It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” These memorable words from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities seem uncannily accurate today. Newspapers, magazines, the internet, all bear witness to the fact that the world is in a confused state. Governments, corporations, the weather, and even the individual anarchist “next door” make personal safety and security potentially as fleeting as the next news cycle.
Meanwhile, in the area of personal health, despite gains in longevity, more people are sick than ever before. Are our communities prolonging life, or are they actually prolonging dying? Do they provide health care or sick care? Individuals encounter pain on a personal level in failing relationships, secret activities, or internal struggles that that person and God know. People experience what Paul wrote about as an internal, universal battle between the good that they want to do and the reality of what they actually do (Rom. 7:19, 23). The world is broken, and this brokenness is an ever-expanding ooze of sickness, decay, suffering, and death.
Can anyone realistically expect to find health in such a world?
In the beginning
The Genesis account is clear: God brought order out of formlessness. Referring to light, God saw that it was good! (Gen. 1:4). He gave this assessment six times (vs. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and culminated with a seventh, saying, it was “very good” (v. 31). Human beings, and all of God’s earthly creation, as they came from the hand of God or by the Word of the Creator, represented a completed perfection. Everything was as it should be. Nothing was missing, nothing was broken. All functioned harmoniously as one creation.
Humans, meanwhile, made in the image of God and in His likeness, were given authority as viceroys of this creation and had special and specific instructions, responsibilities, and privileges. Life in Eden was perfect—until the Fall.
The hope of shalom
As we read about the fall of Eve and Adam (Gen. 3), there is an issue that we should not miss. The ultimate source of decay and disruption was neither Adam nor Eve. It was the intruder, Satan. Behind what we see today is a raging battle between good and evil, a literal battle between literal supernatural powers. To not appreciate this crucial fact could lead to a tacit assumption that the brokenness and suffering that exist may be part of earth’s original creation; that is, the God of Creation may be obliquely seen as a participant in decay and death rather than as our Champion against these unwelcome intruders. This view is, essentially, what most forms of theistic evolution teach.
The question is, then, how can a person find wholeness, health, and peace in this world? The answer is found in a single Hebrew word: shalom.
Shalom, though rich with meanings,comes close to the biblical under-standing of health. Shalom signifies “completeness,” “harmony,” “personal well-being,” “personal welfare,” “prosperity,” and “wholeness” (in the sense of entirety and intactness). Shalom suggests a state of being in which all the needs and intended purposes are completely satisfied. It means peace in its most fundamental sense: every-thing working in harmony as intended, tranquil and without strife, and with nothing missing.
Thus, shalom was the state of God’s creation as He presented Adam and Eve to their Eden home. Perfection, the “very good” pronouncement at Creation, was the reciprocated relational peace and harmony that existed: Adam with Eve, both of them with God and with all of His animate and inanimate creation. More than merely physical well-being, the concept of shalom extends to the derivatives of existence: prosperity and security, as well as social (relational), mental (cognitive and emotional), and spiritual (connection with God) dimensions of humanness.
Shalom, total health, is what God intended for humans, as free moral beings, to keep, and it is what He desires that everyone regain—abundant life in Christ.
The whole person
Each person is a single, multidimensional unit of consciousness in bodily (male or female) form (Gen. 2:7). In the Mosaic view found in the Pentateuch, human beings have no real, even spiritual, existence apart from the body. Each of us is a complex, intimate interaction of body and mind in which everything that happens to us, in any dimension, physical or mental, happens in some way to the whole of us. Mind affects body and body affects mind, and both interact with our environment. Perception and knowledge, even of divine origin, depend upon the physical-chemical body as the medium.
Consider Jesus as He heals the paralytic who has been brought to Him by friends (Mark 2:1–12). Jesus honors “their faith” and forgives the sin of the paralytic. To Him, forgiving sin is as easy as saying “Arise, take up your bed, and walk!” We cannot see the former; that is, we cannot see that the man’s sins have been forgiven. But we can see the man healed. Thus, by performing the miracle of healing this man through His spoken Word, Jesus showed us that we can trust His Word about the man’s sins being forgiven as well. Here was a case of Jesus bringing shalom, physical and spiritual healing, to a sin-sick soul. The implications of this reality are astounding.
We—ministers, physicians, and pastor-teachers—must first yield to God and learn of Him and His Son. Then, we are to cooperate with Christ in order to preserve every aspect of our being (1 Thess. 5:23) as our reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). The apostle Paul admonishes us, by the mercy of God, to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy, pleasing unto God, as an act of worship. As His children, created and redeemed by God, we worship Him as the only true God and Creator; there-fore, we must reasonably be expected to respect and promote the health of His creation—personal, social, and even environmental. Our motivation to pursue personal physical, mental, and spiritual health goals are acts of reasonable service. Thus, by our own receiving of shalom, we help lead others to it as well.
Recipe for shalom
No question, shalom is a gift bestowed upon us by our gracious and generous Father. He gave us instructions and the antidote for sin, Christ our righteousness, through whom we can do all things. In loving response to such a precious gift, we yield our own ways and joyously comply with His will for our own well-being and the preservation of peace, shalom. This was true before the Fall, and it is still true after, but the situation has become more complex. He has prescribed everything we need for our well-being and has been clear on His boundaries, which, if disregarded, end in pain.
The environment is also part of that responsibility. It is like what happens within our own bodies. The quality of our organs and tissues, as a whole, plays a deterministic role in cellular health—genetic expression, function, activity, and so on. That is, our “macroenvironment” affects our individual and collective health. Current scientific research on the expo-some bears this out and sheds light on God’s original injunction and His warning about destroying our environment (see Num. 35:33; Rev. 11:18).*
Unfortunately, due to sin, our very natures have become corrupted, and everything in our world is affected, even to the point that, though we were once given charge of taking care of the creation, we have become the agents of decay and, in fact, even participate in the destruction of that same creation.
The Divine Healer
This is our present situation; but the good news is that God is our Healer, and He restores shalom for those who let Him. While His instructions are primarily health promoting, we must not forget that He is the cure for our infirmities (Isa. 53:4, 5). He calls all people to listen to His voice and not harden their hearts to it. He promises everyone who consents a heart transplant so that we can do as He asks (Ezek. 36:26–28). He invites us to be ambassadors of His shalom (2 Cor. 5:20). Healing in the biblical sense is a divine act in which human healers are privileged to participate.
Christ came to this earth at infinite cost, not brushing aside God’s law but, rather, establishing its eternal perpetuity. He became obedient unto death, even death on the cross. The fact that death, extrinsic to God’s created order, was vanquished at Christ’s resurrection inspires hope—the hope and promise that death is not the final stage of our existence. We are new creatures by the grace of God and, through faith, we are re-created into His image. We show the fruit of this new life by willingly complying with, and teaching others, God’s will for our lives. And, thus, God through us establishes, to the degree possible now, the shalom we had originally been created with—and that we will fully experience in the new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:12–14).
“And may your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—remain blameless when our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, appears. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will continue to be faithful.” (1 Thess. 5:23, 24, ISV)
* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “The exposome can be defined as the measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures relate to health. An individual’s exposure begins before birth and includes insults from environmental and occupational sources.” www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/exposome/default.html.