You’re on death row. You’ve been diagnosed with a fatal illness that you may not have realized you have. And you’ve only been making the situation worse by your attitudes and actions.
As a matter of fact, we’re all in the same boat. Try as we might, there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do to reverse our condition or save ourselves. Regardless of our rank, position, socioeconomic or even ecclesiastical status, none of us is able to save ourselves.
“But,” you may protest, “it’s not that simple; there’s more to consider.”
Really? Even those engaged in the God-appointed work of organizing a denomination were not placed in “exempt status.”
Taking on an exaggerated workload, failing to mend fragile human relationships, or attending to the heart work that is high on God’s priority list serves only to hasten the progress toward the inevitable end. God has more in store for us than we have time to do, because we are doing what others should be doing, even as He is preparing them to do so. We have a sacred duty to attend to our well-being and arouse others to do this as well, but reject the notion and practice of imbalanced work, appetite, and self-reliance.
We must learn what God really requires of us, how to enjoy His Sabbath, to spend time with those in our care, to be tender and compassionate with our children and treat them as well as our associates with the spirit of forgiveness that Jesus possessed. We have to let our children find their highest pleasure with us, just as we find and lead them to find the unsurpassed pleasure of the Lord’s company.
And do not neglect to grow in intimacy with your marriage partner . . . both of you have peculiarly sensitive hearts. Yes, external problems will arise, but God wants us to have such a strong love for each other and to be in such harmony together and with Him that united in doing His assigned work, you can stand nobly, faithfully, and successfully. This will move us from saddening thoughts and saddening subjects to a place of cheerfulness, happiness, gratefulness, to greater reliance on God and unshakable confidence in Him who alone can do something about our diseased, terminal condition.
We must surrender ourselves to God so that He is in control of our mind, for that’s where our sense of well-being comes from.
The preceding narrative paraphrases some of the facets of a historic vision experienced by Ellen White on Friday, June 5, 1863, during Sabbath vespers at the home of Aaron Hilliard in Otsego, Michigan. Her comment about this is found in “Testimony Regarding James and Ellen White.”1 The vision came just 15 days after the successful incorporation of the General Conference. The Whites were to attend an evangelistic event. They were staying in the home of Aaron Hilliard when she went into vision for about 45 minutes. Sometime during the next day she wrote that she was shown some issues regarding her husband and herself, and she wrote a message to the church in Monterey.
Ellen White remarked that her experience on that day was a special blessing. Perhaps the tumult of church organization and wearying travel and her husband’s health were suspended for 24 hours but resumed later when she was able to write about the event and the insight shared with some of the members of the Monterey church, a church embroiled in issues of marital infidelity and misguided judgments. The family, specifically its integrity and protection, was a clear theme throughout. She perceived that God saw what we do, and that using our own distorted judgments was at odds with what He desires for us and the harmonious life we could have in Him.
The Hebrew term that best describes that Edenic perfection, completeness, and harmony is shalom. It is the profound, absolute peace that is exclusively of divine origin.
Not until August 18642 did Ellen White describe more fully the content of the vision in Otsego, but she wrote many letters and gave local and personal testimonies in the interim, including expressing the pain of the loss of their eldest son, Henry, in December 1863. The tone of her concerns appeared to be centered on integrity, Christlike attitude, mental health, and the spiritual component of well-being. Interestingly, the context within which “the great subject of health reform”3 was placed, as elaborated in the Otsego vision, is in the perfect origin of our species (and every other earthly creation) in the Garden in Eden.
“Adam and Eve in Eden were noble in stature, and perfect in symmetry and beauty. They were sinless, and in perfect health. What a contrast to the human race now! Beauty is gone. Perfect health is not known. Everywhere we look we see disease, deformity and imbecility. I inquired the cause of this wonderful degeneracy, and was pointed back to Eden.”4
This perfection, symmetry, and beauty, with all that is good and complete, in perfect harmony and everything at peace, is God’s ideal for us. When Eve and Adam fell, the entire order of things became distorted, and degeneration, decay, disease, and death entered the human sphere. But God, being love, mercy, and grace personified, had laid contingency plans from “the foundation of the world.”
The Hebrew term that best describes that Edenic perfection, completeness, and harmony is shalom. It is the profound, absolute peace that is exclusively of divine origin. Only God possesses this in Himself. He bestowed this upon our world at Creation, and we lost it with the Fall. But God promised to restore this to our first parents, and in the fullness of time He made good on that promise. God sent His Son in the flesh to reconcile humanity to Himself. “It was His mission to bring to men complete restoration; He came to give health and peace and perfection of character.”5 That is shalom!
While specific attention was directed toward the practical activities of daily life that contribute to or detract from our wholistic well-being, Ellen White’s 1863 vision placed the care of our health as a religious duty, and control of the mind as an essential component of overall health through His grace.
Even though disease prevention is prominent, when we position health practices within the framework of reforms and remedies, a presupposed “norm” already exists. Remedies are not used to prevent disease. The term inherently indicates treatment of a problem that already exists. When we place the practice of health reform as a preventive measure, people often mistakenly assume we are preventing death. This perverse aberration of the truth often leads to the idea of health being only a reflection of an individual’s ability to practice certain healthy behaviors. Then we set up a system of judgment and spiritual hierarchy based on health practices, and, even more sinisterly, health outcomes. Even the term self-control may distort the reality that this attribute is really a gift imparted by God through His Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23).
Christians do not engage in healthful practices in order to be saved, but rather because we are saved. We live healthfully in response to God’s desire and invitation for us to be one with Him, to be complete in Him, and to be the best version of ourselves for His glory. We are called to be ambassadors of shalom, and we should do everything in our power to remove all impediments that can interfere with our connection with God and our relations with each other as we run the race of this earthly life (Heb. 12:1-3).
We were created to be in harmony with God’s plan, and that required obedience to His laws. While we may focus on God’s moral law as divine, we shouldn’t forget that the physical laws that govern our universe from atoms to galaxies are also divine. Some of these natural laws govern our physiology and anatomy, ecology
and personal hygiene; cooperation with these laws is consistent with health. Ignoring the laws of health fosters sickness and disease. When we cooperate with God in His effort to re-create us, we are beneficiaries of a measure of shalom.
We do not belong to ourselves; we are not our own; we have been bought and paid for by God Himself. So in love and appreciation we honor God, not only in our minds but also with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). The kingdom of God is more than just what we eat and drink (Rom. 14:17); we should also appreciate God by caring about our total health and well-being. The lifestyle choices we make are important to Him. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we should do it to honor God (1 Cor. 10:31). We live by His grace, in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
There’s no question that healthful habits promote better physical health and longevity in general. But we must be careful to note that while the risks of unnecessary disease, suffering, and premature death are reduced, we still live in a fallen world, damaged by sin and to be restored only when the new heavens and new earth are created as promised.
So healthy living is a necessity for all who can do so. But that will neither save us nor immunize us against all sickness and suffering. That will come when Jesus returns, and we become full partakers of His shalom and see Him face to face.
Meanwhile, we are counseled to preserve ourselves completely, body, mind, and spirit, until He returns and completes His promise (1 Thess. 5:23). A healthy body favors a clear mind that is better able to understand God’s truth, resist temptation, and face the spiritual onslaught of our daily existence by accessing God’s strength through His Holy Spirit.
We are all on death row. Ellen and James White had to deal with this reality personally in 1863, as we do now. Only God can change that. He gives shalom, and all honor and praise is His.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel is an associate director of the General Conference Department of Health Ministries.