April 1, 2021

Weighing Risks and Benefits

How to make good health decisions.

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

Q:How do I make sound health choices?

A:Especially in today’s misinformation-disinformation environment, the Holy Spirit is sorely needed for discernment and wisdom.

Absolute certainty is illusive. Suspicion, doubt, and fear strangle confidence, trust, and faith. We respond to the “how” of making decisions regarding our health, but we dare not dictate “what” you should choose; that is your God-given prerogative. Beware, though, that not decidingisa decision.

Important decisions require thoughtful decision-making. One such process is a risk-benefit assessment. In this process the facts about risk (uncertain danger) and benefit (aid or advantage) need to be accurately known; they must be from truthful, reliable sources; and then they should be weighed in the balance. Careful, prayerful, and researched choosing of whom to believe is essential for obtaining the best information available. Eve herself believed a creature who apparently was new to her above believing God—whom she knew (Gen. 3:1-6). So consider the source!

We all have biases; some are conscious, and others are unconscious. These act as lenses through which we see and evaluate what is around us. Often our biases are exposed only when confronted. Strong opinions and emotions may lead to poor decisions. Respectful conversation in a safe setting with well-informed, spiritually mature people who may differ in viewpoint can expose you to facts and interpretations previously inaccessible because of bias. Remember, Solomon advises that whoever takes a side before truly listening is foolish and shameful (Prov. 12:15; 18:13);to learn, one must be willing to be taught, and to dislike refutation is not wise (Prov. 12:1; 18:15).

Some risks or benefits can be universally applicable, while others are circumstantial. For example, peanuts can be deadly to anyone with a severe peanut allergy and present a choking risk (asphyxiation) to all toddlers; but eating peanuts is pleasurable to the nonallergic, adult peanut lover. To complicate matters, perceived risk and benefit may not be the same as “real” risk. A tarantula may pose a fearful, deadly risk to the uninformed but only a minor risk to knowledgeable pet tarantula owners (they rarely harm humans). So risks and benefits need to be individualized. (The tension between personal health benefit and community health benefit is an additional matter.)

Every risk and benefit carries weight. The sum of these may involve emotional weight as well. Fear may often hold overwhelming weight and tip the balance. Be careful: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).

God is needed at every step in evaluating information and its sources as we employ unbiased assessments, collegial counsel, the relative weight of each risk and benefit, and the personal weighing of it all. Yet we conclude as did Paul: “Be fully convinced in [your] own mind!” (Rom. 14:5).

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.