While lecturing about health in different places and countries I observed that people in general – including Christians – separate health from religion. Some agree that religion may promote a healthy lifestyle but do not consider it as an essential part of the plan of salvation. In the Bible we find no such separation. All laws, natural and moral, are from God and the transgression of either one of them is sin and results finally in disease and death. The plan of salvation offers complete restoration to the original sinless, healthy and holy state.

This process begins here on earth and will be concluded when Jesus returns and sin be finally eradicated from the universe. This basic understanding is necessary in order to comprehend the importance of obeying the laws of health as part of a rational religion. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

God’s Plan of Salvation

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

To follow a healthful lifestyle is not more a matter of “works” as it is to keep the Sabbath or other commandments. To follow a healthy lifestyle “promotes happiness and usefulness in this life and aids in the preparation for the life to come.” (Ministry of Healing, p. 146). It improves our physical and mental condition, enabling us to better handle daily stresses and to have a clearer understanding of spiritual truths.

What is salvation in reality? What was lost by the entrance of sin in this world and what is God’s plan to restore the original situation? These are the questions we want to address. In fact, we can only understand the magnitude of this issue by examining the entire plan of salvation from the creation of this earth until the complete restoration on the new earth.

When the earth was created everything was perfect. The Bible tells us that God created man (and the woman) in His own image, with faculties that reflected His faculties. The human race was a special creature, manufactured by God’s hands, to reflect God’s character and with the purpose to live eternally to God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7).

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalms 19:1)

In this perfect stage there was no disease. Therefore there was no need to give instructions regarding sickness. However, God gave our first parents instructions for the maintenance of a healthy life. They needed to be active, physically and mentally. “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) To keep the Garden of Eden required creative thinking and physical activity. These two aspects are still valid today. We know that mental and physical activities are major factors to maintain and restore health.

A Perfect Creation

The second factor to maintain life is a healthy nutrition. “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” (Genesis 1:29)

However, there was one restriction: “…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) We all know what happened: Sin and death came into the world as the sure consequences of the transgression. Disease and death are the ultimate consequences of sin, although there can not always be traced a direct line. See also John 9:1-3 and Luke 13:1-5.

We have the tendency to blame Eve for what she did, but are we better today? Eve did not plan to eat this fruit on purpose, with the intention to disobey God. She was tempted and then examined it carefully. Only “when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” (Genesis 3:6)

“There was nothing poisonous in the fruit of the tree of knowledge itself, nothing that would cause death in partaking of it. The tree had been placed in the garden to test their loyalty to God.” (Signs of the Times, February 13, 1896)

Disease and Death – Consequences of Sin

“Eve ate and imagined that she felt the sensations of a new and more exalted life. … She felt no ill effects from the fruit; nothing which could be interpreted to mean death, but, just as the serpent had said, a pleasurable sensation which she imagined was as the angels felt.” (Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 72)

“After his transgression Adam at first imagined himself entering upon a higher state of existence.” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 57)

Today we know well the instructions God has given to our church regarding a healthy diet. How do we react about some not recommended foods? We take them to the laboratory to analyze their composition. When the lab tells us that it contains essential amino acids, vitamins, carbohydrates and provides useful energy, don’t we consider this as good reasons to justify our desire? Or we may even go to a modern theologian and ask him, if that message has to be taken literally or be better interpreted according to our culture? Think about that…

Whatsoever excuses our first parents presented, the results could not be evaded, “for the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Up to this point there is no separation between religion and medicine.

In order to accomplish His plan, God continually sent His prophets to invite people to accept His love and to return to Him.

However, after about 1600 years after the creation, there was such wickedness on earth that God had to intervene by destroying humanity using a global flood. Then He started over with the sole remaining family of Noah.

Life – a Merciful Gift of God
Degeneration of the Human Race

In Genesis chapters 5 and 11 is the report of the genealogies before and after the flood. We can clearly notice the rapid decreasing of the human age from an average of 912 years before the flood to Abraham, who lived 175 years.

Not only the longevity was shortened, but also the size of the human race and the intellectual power decreased accordingly. “After the flood the people ate largely of animal food. God saw that the ways of man were corrupt, and that he was disposed to exalt himself proudly against his Creator and to follow the inclinations of his own heart. And He permitted that long-lived race to eat animal food to shorten their sinful lives.

Soon after the flood the race began to rapidly decrease in size, and in length of years.” (Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 373)

After another thousand years we find God’s people working as slaves in Egypt. Egypt was at that time one of the most advanced civilizations as can be seen in their sculptures and pyramids. However, they had an unhealthy lifestyle, eating lots of meat, having little physical activity – because the Israelites worked for them – and living a depraved moral life. The consequence was the decline of this great nation.

Scientists have studied the well preserved mummies to discover their diseases. X-rays were taken to examine their bones and arteries. Then the mummies were dissected in order to examine their organs. They found that the Egyptians suffered from several chronic diseases – atherosclerosis, obesity, dental decay, cancer and arthrosis – that are the result of a wrong lifestyle. These are the same chronic diseases that predominate in developed countries today.

