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Healthy for what?

In explaining why the modern church has become increasingly interiorized and individualized, Rodney Clapp traces a shift in the definition of health during the last two centuries:

“With the mind cure movement, Americans first adapted a new definition of health. Before affluence, Meyer writes, health was understood only as a means to an end. Health was good because it was a necessary condition for anyone to accomplish worthwhile ends. You could not lay a railroad or missionize China without being of able body and sound mind. This attitude, of health as instrumental rather than an end in itself, is exemplified by the seventeenth-century Puritan divine Richard Sibbes. Sibbes declared, ‘This is a sign of a man’s victory over himself, when he loves health and peace of body and mind… chiefly for this end, that he may with more freedom of spirit serve God in doing good to others.’

But with the inception of the new attitude, health as an end in itself, a ‘new style’ of person emerges: he or she ‘who lives to avoid affliction.’ I need hardly add how pronounced this style is in our day, when smokers are met with an opprobrium that can only be described as intense moral disapproval, when we religiously exercise and eliminate cholesterol from our diets–always, always that we might live longer. Period. Not live longer to find a cure for cancer or help lift a neighborhood out of poverty or ‘serve God in doing good to others,’ but simply live longer. Long life has become an end in itself.”

Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1996), 37-8.

This is a sober question we ought to ask ourselves:

What do we want to be healthy for?

Try to fill in the blanks:

I want longevity and health so that ______________.

P.S. For further research: I wonder when and how did this “inception” occur……

The seed that we planted in this man’s mind, may change everything.” — Dom Cobb

Posted in Church, Culture, Health, Posts in English.

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3 Responses

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  1. Edmund says

    To paraphrase Hauerwas, “We are afraid to die, but we are not afraid of God”.

    • Anson says

      Thanks for the quote, Edmund.

      That, I think, is because we don’t think death has anything even to do with God. We don’t think health has anything to do with God either. In other words, we constantly live under the illusion that we can control and prolong our days on earth, failing to acknowledge that God’s sovereign over our health, including our eventual death. In our minds, the chasm between “nature” and “supernatural” remains deep and wide, not even God could trespass it.

  2. Edmund says

    Fear becomes God. Or, I should say, the fear of death has become God. Because of that, to prolong life is to delay the time we meet the great unknown. And when we die, we want a quick and painless death.