Am I healthy? What is health?
by Patrick Oben
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Health is indeed not just wealth but more than wealth. Health in the body cannot be equated to dollar bills in the bank. We have a beautiful illustration of this in the story of Job in the bible. Job’s calamities began with the taking away of all his wealth in a day. Imagine the richest man in the world forfeited all his wealth in a day. He would probably go insane. This happened to Job and apparently, this man was still composed. He did not start the spoor of curses. He lost his wealth but was poised. Then Satan responded to God, who had asked him if he had seen how there is no one like His servant Job, and said
But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. Jb 2:5, KJV
In other words, Satan replied saying 'if he stands after touching his wealth, try his health!' Of course after that discussion, hell was unleashed on Job's body. When his body was touched, the reaction was different though he still kept his stand and did not curse God. We remember his wife asking him to curse God and die rather that bear this state of ill health. She preferred the widowhood to the current condition. This just gives a beautiful glimpse of the relative importance of wealth and health to men.
I would want to rest a while upon a fundamental question pertaining to our health. It is quite straightforward. Who is healthy? What is health? Though apparently obvious, discover for yourself some issues about health you may not be acquainted with. In the medical world, the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s standard definition of health remains a celebrated one. It says
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (1)
Get some facts straight from this definition. Did you notice the last part? It emphasizes that health is not merely the absence of disease. This might be a blow to many as we review that fundamental question again about what health is or who is actually healthy. It slams the door against those who claim to be healthy because ‘since birth, they have never seen a physician or maybe never had a headache’. The absence of symptoms does not necessarily mean the individual is healthy. That is WHO. And they are correct. How can this be?
The answer is found in the first part of the definition. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. We are all aware of how good it is to be well. In fact disease is really a dis-ease, a disturbance of our ease. Wellness or wholeness is related to the root word for salvation in the Greek (sozo). WHO insists that it is when this wellness or wellbeing is spread over the physical, mental and social aspects of our lives that someone can confidently affirm that he or she is healthy. Maybe you have never seen the cardiologist for your heart or the nephrologists for your kidney or any of the many titles ending with the ‘-gist’ we know in the health sector today. Do not rapidly assert that you are healthy. What of your emotions or your thoughts? Is there wellness there? Shall we talk of wellness there when there are worries, fears, bitterness , sorrow and all the ails that could be found there. 'No', a health professional may say, 'it is still within the confines of normal range and not yet out of normal or else see a psychiatrist. For now, a psychologist alone would do!' Today, the field of psychiatry is growing as it has being recognized more and more that disease goes beyond the physical body.
The third component in the WHO trio is the social aspect. Never seen a doctor, but maybe a sociologist! Think of the social environment in the family, your job or your neighborhood. How can one claim to be at ease when you are not sure where the next case of murder in the neighborhood would be? I pray not in my corner this time! WHO underscores the place of our social environment in defining what health is.
At least now you can understand with me that asserting a state of health should not be a rapid move. We can now judge our health status with what WHO has provided. It may be surprising to many as they would have been claiming health all this while. Permit me point out yet another nicety that may heighten your arousal, which many doctors would probably not be aware of. The WHO definition defines health in three lines, as the state of physical, mental and social wellbeing. The 'physical' points to the body, which is a constitutional component of the being of man. The 'mental' points to the mind or the soul which is also a constitutional component of the being of man. Lastly, the 'social' points to social aspects of man which does not follow the logic of the first two parts, that is the body and the mind which are both constitutional. The social is not part of the constitutional make-up of man. It is the result of man’s interaction with his environment. The social is a product of man’s relational activities. What happened that the logic that moved from physical and mental was suddenly broken when it got to the last aspect? Could you complete this? Wellbeing in the body, soul and …. Did you get it? Read what is said about the constitutional make-up of man in the verse below.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1Th 5:23, KJV
The whole man is the spirit, the soul and the body. This is the Creator’s statement of fact, not based on evidence of research, but what He decided to put together to form the composite being of man when none of us was yet around.
Reviewing the definition, you realize the spirit was tactfully replaced with social. Though both words start with the letter ‘s’, the replacement is nonetheless not without effect. It will not be difficult to realize the difficulty the scientific minds who put together this beautiful definition encountered. Whether it was thought upon or no, how would the scientists put the word “ spirit” into a scientific material? Imagine they agree there is a spirit in man, how does the scientific method dig into this apparently blurred world? Worst still, any inclusion of such a word, even if they knew it had to be there,could have brought up some questions that some would suggest are better left unasked. Faith and science are not really that mutually exclusive. They are simply operating in two realms which by their very nature are not even to be compared. The enlightened scientific mind will acknowledge God for science simply studies creation. No wonder the fathers of science like Sir Isaac Newton were Bible scholars! The error that drives science into more errors is the thought that all about life is within its scope and that all things are possible with it. This is not a statement that is true in this realm of the physical but in the realm of the spirit where ‘with God, all things are possible’. When science thus steps into questions beyond its scope, problems definitely arise. Science has blessed us or else you will not be reading what you are reading now using the internet. If you tell Jacob, one of the patriarch, about the internet, he would probably need a one year continuous curriculum to get him on tract!
If God were to tell a man whether he is healthy or no in scientific language, the definition will probably be similar to the WHO definition above except for two differences. Firstly, the term ‘social’ will be replaced by ‘spirit’. This still will not be enough. He would reverse the order, from physical (body), mental( soul) and spiritual(spirit) to spiritual, mental and only then the physical. Man places more importance on the least important of his being. That is why a believer who does not know this can be so keen about his diet and exercises strictly, maybe daily, and prays only when there is some time left or meditates on the Word of God once in a good while. When things that happen to unbelievers aroung happen to him, he asks 'God why me, a child of God?
An acceptable definition for the man who wants truth though it might be be hard to swallow for some especially those out of the fold, is that
Health is a state of complete spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing and not just the absence of disease.
But what is the disease of the spirit? It is the greatest pathology or ailment on earth which man tries all there is in his power to avoid talking about! It is sin. If a sinner stands before God with a myocardial infarction, God would get to deal with his sin ever before talking about his heart infarct. No human problem or disease causes the devastation in the human society which is even near to that caused by sin. If men thought correctly, the billions spent on other things will be geared towards solving this probles. Rather than more marines, maybe more pastors!Think of the sexual abuses, adulteries breaking homes, rampant divorces, murders, crime and the long list continues. Jesus demonstrated this when a paralyzed man was brought to him in Luke chapter 5. He went forward and addressed the sin issue, for disease originally is an outcome of a change in the wellbeing of the spirit in man. How could we say a man with a huge bundle of the guilt and condemnation of the sins he has committed since his birth heaped up in his spirit ,which haunt him each day is healthy, though his mind or body seem to be without disease? What sort of wellbeing will that be? If the sinner in the illustration above with a heart infarct stands before God and complaints bitterly about his chest pains, Father God will pull out His prescription form and rather than oxygen, morphine, aspirin and the others, He would boldly prescribe the blood of Jesus as the first treatment before all else! A man’s faith in this blood shed on the cross for his sins is the radical therapy for this disease of the spirit of man.
If we must be whole and well, then we must give attention to the health of our spirit, soul and body in that order of priority. As believers, we should be most healthy in the holistic sense. We should therefore not overlook the importance of caring for our spirit man for therein lies the center of human life. We must be careful not to live like the unbelievers around do with just no concern for the spirit man. The power of the believer is in his spirit. The more he neglects his spirit, the more his life becomes more and more like the unbelievers around him. We should attend to our spirit being in the Word and in prayer continuously.
(1) Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
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