should eat for health, persist in a course that will enfeeble mind and body," cannot be affected in such a way.

Even the most brilliant preacher can not inspire a person who slumps sluggishly in the pew because of intemperate living. Such an individual's brain is as dull as if it had been drugged with a sedative.

The relationship between our physical well-being and our spirituality must be studied aright if the real significance of our health message is to become clear to us, because "it is impossible for men and women, while under the power of sinful, health-destroying, brain-enervating habits, to appreciate sacred truth" (Counsels on Health, p. 21).

The Unique Nature of Man's Brain

Man's supremacy over all other species of animal life, including the dolphin and the ape with their human like attributes, is due to several unique features. We will mention two here. One is that man has a marvelous hand, and can coordinate and employ the muscles of his body in such a way that he can physically manipulate and control his environment in ways that no other animal can match.

Second, he has the faculty of speech. He can mentally represent inside his brain the world around him and his own behavior in it by using special symbols or words, which are the currency of his experience. His brain, with its cerebral hemispheres so much larger, comparatively, than those of any other animal, has been specifically developed so that these features may characterize the life of a human being.

A wife may bid farewell to her husband in the morning with the parting comment, "Oh, darling, mother rang and says she will be spending the week end with us." The impact of these few words may completely alter her husband's happiness and well-being for the rest of the day, and, despite the actual absence of his mother-in-law, prevent his thinking clearly or working efficiently.

A wise man has remarked: "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). Although only a few may have problems with their mothers-in-law, I wonder how many appreciate the extent to which our lives and destinies are controlled by our own speech and the remarks of others.

It is on the basis of our ability to establish the meaning of our experiences and to rightly interpret what happens on the basis of our skill with language that we employ our hands and the muscles of the body in having "dominion . . . over all the earth" (Gen. 1:26).

The Christian Life

Faith in Christ "cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). During His lifetime Christ clearly indicated that we can understand the meaning of His life and sacrifice, the plan of salvation, and have eternal life only as we live by and feed on His words continually. "The flesh profiteth nothing" (relying on your physical senses will get you nowhere). "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; . . . the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63).

The human brain has', as we have noted, the singular faculty of speech. Man can only believe in Christ when he uses his brain to understand the words Christ uttered or inspired others to write about Himself and His Father.

Inspiration points out to us that "if we are not temperate in all our eating and drinking; we shall not be in a state of mental and physical soundness to study the Word with a purpose to learn what saith the Scripture what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 52).

The Brain as a Bodily Organ

Despite its amazing properties, the human brain, is simply an organ of the body like the heart, the liver, and the kidneys. It can be affected by dis ease for example, infection, cancer, or hardening of the arteries just like the lungs or the heart. Because it has many millions of highly sensitive and very delicately arranged connections, called synapses, between its cells or neurons, it is much more readily disturbed by an unhealthy condition, more so perhaps than any other part of the body.

The medical problems involved in keeping men in space have been recently reviewed on the basis of studies conducted on the Skylab mission. "One concludes that the two factors conducive to sound, healthful living on earth, . . . good food and regular exercise, . . . may be the simple answer to sustaining man in prolonged space flight," declares Dr. Gavin R. Dawson in Impulse, vol. 12, no. 3, December 1, 1973.

If Christians were to have good food and to exercise regularly, they would remove the "health-destroying, brain-enervating habits" that make it "impossible to appreciate sacred truth." They would then be in harmony with modern medical science, which has learned that the brain needs ample oxygen and glucose (blood sugar) plus vitamins and minerals in suitable amounts in order to function optimally.

Regular exercise helps supply the blood we need for our brains and assists in the effective removal of the waste products of the brain's activities so that it doesn't pollute itself. This exercise must be aerobic as denned by the well-known fitness expert, Lieutenant Kenneth Cooper, U.S.A.F., in his book, Aerobics. We must on most days exert ourselves so that we perspire and pant a bit, and get our pulse rates up to suggested levels, which vary according to age, if our brains are to regularly get all the oxygen they need.

The "good food" the brain needs is completely supplied by a vegetarian diet. Such a diet, we will recall, made Daniel and his companions "ten times wiser" than any man in Babylon.

A vegetarian diet has an abundance of carbohydrates that finally yield the glucose that the brain must have. The more natural the diet, the more vitamins and minerals are provided to catalyze and activate the metabolic cycle which extracts the energy out of glucose the brain needs. High protein diets do nothing to compensate for a diet that does not produce the necessary amount of glucose.

"Good food," we know, is not provided by alcohol. This ever-popular beverage seems basically to affect the efficiency of the brain by interfering with the ability of its cells to accept oxygen.

Anoxia Effects Similar to Alcohol

It is generally believed that the activity of the brain at any moment is the sum of all the excitatory and inhibitory levels, or potentials, between all the cells of the brain. The initial effect of alcohol is to reduce the level of inhibition in the more sensitive areas so that a person overcomes, for in stance, his reticence to "enter into the spirit" of an occasion.

Increasing doses of alcohol, however, reduce the level of excitation, producing increasing discoordination, paralysis, and eventually stupor, and sometimes death.

