Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading a new book called Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul. The premise of the book is that a lack of discipline when it comes to our physical health is often a reflection of our spiritual health. Author Gary Thomas is very careful to make clear that he is not implying that all sickness and disease is a result of a lack of spiritual health. He is definitely NOT touting “health and wealth” prosperity theology. Instead, he sees the body as an instrument to be used for God’s glory, rather than as an ornament or means to self-gratification and absorption.
The reason I want to get into shape then, the reason I long for God’s church to get in shape, is not to impress anyone, not to make others feel inferior, not to demonstrate our own personal discipline and self-control. God forbid! On the contrary, it is to become, as Paul writes, ‘instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.’
Read those words again, slowly, because this teaching about the connection between physical and spiritual fitness requires that our motivation be as pure as we can make it in this fallen world…Desiring a silver soul means that we stop treating our bodies like ornaments – with all the misguided motivations often displayed by those who build their bodies out of pride and ambition – and start treating our bodies like instruments, vessels set apart to serve the God who fashioned them. Whether we have strong or weak bodies, healthy or sick, overnourished or undernourished, how do we begin moving from where we are now to more purposefully building bodies that function like instruments? (p.15)
Pursuing God isn’t just a “from the chin up” endeavor, as one historian put it, involving only the soul and/or mind. Our mind and spirit, soul and body, are all working together. Our attitude toward our physical health reflects our attitude toward our Creator. Thomas even goes so far as to say that it can be a sin to neglect our physical health. We hear often about sins like adultery, lust, lying, and stealing – and rightly so – but what ever happened to gluttony and sloth?
Now, I want to be careful here. Physical ailments are certainly used by God for his glory. Granted, sometimes there are health issues beyond our ability to control with lifestyle, but there is a fine line between accepting our circumstances and becoming fatalistic, or even prideful, in our “suffering”. We can accept that we have health issues that may or may not be healed, according to God’s will, but still pursue the best physical health possible in that situation. And quite often, our ailments are at least partially self-induced by our own choices and lack of discipline and education. In that case, we have a responsibility to be good stewards and make changes. But of course, our motivation is the key. There can be a fine line between pursuing health to honor the Creator and pursuing health for it’s own sake. We easily slip into the tendency to worship the gifts rather than the Giver. If physical health itself is our end goal, we’ve put it in the place of God, making it an idol.
As Gary Thomas says,
What if exercise and discipline in eating isn’t as much about physical health as about honoring the God who made us?
…How we treat our bodies is a question of stewardship even before it is a question of health, comfort, enjoyment, or pleasure. (p. 47)
For me, learning about nutrition and health, applying that knowledge, and feeding my family whole, traditional foods is an act of worship, done to honor God the Creator, whether or not it results in optimal health or avoidance of health issues.
As I mentioned recently, our bodies and the way God designed them to work are simply incredible! Every detail I discover about these intricate systems just puts me even more and more in awe of the Creator. What else can I do with this knowledge but honor him by applying it to my life? What would it say about my relationship with him if I knew how he designed things to work and chose to ignore it for the sake of convenience or personal preference? In order to be good stewards, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and be willing to invest the time and energy in caring for our bodies well. And following that design will, more often than not, lead to better health and a greater ability to serve him. Ignoring the means he has provided to nourish and care for our bodies is dishonoring to him and is to our physical and spiritual detriment.
In my situation, my interest in optimal health and nutrition largely arose in response to a particular health issue. And, although that ailment was never fully resolved, as I delved in and learned more, the pursuit became more about learning God’s design for our bodies, standing in awe of him, and honoring him, than resolving or healing a specific problem. He has used that interest to take me far outside my comfort zone and increase my dependence on him.
There are no guarantees. We may diligently pursue health and still experience sickness or disease. But if we don’t pursue it, we almost certainly will. The goal is greater union with God through an appreciation of his creation and obedience to his design, rather than physical health for it’s own sake or our comfort. If it’s his will, the result will be a stronger body that is better able to serve him physically. If not, we’ve still honored him and will glorify him in whatever state we find ourselves.
I didn’t necessarily agree with every single thing in the book. For instance, although Thomas doesn’t emphasize any particular approach as far as diet and fitness, his focus seems to be more on exercise and weight loss; whereas my focus is more on traditional foods and optimizing nutrition. But the principles are largely solid and applicable.
This Martin Luther quote pretty accurately sums up the message of Every Body Matters:
It is the part of a Christian to take care of his own body for the very purpose that by its soundness and well-being he may be enabled to labor for the aid of those who are in want, and thus the stronger member may serve the weaker member.
Every Body Matters is definitely a worthwhile and challenging read. It’s definitely caused me to think through and make an effort to articulate my stance on these issues.
Kate at Parchment Girl has written a great review worth checking out also.
Thank you to Zondervan for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions expressed are my own.