Development of Chronic Diseases

God Presents the Health Message

God’s plan to have a holy, healthy and happy nation (Exodus 19:5,6; Deuteronomy 26:18,19; 1 Peter 2:9) could not be realized under such circumstances in Egypt. He therefore had to intervene again with mighty power and take His people out into a new country where they could worship Him freely and practice a healthy lifestyle.

However, before they could enter into the promised land of Canaan, they had to be instructed about everything necessary to be a holy nation, an example for all other nations around. He took them into a quiet place – the dessert – where nothing would detract their attention. They had to build a sanctuary to learn lessons of God’s great plan of salvation from sin. The sacrifice of a lamb pointed to Jesus who would give His own life for the redemption of humanity. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

They had to be instructed that “disease is an effort of nature to free the system from conditions that result from a violation of the laws of health.” The Egyptians had quite different ideas about the causes of disease. They also had to learn that “in case of sickness, the cause should be ascertained. Unhealthful conditions should be changed, wrong habits corrected. Then nature is to be assisted in her effort to expel impurities and to re-establish right conditions in the system.” (Ministry of Healing, p. 127)

“In the teaching that God gave to Israel, the preservation of health received careful attention. The people who had come from slavery with the uncleanly and unhealthful habits which it engenders, were subjected to the strictest training in the wilderness before entering Canaan. Health principles were taught and sanitary laws enforced.” (Ministry of Healing, 277)

In order to prevent future misunderstandings and because of the decreased capacity of the memory, the instructions were written by Moses. God Himself wrote the 10 commandments on tables of stone. Please notice, that because of the presence of diseases, God had to give the Israelites more detailed instructions on how to prevent and cure them, as the simple instructions given to Adam and Eve in their state of total health.

God Presents the Health Message

Same Health Principles Still Valid Today

The Israelites were instructed about the importance of hygiene of their bodies and to wash their clothes. “Whoever touches the man who has a discharge must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15:7) “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Make them wash their clothes…” (Exodus 19:10) Those principles are still valid today. Many diseases in developing countries result from the lack of clean water and hygiene.

Explicit instructions were given about waste disposal. “As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement.” (Deuteronomy 23:13) Again, the lack of proper waste disposal and latrines is another cause for infectious diseases and epidemics in certain countries! You may wonder why God put so much emphasis on the care of the body and included these instructions in the Bible. It is because there is no separation between physical, mental and spiritual health. God’s plan of salvation includes all three aspects as can be seen clearly in the instructions given to His people through His prophets.

Now we come to an interesting point. I’m sure the Israelites were anxiously looking forward to the country where “milk and honey” would flow and where they would be free from slavery. But in the center of the 10 commandments God repeated the importance of physical work: “Six days you shall labour and do all your work.” (Exodus 20:9) What a surprise! However, physical activity is one of the most important key factors for physical, mental and spiritual health. This is being stressed more and more in the medical literature today (see “Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases”, World Health Organization, 2003).

Of course, regular rest is also necessary. The center of all our activities should be to worship and to glorify our Creator. Therefore the commandment says “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” (Exodus 20:8-10) Please notice that this commandment is not only for the benefit of the Israelites but for all people. God cares for the foreigners and also for the animals! He desires the wellbeing of His entire creation.

Many other counsels and recommendations for health are given throughout the Bible. See for example the emphasis to abstain from alcohol: “Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.” (Proverbs 23:31, 32) Alcohol is the public health problem number one in the world today.

Finally, in 2003, the World Health Organization made a clear statement against the use of alcohol: “Although regular low to moderate consumption of alcohol is protective against coronary heart disease, other cardiovascular and health risks associated with alcohol do not favour a general recommendation for its use.” (Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, WHO, 2003, p. 90)

Is the use of alcohol a moral issue or a medical one? Alcohol affects the body and the mental functions as well. God is interested in our total wellbeing!
How different would the world be if we would pay attention to God’s recommendations in the Bible!

Relationship between Body and Mind

Now we come to another interesting aspect of life, the importance of mental health. It is only during the last decades that the impact of our thoughts and emotions on our immune system is been increasingly understood. The Bible mentions this already thousands of years ago by stating that “A merry [rejoicing] heart doeth good like a medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22)

“Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” (Proverbs 12:25)

“The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, but who can bear a broken spirit?” (Proverbs 18:14)

“Be joyful always; …give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18)

Ellen G. White further explains that “Gratitude, rejoicing, benevolence, trust in God’s love and care – these are health’s greatest safeguard. To the Israelites they were to be the very keynote of life. . . . ‘Rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.’ Deuteronomy 26:11.” (Ministry of Healing, p. 281) Can you imagine the impact it would cause on the people around us if they would see how grateful and happy the Christians are? Wouldn’t they want to learn more about the secret of such a joyful life?

Let’s understand that “the laws of nature, being the laws of God, are designed for our good. Obedience to them promotes happiness in this life, and aids in the preparation for the life to come.” (Ministry of Healing, p. 146)

Special Promises of Health

After giving all these instructions about a healthful living, God assures His blessing: “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.” (Exodus 15:26) What a loving God we have!