I have been impressed by the way anoxia, or lack of oxygen, and hypoglycemia, or low levels of sugar in the blood, produce effects on the brain similar, in a general way, to those of alcohol. We can conclude that any form of intemperance such as the use of alcohol and certain other drugs, irregular exercise (producing oxygen lack), and improper diet (causing an inadequate utilization of sugar in the brain cells), can be considered to initially reduce the inhibitory mechanisms of the brain. We gradually lose our control to do what we know to be right, and, as the level of excitation may subsequently fall, we become sluggish and indifferent.

The Physical Basis of Spirituality

At this stage the reader may begin to question whether our discussion is perhaps exaggerating the physical aspects of a person to the neglect of his so-called "higher" spiritual nature. It is all right to keep our brains in first-class condition with good food and proper exercise, but after all, doesn't the human spirit soar above the mundane and the material, and reach out for the infinite and the eternal? "Come, doctor," you might say, "aren't you rather biased and narrow in your appreciation of the highest faculties of the human mind, and therefore in your beliefs about the 'spiritual' significance of our health message?"

One of the glories of the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is that we possess a completely correct understanding of the nature of man. As we turn to the Scriptures we will find that man's spiritual nature is in separably bound up with his physical structure. The spiritual and the physical are simply the two sides of the same penny.

In Job 32:8, R.S.V., we read: "It is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand." What then is the spirit of man? How can God's breath make a man understand?

The "breath of the Almighty" God breathed into man's form, making him "a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). God says "He . . . giveth breath unto the people upon it [the earth], and spirit to them that walk therein" (Isa. 42:5; cf. Job 27:3; 33:4; Zech. 12:1).

Paul maintains the spirit of man "knoweth the things of a man" (1 Cor. 2:11), and the wise man declares "a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit" (Prov. 17:27).

God takes the form of man and by breathing into it makes it live and understand. The Bible does not specifically state that God's breath makes the body, like a machine, work in the way God designed it. Life from God gears the cells of the brain into activity, and modern medical science, unlike the secular knowledge of the times in which the Bible was written, knows that human understanding is impossible without the activity of the brain.

To be spiritual simply means to be able to exercise the human spirit, the divine spark given us by virtue of our creation, so we understand and appreciate the world about us and the uni verse in which we live in all its meaning and purpose. It means that we must be able to interpret rightly the gestures, the tones of voice, the intentions and meaning of the behavior of others toward us.

We are behaving spiritually when we use our brains and understand the basic and absolute facts about reality that God has established in His creation. We are spiritually active when our brains are employed in our task of living by a faith in Christ's atonement that leads us to overcome temptation and sin, of appreciating the validity of each one of the Ten Commandments, of comprehending the counsel of the Bible and its illumination in the Spirit of Prophecy.

The processes of the activity of the cells of the brain are rightly called mental. These same processes are also basic to the spiritual life of a person. The brain is doing exactly the same kind of work when a person meditates on the life of Christ, when a housewife makes up a shopping list, or when a man makes plans for his business. The popular idea of a difference between man's mental and spiritual nature is simply a question of what the brain is doing, what it is thinking about. It is not a matter of how the various cells of the brain are working.

An Important Difference

There is, however, one very important difference between a person's mental life, in its popular everyday sense, and his spiritual life. God declares, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (Isa. 55:8). But when a person accepts God's invitation, "Come, let us reason together," then all the cells of his brain work together so that their potential to think out the complete answers to all his questions and hopes is finally realized. He now has "peace of mind" as all his doubts, anxieties, and uncertainties can be resolved. The more the Christian advances along the pathway of sanctification by feeding more and more on the Bread of Life, so the more his mental and spiritual "lives" become the same thing as he becomes increasingly nourished by God's grace and power.

The spiritual significance of our health message is that if we ignore or neglect the laws of healthful living, our mental life and our spiritual experience will never achieve this harmony. Unless we honor our health message, the spirit of man our ability to understand God and His ways, which we have lost as a result of sin can never be reinforced fully by the Holy Spirit, as should be evident in the activities of our brains.

"When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (chap. 14:6). Let us ask ourselves three questions. Am I growing more like Christ day by day? Am I willing to reject all forms of unhealthy living in the way Christ despised the sop of gall and vinegar while dying on the cross? Do I believe the archenemy of all souls seeks to tempt me to disregard God's physical laws of health in the way he fought against my crucified Saviour?

The crucial significance of our health message should become apparent to us when we realize that "the body is the only medium through which the mind and the soul are developed for the up building of character. . . . The adversary of souls directs his temptations to the enfeebling and degrading of the physical powers. His success here means the surrender to evil of the whole being." --The Ministry of Healing, p. 130.

Personally, I have yet to meet a Seventh-day Adventist whose spiritual integrity and discernment I admire, who was not at the same time a confirmed and faithful health reformer.

"Therefore He [God] has permitted the light of the health reform to shine upon us, that we may see our sin in violating the laws which He has established in our being. . . . Our gracious heavenly Father sees the deplorable condition of men. . . . And in love and pity to the race, He causes the light to shine upon health reform. ... To make plain natural law, and urge the obedience of it, is the work that accompanies the third angel's message to prepare a people for the coming of the Lord." --Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 161.


Adapted from "The Spiritual Significance of Our Health Message," Australasian Record, vol. 78, No. 16, April 22, 1974. Used by permission.


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-P. W. Martin, M.D., writes from the Australasian Division.

October 1975

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