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Leading Question: Does taking care of our health make us more gracious with others?

Someone burdened with health problems can never be as helpful as someone whose body is strong and healthy. And Jesus is clear that we are to love one another (John 13:34-35. But if taking care of our health is such a weighty matter, how can we be buoyant in daily living without being burdened down by the seriousness of our task?

1. Moral law and natural law: A unity (Psalms 19)? Psalm 19 divides into two parts naturally, one celebrating the natural order, the other the moral order. To what extent are we justifying in saying that both the natural and moral orders are equally dependent on God’s creative and sustaining power?

Note: In Adventist history, the first focus of the community was on the moral law, the decalogue. But it was not long before health concerns and natural law became prominent in the thinking of the community. Ellen White’s comment is pointed in that respect:

It is just as much sin to violate the laws of our being as to break one of the Ten Commandments, for we cannot do either without breaking God”s law. We cannot love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength while we are loving our appetites, our tastes, a great deal better than we love the Lord. We are daily lessening our strength to glorify God, when He requires all our strength, all our mind. By our wrong habits we are lessening our hold [70/71] on life, and yet professing to be Christ”s followers, preparing for the finishing touch of immortality. 2T 70 [1868]

Experientially, the challenge lies in the fact that taking care of our health is something that appears doable and manageable. And because Adventists stand solidly in the free-will tradition which calls us to fulfill our responsibilities, two dangers began encroaching upon the community, dangers that still haunt us today: Those who can too easily become arrogant; those who can’t too easily become discouraged. The temptation to think that we can eat our way into the kingdom is a real one. At the same time, however, we are aware at least to some extent, that while our stomachs may be reasonably healthy, our hearts are not. Those issues came to a head in the great General Conference of 1888 where Adventists had to come to the grips with the fact that we are not saved by our obedience to natural and moral law, but by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Ellen White’s pointed words are astonishing in that respect:

Let the law take care of itself. We have been at work on the law until we get as dry as the hills of Gilboa, without dew or rain. Let us trust in the merits of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

– MS 10, 1890, EGW1888 2:557.

2. Helping each other towards the kingdom: Heb 10:23-25. Hebrews is remarkably blunt in noting the importance of mutual dependence on each other:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NIV)

Note: Modern sources reinforce the idea of “social support” as being crucial for our common life. In the following quotes, C. S. Lewis speaks of the life of faith in general; Peter Berger comments on how vulnerable a theological movement (Neo-Orthodoxy) can be when it flies in the face of our modern secularizing culture:

C. S. Lewis: Have we now got to a position from which we can talk about Faith without being misunderstood? For in general we are shy of speaking plain about Faith as a virtue. It looks so like praising an intention to believe what you want to believe in the face of evidence to the contrary: the American in the old story defined Faith as ‘the power of believing what we know to be untrue.’ Now I define Faith as the power of continuing to believe what we once honestly thought to be true until cogent reasons for honestly changing our minds are brought before us. The difficulty of such continuing to believe is constantly ignored or misunderstood in discussions of this subject. It is always assumed that the difficulties of faith are intellectual difficulties, that a man who has once accepted a certain proposition will automatically go on believing it till real grounds for disbelief occur. Nothing could be more superficial. How many of the freshmen who come up to Oxford from religious homes and lose their Christianity in the first year have been honestly argued out of it? How many of our own sudden temporary losses of faith have a rational basis which would stand examination for a moment? I don’t know how it is with others, but I find that mere change of scene always has a tendency to decrease my faith at first – God is less credible when I pray in a hotel bedroom than when I am in College. The society of unbelievers makes Faith harder even when they are people whose opinions, on any other subject, are known to be worthless. – “Religion: Reality or Substitute?” in Christian Reflections, 42

Peter Berger: “Put crudely, if one is to believe what neo-orthodoxy wants one to believe, in the contemporary situation, then one must be rather careful to huddle together closely and continuously with one”s fellow believers.” – The Sacred Canopy, 164

Additional New Testament passages underscore the truth that we are called to help each other:

A. Gal 5:13-14: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – personal revision of NRSV

B. Rom 15:1-7: “We who are strong ought to patiently bear the weaknesses of those who are not strong. We should try to please them instead of ourselves. We should think of their good and try to help them by doing what pleases them. Even Christ did not try to please himself. But as the Scriptures say, ‘The people who insulted you also insulted me.” And the Scriptures were written for our instruction that through patience and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of patience and encouragement grant you harmonious thinking among yourselves, according to Christ Jesus. Then with one heart and voice, you may praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So open your hearts to one another as Christ has opened his heart to you, and God will be glorified.” – personal translation, drawing on CEV and Phillips.

3. Practical steps: What can we do? If we really are to care for each other, then we ought to find good ways to help each other become more healthy. How can we do that effectively without becoming obnoxiously meddlesome?

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