Only the good
Faith in health
Forgive the essay. I’ve been trying to get back to doing regular church reviews in this space, but the reason and inspiration for this essay are the same. Basically, I was unable to write a church review because I injured my back at the gym, and I was taking muscle relaxers and lying on the floor this weekend. I wrote about it in the Editor’s Note, page three, so if you need further details, feel free.
But what I want to write about this week has to do with attitudes toward health and healing. I come out of a Catholic background, so I’m much more familiar with that perspective than others, but one thing I’ve noticed while attending Christian services is that healing and health are considered divine gifts. In fact, the bestowing of health with healing was one of the signs that Jesus was Messiah. I’ll also note that both Muhammad and Buddha were said to have healed human bodies.
In other words, health is one place where the deity is considered to have direct intercession both in the giving and taking of individuals’ good health. In fact, just this past Christmas Eve, Tracy Hermanstorfer went into cardiac arrest while delivering a child, and the child was apparently dead when delivered by Caesarean section. The father, Mike Hermanstorfer, attributed their survival to a Christmas miracle: “We are both believers but this right here, even to a non-believer, you explain to me how this happened. There is no other explanation. Half of my family was lying right there in front of me in my hands, there’s no other way to say it, but dead.”
I’ve been to faith healing services, and I’ve heard large groups of people proclaim that their ills were removed with divine intercession … though faith.
But I don’t want to ruminate on the actuality of this healing, simply to give examples in order to underpin an exploration of the idea that people seem to need a causal point to understand their and their families’ health, both good and bad. (Two words: Job’s skin.) People aren’t looking for control, nor do they expect it, exactly, but it seems they need something to help them feel they understand the reasons for their good or bad health. The idea that we live in a universe with so many variables as to be impossible to predict our own bodies makes it difficult to go on.
Good health is so valuable and bad health is so damnable that it seems we humans must attribute either to divine cause. But there are other factors to consider. For example, when someone suffers from lung cancer, the first words out of people’s mouths: Did you smoke? It appears the vast majority of humans hope that perceived immoral or unhealthful behavior will visit negative health on the sinner. Diabetes: Was he fat? Heart disease: Was he a couch potato? HIV: Was he gay?
Here’s the point I’m trying to get at. People seem to have faith—without quantifiable evidence—that moral behavior or healthful behavior will ensure good health and long life to those who pursue them. For example, Noah of the ark was said to have lived 950 years (Genesis 9:29). And what about Jack LaLanne, who was born in 1914?
And yet, for every Jack LaLanne, there’s a Lou Gehrig (dead at 37). For every Noah, there’s a Reggie Lewis (dead at 27). And that’s just “natural causes,” let’s not even talk about accidents.
Isn’t sometimes the very attempt to live a healthier life the reason for injury or death? I would not have been writhing on a gurney in the gym if not for my efforts to live a healthier lifestyle by quitting my “bad” habits and establishing new “good” ones (running and lifting weights).
I hate to be so pessimistic, but it seems to me that there is no predicting the benefits of a healthy and moral lifestyle nor the punishments of a hedonistic and immoral lifestyle. It seems the best we can do is increase our odds.
And don’t that just make you want to wash down that big, ole fudge brownie with a glass of whiskey?