Jesus Combines Physical and Spiritual Healing

Another thousand five hundred years passed by and God’s people forgot again about the plan of salvation. Despite repeated warnings by the prophets the people fell back to their old lifestyle. At this time God decided to send His own son in person.

“During His ministry, Jesus devoted more time to healing the sick than to preaching. His miracles testified to the truth of His words, that he came not to destroy, but to save.” (Ministry of Healing, p. 19) Why did Jesus spend so much time in healing and did not only preach the gospel? Because the gospel includes the whole person, body, mind and spirit. There is no separate gospel for the body and another gospel for the soul.

Jesus Combines Physical and Spiritual Healing

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16, 17) The life that God gives is complete; it is not only the spirit that will float around as some religions teach. Let us not fall in the same error! Eternal life is only possible in the absence of disease. Even here on this old earth the quality of life and the capacity to be productive depends on the level of physical, mental and spiritual health.

That is the reason why there are so many recommendations in the Bible, without making distinction between body and soul. We have a responsibility to take care for our body that is the temple of the Holy Spirit. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25) “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians10:31)

The World’s Health Situation Today

Let’s focus now on our time at the 21st century. Is the general situation of the world improving since Jesus left? In fact, the modern and post-modern society presents many new and difficult situations in every area of the life: in the family life, in the working place, in the education of the children, in the economical world and in healthcare. We can be thankful to God that He gave us additional advice through Ellen G. White. It is only since a few years ago that the medical science is discovering the important relations between the lifestyle and physical and mental health.

The World Health Organization is now stressing the importance of a vegetarian diet and physical activity to prevent the chronic diseases that are prevalent today. “Population subgroups consuming diets rich in plant foods have lower CHD [coronary heart disease] rates than the general population. For example, Seventh-day Adventists in the Netherlands and Norway have CHD rates that are one-third to one-half of those in the general population. Californian Seventh-day Adventists who eat meat have higher rates than do those who are vegetarians…” (Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, WHO, 1990, p. 57)

“Although the primary purpose of the Consultation was to examine and develop recommendations for diet and nutrition in the prevention of chronic diseases, the need for sufficient physical activity was also discussed and is therefore emphasized in the report.” (Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, WHO, 2003, p. 3)

Health Promotion: The Best Evangelistic Method

Ellen White insists that we should follow the example of Jesus Christ and unite the health message with the preaching. “Christ, the great Medical Missionary, is our example…. He healed the sick and preached the gospel. In His service, healing and teaching were linked closely together. Today they are not to be separated.” (Counsels on Health, p. 395)

“When properly conducted, the health work is an entering wedge, making a way for other truths to reach the heart.” (Counsels on Diet and Food, p. 73)
“To preach the gospel means much more than many realize. It is a broad, far-reaching work. Our sanitariums have been presented to me as most efficient means for the promotion of the gospel message.” (Counsels on Health, p. 540)
“In new fields no work is so successful as medical missionary work…. Medical missionary work brings to humanity the gospel of release from suffering. It is the pioneer work of the gospel.

It is the gospel practiced, the compassion of Christ revealed. Of this work there is great need, and the world is open for it.” (Medical Ministry, p. 239)

The mission of the health message is

  • To promote a healthy lifestyle for the best function of body, mind and soul (1Thessalonians 5:23) to God’s glory (1Corinthians 10:31).
  • To restore the moral image of God in man by healing the wounds which sin has made (General Conference Bulletin, April 24, 1901).
  • To assist in the proclamation of the gospel as the right arm assists the body (Testimonies vol. 6, p. 288).

Position of the SDA Church concerning the Health Ministry

“The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that man was made originally in the image of God. The entrance of sin into the world marred the image and resulted in a separation of man from his Maker, to his detriment physically, mentally, and spiritually. The church believes that the health ministry in the relief of suffering and the treatment of disease may contribute directly to the restoration of the whole man. The health ministry of the church – by education, by precept and example, and by making the laws of healthful living understood and accepted – can assist mankind in avoiding these illnesses caused by the violations of health principles. Thus the health ministry may contribute to the avoidance of illness, to the restoration of health here on earth, and to the reconciliation of man to God, which is a preparation for eternal life hereafter.” (General Conference Action at the Autumn Council 1969)

Following God’s advice, the SDA church placed great emphasis in promoting health reform. Hospitals, clinics and dispensaries were established throughout the world. However, there is a declining in the establishment of new hospitals today because of their great cost. Instead, the church places now great emphasis in health promotion through seminars, NEWSTART® programs, and Health-EXPOs. These have proven to break down prejudice and to reach the hearts of all kinds of people regardless of their social status or religion. A healthy lifestyle not only prolongs life but also increases the quality of life.

Plan of Salvation Completed – Total Health Restored

Unfortunately, suffering and death are still part of human experience until Jesus returns to eradicate completely sin and its consequences. Then the plan of salvation will be completed. This earth will be restored and the original plan of God will be accomplished.

Then “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
May this be soon!