I’m not sure why, but it seems to me that the ideas of pursuing healthiness and pursuing holiness have become conceptual rivals. In conversations I am a part of too often, at least in my opinion, those who advocate most strongly for pursuing holiness view an emphasis on healthiness as a code-language for compromise and those who advocate most strongly for pursuing healthiness view an emphasis on holiness as simplistic and stigmatizing.
I would like to start this reflection by affirming the concerns of both sides. There are times when “what is good for me” (a form of emphasizing healthiness) gives license to moral compromise. Similarly, there are times when “but that’s wrong” (a form of emphasizing holiness) assumes that knowing the destination is the same as navigating a journey.
My point in this article is not to unravel this knot. We live in a broken world where sometimes apparent contradictions are tensions to be navigated as much as moral riddles to be solved. The “best available choice” sometimes lives at the intersection of moral principles we wish didn’t compete with one another. I’ll leave nuancing tensions that exist in this realm to ethicists.
My point in this article is to contend that healthiness and holiness are complimentary pursuits; not rivals. They are distinct pursuits, but understood rightly, pursuing one should aid the pursuit of the other. Pursuing either at the expense of the other results in an imbalance or disruption that will have negative effects.
Let’s start with Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 26, “Your spirit is willing, but your flesh is weak.” Let’s consider what the disciples had experienced in the last 24-48 hours prior to falling asleep after being asked to pray for Jesus in his greatest hour of emotional anguish.
- They traveled to a new city,
- prepared the Passover meal in someone else’s home (never easy to cook in someone else’s kitchen),
- had a meal heavy with carbs and wine,
- went to a quiet, dark place at an hour when they would usually have already been asleep, and
- shut their eyes to pray.
Jesus’ response to them indicates that he could tell their physical state (healthiness) impeded their ability to fulfill their good spiritual desires (holiness). Stated more positively, if the disciples had been in a physically healthier state, they would have been more likely to live up to their spiritual ideals. Stated more practically and personally, caring for our body and mind is an important part of the thriving our soul.Caring for our body and mind is an important part of the thriving our soul. Click To Tweet
In this instance, as far as we can tell from the biblical text, the disciples were not ill (i.e., they didn’t have the flu), they were not socially isolated, nor were they in a season of extended burnout. Yet, even in this instance of being situationally overextended Jesus extended grace towards the impact the disciple’s healthiness had on their holiness.
We can also consider the inverse effect. How does it effect our healthiness when we live without holiness?
- What are the health effects of a prolonged guilty conscience?
- What are the health effects of living in ongoing social tension because we engage in a pattern of blame shifting to absolve our guilty conscience?
- What are the health effects when we abuse our bodies (malnutrition from either gluttony or over-restriction, or substance abuse) through engaging immoral activity?
- What are the mental and physical health effects of neglecting God’s commands regarding rest (i.e., Sabbath)?
- What are the mental health effects of living in isolation in ways that neglect God’s design for community?
- You can probably add your own questions to this list based on the area of healthiness you are most prone to neglect and its impact on your pursuit of holiness.
So, this brings me to a conclusion. I’ll frame the conclusion in the form of two questions that, ultimately, you will have to answer for yourself. But the prefix to each question is the same, “If you lived as if healthiness and holiness were complimentary pursuits…
- … what health-related choices would you make to aid your pursuit of holiness?
- … what holiness-related choices would you make to enhance your stewardship of your healthiness?
IF you resist these questions because you are caught up on rivalry mindset that I discussed in the beginning of this article, I would encourage you to reconsider the either-or mentality towards healthiness and holiness. Let’s not allow our advocacy for one good thing to blind us to the benefits of another good thing.
IF you (like I am prone to do) resist the implications of these questions because you’re stubborn, I would invite you to more fairly wrestle with the implications of being an embodied-soul (where body effects soul and vice versa). We care for our body and soul best when we care for our body AND soul well.We care for our body and soul best when we care for our body AND soul well. Click To Tweet