Galen C. Bosley, D. H. Sc., is research associate of the Department of Health and Temperance of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Through hearing, seeing, reading, and touching, we grow in faith. As Scripture says, we are eyewitnesses. John, the disciple who was closest to Christ, says: "It was there from the beginning; we have heard it; we have seen it with our own eyes; we looked upon it, and felt it with our own hands; and it is of this we tell. Our theme is the word of life. . . . What we have seen and heard we declare to you, so that you and we together may share in a common life, that life which we share with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:1-3, NEB).

After His resurrection Christ appeared to the disciples in the upper chamber. They thought they were seeing a spirit, but Christ's response to their astonishment and fear was "Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see; no ghost has flesh and bones as you can see that I have" (Luke 24:39, NEB). Through their physical senses the disciples were called upon to evaluate the holy as well as the unholy.

These senses work by way of nerve fibers that lead to and from the brain. "The brain nerves that connect with the whole system are the medium through which heaven communicates with man and affects the inmost life. Whatever hinders the circulation of the electric current in the nervous system, thus weakening the vital powers and lessening mental susceptibility, makes it more difficult to arouse the moral nature." 1

God gave the health message to prevent the physiological effect of a fleshly electrical communication system being short-circuited, resulting in a weakened moral nature. Inspiration classifies such common indulgences as tea, coffee, tobacco, and alcohol (we would also include street drugs) as agents "that exert a pernicious influence upon moral character. The earlier these hurtful habits are formed, the more firmly will they hold their victim in slavery to lust, and the more certainly will they lower the standard of spirituality." 2

Caffeine affects spirituality

This counsel is echoed in present-day scientific studies. Researchers have found, for example, that as coffee users increase in age, their consumption also increases. 3 On a spiritual plane, increasing consumption of caffeine accompanies a concomitant decrease in religious involvement. This effect is shown in Table I. 4

In social drinkers the use of alcohol seems to cause small amounts of brain shrinkage in the frontal lobes, the center of moral discernment. 5 When social drinkers are given psychological tests, researchers find that the drinkers' decision-making ability, the higher order of thinking, is impaired even when sober. The greater the intake of alcohol, the greater the decrease in decision-making power. 6 Furthermore, as alcohol intake increases, the involvement in religious activities decreases, even at the lowest consumption levels. 7

Alcohol distorts perception of what is actually occurring. Studies for a number of years were unable to find any problematic effects from one or two drinks of alcohol. Tests on individuals' abilities to do certain tasks requiring the use of the senses showed no difference between abstainers and moderate drinkers. Humans have the ability to concentrate enough mental power on a given task to overcome the degrading effect alcohol has on their senses and coordination as long as they have only one task to cope with.

For example, after five or six drinks, experienced airline pilots under simulated conditions can maintain their aircraft on correct flight paths as long as this is their only task. When it comes to watching for other aircraft or listening to air traffic controller instructions in addition to maintaining a correct flight path, control begins to come apart. Major errors occur, such as attempting a landing without the landing gear down or turning the plane into the flight path of another plane after the controller has just notified the pilot of the other aircraft. 8 See Figure I. 9

But it doesn't take five or six drinks to do this. As little as one drink can delay and distort the ability to handle and interpret information quickly and accurately. The precise mechanism isn't known, although there appears to be good evidence that the distortions are occurring at both the sensory level—the eyes, ears, nose, etc.—and the cognitive level—:the brain. 10

Caffeine too causes a distorted perception of the world. Once coffee is ingested, for example, people perceive that they are rejuvenated and ready for action. In reality, the body and mind may still need rest. Anorexics sometimes drink large quantities of caffeine-containing beverages. They use drinks such as coffee and diet colas to maintain a feeling of not being hungry and to pep themselves up when their bodies are actually starving and have little vigor.11

Exercise and decision-making

Another example of health habits affecting the ability to think concerns getting proper exercise. In a group of 20 individuals who had exercised three times a week for six months, it was found that not only were they 20 percent fitter but they were also 70 percent better at making decisions than before they started exercising. 12 Ellen White states, "Physical inaction lessens not only mental but moral power." 13 This may be the reason the Lord said to Adam, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake" (Gen. 3:17). God gave exercise to be a blessing, not a curse, so Adam and Eve could enjoy better health in order to discern spiritual matters more clearly.

Even the ingestion of flesh foods has an effect on spirituality. "A meat diet changes the disposition and strengthens animalism. We are composed of what we eat, and eating much flesh will diminish intellectual activity. ... A religious life can be more successfully gained and maintained if meat is discarded, for this diet stimulates into intense activity lustful propensities, and enfeebles the moral and spiritual nature." 14

Meat eating promotes hostility

Research bears this out. In tests of vegetarians who were willing to consume meat for testing purposes, during the meat-consumption period anxiety, depression, hostility, confusion, and fatigue increased, whereas vigor decreased. And this effect was observable after the consumption of only three ounces of beef—one hamburger patty— per day. 15 Considering the inverse correlation of these negative moods or dispositions with the positive dispositions in Galatians 5:22, 23, "joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," one can see that even meat consumption can positively affect one's Christian experience.

We are told that flesh was restricted in the diet of the children of Israel for their own good. "God brought the Israelites from Egypt, that he might establish them in the land of Canaan, a pure, holy, and happy people. In the accomplishment of this object He subjected them to a course of discipline, both for their own good and for the good of their posterity. Had they been willing to deny appetite, in obedience to His wise restrictions, feebleness and disease would have been unknown among them. Their descendants would have possessed both physical and mental strength. They would have had clear perceptions of truth and duty, keen discrimination, and sound judgment." 16 In His effort to save every possible soul, God refrained from giving the children of Israel that which would weaken them physically and therefore interfere with their perception and understanding of spiritual truth.

Results of intemperance

One of the most fearful stories in Scripture concerns the two Gadarene demoniacs. These men were so perverted and wild that Satan had nearly obliterated in them all likeness of man. In like manner Satan wants to debase the whole human race. His method of accomplishing this is to prevent us from listening to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God's means to lead us into truth. He is the agency through which we are enabled to obey, able to live a sanctified life.

Yet man is not always receptive to the Holy Spirit. Like the Gadarene demoniacs, we can lose the ability to discriminate between truth and error. Satan uses unhealthful habits and practices to benumb the moral sense. The ability to separate truth from error is of utmost importance to spiritual safety. It is vital for the growth of moral discernment.

Health reform is the avenue by which God preserves His communication lines through the Holy Spirit. The Lord designed that the restoring influences of health reform should be part of the last great effort to proclaim the gospel message.

The health message given to this church is to be a spiritual advantage. The additional benefits of less sickness, less medical-care expense, better health, and a more rewarding and longer life are only part of the blessings of obedience.


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Galen C. Bosley, D. H. Sc., is research associate of the Department of Health and Temperance of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

April 1987

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