First let me say that my own personal experience and observations say yes, our health and our spirituality/religion are very definitely connected. Dozens of times (nearly 100) in the Bible connections are clearly made between our health and our religion.
For our purposes here, I define spirituality and religion differently. Spirituality includes not only those who are deeply religious, but also those who are superficially religious, and some who are not religious at all but define spirituality as recognizing the sacred nature of a person. Religion is easier to measure. It means that you do something measurable: worship, pray, attend, read, give, etc.
When I look in the Old Testament I find the scripture that says, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.”(Exodus 15:26)
I find the word for “heal” in the Old Testament Hebrew is “rapha” meaning to heal or to repair. In the New Testament Greek one word often used for heal is “therapeuo” from which we get our English words therapy and therapeutic.
I find in the book of James, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:13-16)
So, the skeptic would ask, that is all good, but why are people still sick? Why then does anyone die if the prayer of faith will save the sick? I have heard those questions, and I have asked those questions. “Why” is a tricky word that doesn’t always have an answer.
Kathy Manning Burns shares some insight into this subject when she writes of the grief of losing her son at 36 hours of age. “There tends to be a bit of the magical in our beliefs about God. Religion can be a tricky thing, we know in our heads that bad things happen in the world to good and bad people alike but we don’t really know that in our guts. We hear the stories of how someone was supposed to be on a plane that crashed but they, for some reason, missed the flight. What do we do? We immediately exclaim how it is a miracle that God rescued this good person. We hear stories on the news about people who narrowly escaped death and how often do we hear them say that God had protected them?
We don’t usually stop to consider that most of the people that die in plane crashes are good people. Most of the thousands and thousands of funerals which are performed each year are for good people. But somehow we still believe that God won’t let anything bad happen to us. Somehow we feel immune.”(from “Memories Too Few,” page 24)
I am convinced, and more so the longer I live, that God’s healing is not some holy immunity from suffering. I am also convinced that God means just what he says when he asks us to pray for the sick.
I can’t help but remember as I write these words two different occasions that I was asked to pray to friends who were sick…both of them in a hospital…both of them receiving the best medical care available…each of them with different medical issues. In one case as I prayed my gut feeling said, “Your wish is granted.” I didn’t share that gut feeling with the family members for fear of giving a false hope based on my gut feeling. This person is alive today. On another occasion my gut feeling as we prayed together was, “Sorry, not going to happen.” I didn’t share that gut feeling either, I never want to take away someone’s hope. That person passed away a few months later.
I wouldn’t guess how many times I prayed for and prayed with friends and family members and asked that Religion and Health be Connected. Only twice do I remember having those “gut feelings.”
Is Religion and Health connected? I think so, and next week we will explore the topic again.