“Good Health to You!”
WITH such words the first-century governing body of Christians closed a letter to the congregations. The Greek expression they used had the thought, ‘Be made strong, keep well, be in health.’—Acts 15:29.
Though “Good health to you” served as what we call a letter’s complimentary closing, it touches on something dear to all of us—our health. People have long sought better health. Yet have you noticed how many today seem overly concerned about it? Have you wondered what is balanced for a Christian?
What Affects Views of Health
The surging interest in health may reflect how deeply people sense their mortality. Death comes so quickly! (Psalm 90:10) You can understand why, if a person feels that his present life is all there is, he might do almost anything to avoid disease conditions that could speed death’s approach.
Also, views on health are affected by the widespread distrust of “the establishment,” including authorities in conventional medicine. This distrust causes many persons to doubt the quality of commercial food products. Having heard about health damage from too much refined “junk food” with chemical additives, millions choose to limit how much processed food they eat. Many feel so strongly about “natural foods” that they will eat virtually nothing else. Others, knowing about tragedies such as the birth defects from thalidomide, are suspicious about drugs. They suspect that there may be side effects of drugs that pharmaceutical firms strongly promote and that a few busy physicians prescribe without careful monitoring.
An outgrowth of all of this is that people are exercising more independence in health matters. You probably acknowledge that each adult ought to make his own health decisions, based on reliable information about the various choices. But are there dangers that we need to consider? Can the Bible help us in health matters?
Christianity Is Good for Your Health
The first-century governing body’s letter explained that Christians should ‘abstain from fornication and from blood.’ (Acts 15:28, 29) This is wise even from the health standpoint. Fornication exposes persons to venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Blood transfusions have infected countless thousands with hepatitis and diseases like the often-fatal virus that Pope John Paul II received.
Think, too, of the better health that comes from applying God’s counsel relating to drunkenness and smoking. Dr. Joel Posner reported that 60 percent of the money spent in the United States for health care is for illnesses connected with the use of alcohol and tobacco.—Proverbs 20:1; 2 Corinthians 7:1.*
The Bible protects our health in other ways too. You can understand that this is so when you consider what it says about keeping clean. (Exodus 30:17-21; Deuteronomy 23:12-14) Even the overall spirit that a Christian develops as he studies the Bible can improve his health. By pursuing mildness, kindness and love, he lives more peacefully with others, and this protects his health. (Proverbs 14:30) Further, the Christian’s high regard for life moves him to take reasonable precautions to avoid risks. For example, he may be more conscientious than most in using automobile safety belts. (Acts 17:24, 25, 28) Dr. K. L. White, deputy director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s division of health sciences, said that such matters of “lifestyle and personal behavior” are “major factors in influencing the health of individuals.”
Then there is this Bible counsel: “Is it honey that you have found? Eat what is sufficient for you, that you may not take too much of it and have to vomit it up. The eating of too much honey is not good.” (Proverbs 25:16, 27) Whatever may be the relative merits of honey versus sugar as a sweetener, that counsel provides a rule for good health: Make moderation a key to your diet. If a person can eat a varied diet and avoids eating to excess, as well as too much of any one food, he will reap health benefits. The comments about honey have extended value as to health efforts.
Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs
Improved nutrition has contributed to better health. A key has been the discovery of our vitamin and mineral needs. For example, the deficiency diseases beriberi, pellagra, scurvy and rickets can be cured or avoided by a balanced diet with adequate vitamins B, C and D. Also, as doctors have become more involved with nutritional research, reports have appeared about other diseases that seem to respond to large amounts of certain vitamins and minerals given under medical supervision.
Yet many persons have on their own begun taking large doses of food supplements, as if serious deficiencies abound. Some who pursue such self-medication feel, ‘If a little is good, then more is better,’ and, ‘Vitamins and minerals can’t hurt you because your body gets rid of any excess.’ It is true that if you take too much of certain vitamins they may ‘pass along into the intestines and are discharged into the sewer,’ the effect merely being expensive body wastes. (Matthew 15:17) But if you take too much of other vitamins and minerals, they can cease to be nutrients and start to act as drugs, even being harmfully toxic.
By taking excessive amounts of certain vitamins, persons have damaged body organs, or worse. As just one example, a man in Britain who was taking large amounts of carrot juice and vitamin A died from the resulting hypervitaminosis. Numerous children, too, have been harmed by excessive vitamins given by parents who were sincere but misinformed on nutrition. As to minerals, an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon makes this personal observation: “I’m concerned about many who are taking massive doses of calcium, copper, zinc and chromium. I’m starting to find blinding conditions in 20- to 30-year-old brothers and sisters.” Recall the Bible’s wise counsel about honey. Whether it be a synthetic drug or a natural vitamin, mineral or herb, too much may hurt you.
Yes, care is in order as to herbs also. Obviously some herbal remedies have value; digitalis and quinine, for example, are from “herbal” sources. A study in Kenya showed that “at least 50 per cent of the herbal remedies used by the witch doctors have genuine medical value.” Yet that means that many have no known value. And the fact that Jehovah purposed “vegetation” to be man’s original food does not mean that all herbs are safe. Tobacco and marijuana are “herbs.”—Genesis 1:29, 30.
Even herbs that seem to help one person may endanger another. A traveling minister in Ohio had stomach distress. Concerned friends urged him to take a common herbal remedy. When the problem persisted he went to a medical doctor whose extensive tests located gallstones. The doctor also discovered that the minister’s blood was not clotting; a cut might have caused him to bleed to death. When the doctor learned of the herbal remedy, he said that it was known to lead to blood-clotting problems. Once off that herb the blood problem went away.
It is understandable that a person who wants to help a sick friend or relative might suggest something that he feels helped him or that he heard is effective. Sometimes it might even be a Christian kindness to do so, as when the apostle Paul advised young Timothy to avoid the local water but to ‘use a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent cases of sickness.’—1 Timothy 5:23.
A person who regularly recommends drugs, vitamins, minerals or herbs should be careful, though, especially if he lacks a thorough knowledge of health and the body’s organ systems. He ought to ask: Do I really have the facts? Though a drug, vitamin, mineral or herb apparently helped me, do I know whether it might harm someone else? If it did, might I be partially responsible and accountable? Or even if what I suggest is harmlessly ineffective, might I be the cause of a person’s delaying effective treatment until his condition becomes critical or fatal?—Compare 1 Timothy 5:22.
Some have got unusually enthused about a health measure. As an extreme example, a Christian elder found under his door a letter from a friend who sold vitamins. In part it said: ‘There is a logical and amazing reason why the (brand) supplements get results. It’s just like “the truth” compared to “Babylon the Great.” Sometimes I don’t even know how some of our brothers and sisters got the truth. They ignore Proverbs 18:13 even though all our intentions are to help them.’
That some, for whatever reason, could develop almost a religious zeal about health matters underscores the need for all Christians to exercise care that they do not become unbalanced.
Christians can be thankful that we have the counsel of God’s Word, for in various ways it helps us to keep healthy. Yet other aspects of health merit attention, such as: How can I determine what treatment to accept? What about unorthodox forms of diagnosis or therapy? Are there spiritual dangers with any of these? How should your view of God’s kingdom affect your thinking on health? The next article will consider these aspects.
See the chapter “Better Health and Longer Life—How?” in Happiness—How to Find It, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.