Not a new concept
By Allan R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless
I am a newly baptized Seventh-day Adventist, but I still do not fully understand or even believe that my physical health influences my spirituality. I avoid unclean foods and alcohol—isn’t that enough?
Eating and drinking healthfully, exercise, moderation, and modesty do not of themselves achieve wholeness. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. This means that we cannot boast in our own strength or works; it helps us to remember that physical health, although desirable, is a means to an end, not the end in itself.
Christ’s promise “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10) can still be a reality even among the most physically broken. Health is not a rite of passage in this life. As important as wellness is, Jesus emphasized balance: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). We can have wholeness in our brokenness by His grace.
Early in the Old Testament God saw fit to give His people instructions on healthful living, including diet, sanitation, and sexual behavior. The Levitical laws were to be preventive and distinctive. While here on earth Jesus healed physical and mental diseases and linked forgiveness of sin to well-being and the abundant life.
The Lord gave Ellen White her first vision on health in June 1863. She then began counseling the fledgling Seventh-day Adventist Church on healthful living. The outstanding feature of her initial message was the “relation between physical welfare and spiritual health, or holiness.”1 Throughout her life she was the channel of information that fashioned the church’s philosophy and emphasis on health. Long before medical evidence emerged on the dangers of smoking, Ellen White spoke out strongly on this and other health issues, including the use of alcohol and such poisonous medications as arsenicals and mercury-based drugs. The drinking of tea and coffee and the use of stimulants were strongly discouraged, as, ultimately, was the use of flesh food (these practices are still strongly supported by the Seventh-day Adventist Church). She promoted a vegetarian diet with judicious use of dairy products at a time when vitamin B12 was unknown. In addition, the use of fresh, clean water (inside and out), clean air, adequate exercise and rest, temperance, faith, appropriate sunshine exposure, integrity, and social support were strongly encouraged.
Time reported the positive outcome of the first Adventist Health Study, describing the results as the “Adventist Advantage.”2 There was significant reduction in most cancers and cirrhosis of the liver. Subsequent studies have shown a significant increase in longevity in those living the Adventist lifestyle. In 2005 National Geographic very favorably highlighted the benefits of the Adventist lifestyle, including the city of Loma Linda in the United States as a “Blue Zone”—one of the areas in the world in which people enjoy the best longevity and quality of life. These positive outcomes have been so compelling that millions of dollars from the National Institutes of Health (U.S.A.) have been allocated to conduct Adventist Health Study 2, with a special emphasis on the differences in malignancies between Adventists and the general population. It’s designed to also yield data on the effects of healthful living on spirituality and is representative of the diversity and ethnic mix that blesses the Adventist Church.
God has given us, through varied sources, consistent guidance on how to be healthy, happy, and holy. And more important, this health and wellness are also to be channeled into service for others (see John 9:4).
There’s an abundance of evidence to guide our choices to live a life of praise to the Creator, who so graciously has given us that life!
1 D. E. Robinson, The Story of Our Health Message (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1965), p. 77.
2 Time, Oct. 28, 1966.
Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist,
is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist,
is an associate director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.