Thursday, November 15, 2012

Health or Pleasure?

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about caring for the body.

Q:  What is more valuable in Christianity, to enjoy life or to keep one’s body healthy?  If Christians are going to heaven anyway, why should we be concerned about our bodies while we are here on earth?

I know of a pastor who used to be criticized for promoting bacon in his sermons, because of its health implications.  As much as I question the relevance of bacon-eating as a point in Christian preaching, I do think that his answer reveals how easy it is for Christians to lose balance on this issue.  His answer was, “Of course I’ll die.  I’ll die and go to heaven…full of bacon!”

On one hand, Christians recognize that God has given everything in this world to be used for our benefit.  That fact that this world contains things that we are able to enjoy is a reason to give thanks to God.  Paul addresses this problem in 1 Timothy 4, by saying,

“…The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to… the insincerity of liars… who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving… For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…”

On another occasion, in the book of Acts, God offers Peter a meal from any of the animals of the earth, and when Peter refuses, God responds by saying, “Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean.”  (Acts 10)

God wants Christians to enjoy and appreciate the things of this world.  Jesus revealed that what harms a person spiritually is not the foods or drinks that they consume, but the worlds and actions that flow out, from within their hearts and minds.  (Mark 7) 

On the other hand, because our desires are corrupted by sin, we desire to overindulge and therefore harm ourselves and others, and God has placed limits on the pleasures of this world (like possessions, life, intimacy, reputation, and authority) in order to protect us. 

The same is true when we deal with our bodies.  Our bodies are a part of the person that God has created, and he desires us to receive them with the same thanks and honor them with the same care as any other blessing He gives.  This becomes especially clear that we do not merely die and go to heaven to live forever as disembodied spirits, but rather the souls in heaven await the Last Day when they will live forever in resurrected bodies.

Much like Christians have recently discovered that it is important to care for the world and not waste its resources unnecessarily, it has also become clear in the present generation that the same is true for the body.  In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul points out that the body of the Christian is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  While we might be tempted, to jokingly respond that God deserves the largest temple we can build, we have to ultimately acknowledge that this truth has implications for the way we care for our bodies.  Christian stewardship leads us to conclude that we should not waste or damage any blessing God has given—especially our bodies, and the knowledge that the Holy Spirit dwells within Christians leads us to the truth that our bodies are intended to be treated with the highest respect. 

While leisure, fine food, and even adult beverages are given by God to be received with thanks, the Christian lives in such a way as not to abuse these blessings.  So, we work with intensity while stopping short of a level of stress which would harm our body and its ability to continue serving others.  We enjoy leisure while still maintaining the healthy activity our bodies need to preserve health.  We may enjoy the freedom to choose many foods and drinks—even bacon or adult beverages on occasion—which God has created for us to enjoy, but as part of a balanced life that allows pleasure, without endangering the health and longevity which are also His gifts. 

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