When in doubt, turn to scripture. Christians have done so for ages when faced with difficult choices about personal and public health. Here are 10 messages given to us from scripture about public health.
Individual rights are an abomination if you never use them to care for others
One of the proverbs of Israel says that it is not good to indulge or seek our own glory (25:27). A culture that revels in personal freedom to the point of celebrating selfish conceit is not a godly culture. Though we may blessed to live in a land with abundant personal/political freedoms, it means absolutely nothing to Christians if we abuse those freedoms, especially if it’s just to make a point about how free we think we should be.
Public health has spiritual dimensions and applications
I know, “cleanlines is next to godliness” often gets repeated as a verse, though it is nowhere in scripture, but it’s referenced for a reason. Cleanliness is allegorical to godliness, so much so that if you read Leviticus, hygiene and health are central to the life of Israelites under the Covenant. It wasn’t because a person was immoral if they weren’t sick, but rather a person’s condition is part of what determined if they should enter into the space of the temple, and they could be immoral for ignoring that.
Consider this application: You’re not in a bad state between the toilet and sink, but if you don’t wash your hands after wiping, you are making a value statement that is lax on care for yourself and others. A leper hasn’t done anything wrong because they’ve contracted leprosy. But if they’re rubbing their hands all over other people? That’s a moral problem. And, vise versa—if a leper is treated as less equal due to their leprosy, that’s a moral problem too.
What we do we do for the sick and vulnerable, not the healthy
Jesus came as a physician, not for the healthy, but for the sick (Mark 2:17). Of course, we can tell Jesus said this tongue-in-cheek, for those in his crowd who thought they were already healthy were sick indeed. So even if my immune system is a shining star, I should still try to make choices that consider those less fortunate. Should my decision be based on how safe I already think I am? Or how weak and vulnerable others might be?
Love of neighbor, not fear, is and ought to be our motive
Any choices I make, or urge upon others, should not be motivated by the fear of death (Matthew 10:28). But wanting to prevent death is obviously not the same as fearing death. I don’t wear a seat belt because I fear death, but because I love myself too much to risk easily losing my life in a wreck. One obvious way to show love to others is by protecting them from death, and sometimes that death could be caused by us, intentionally or inadvertently. So be careful to avoid the strawman argument that a person adopting a cumbersome health practice is doing so out of fear. How do you know?
Likewise, If you are taking great precaution during a health crisis, it ought to be because you want to protect your fellow humans, not because you’re terrified of mortality.
The God-given cure for a sickness sometimes puzzingly and absurdly looks like submission to what’s antagonizing you
Consider the bronze serpent. Remember that thing? God allows snakes to come bite the Israelites for their sin. They get poisoned. Moses makes a bronze snake and lifts it up on a pole. If anyone wants to be cured, they have to…look upon a likeness of the thing that bit them? Why? Isn’t that like idolatry? Was Moses bad?
The point was this: The serpent Moses prepared was the sin of Israel laid bare. The harmful thing was inert up on that post. Worked by the hands of God’s servant. No other cure. But you had to approach it. Visually, the bronze serpent might just look like bad news. But there was no proof that it was.
After all, the cross is hideous. It’s disgusting. There is nothing remotely beautiful about the visage of Jesus on the cross, if you were to go back and see it. Yet the most beautiful thing ever done was his sacrifice. Jesus took on the snake. And when we look upon his death, we see the snake without the venom. Because he rose and now lives.
Sometimes good medicine appears to us like a snake, but has no venom. In fact, that’s the only way to treat some snake bites.
I mean this to be illustrative. We should not be surprised if a cure comes along, using creation itself, that involves the inert form of a deadly thing that is hurting us. Just because it might appear to be absurd to you doesn’t mean it’s not going to work. Sticking my arm with pieces of a virus I’m trying to avoid? Well, if I see it working, it sounds a lot less crazy than buying silver cream and smearing it on me.
It’s possible you could be sharing myths, and if so you actually need to stop right now
Paul wrote a letter to Timothy advising him to hush people in a congregation who were spreading gossip and tall tales. Irrelevant and irreverent myths could be about anything, including public health. If someone catches you sharing something unproven, you just got to stop. It’s a Christian duty. Stop doing that and train up your lives for godliness.
It’s ok for a medicine to have potential side-effects, and that doesn’t make it a)ineffective, or b)evil
I mean, Paul also told Timothy to take some alcohol for his tummy (1 Tim. 5:23). Virtually every remedy potent enough to actually wipe out an ailment can also do a number on you. Plenty of medications out there can do much more harm than good, but a sore arm and a fever for a night isn’t the same as going code blue in the ICU.
Yes, your body is a temple. And when it is sick, access might have to be limited for a time.
That passage about your body being a temple, it’s not just about illicit sex and drugs. Have you ever wondered why an Israelite wasn’t allowed to touch his own wife while she was menstruating? It was for her sake, as well as a way to help prevent illness. A woman’s body underwent a time of preparing again to create life, a cycle that resembles illness but is not illness. Give her space for that time, is the principle being applied.
“Let no man deceive himself” (1 Cor. 3:18). Do not get so wrapped up in your own pursuits that you do not consider what the presence of your body means around others. What I do with my body may be my business, but when it’s around other bodies, to some degree it may be their business too.
We clean ourselves because we have a promise, not in order to get a promise.
Hear this. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting sanctification in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1). Whatever we do to pursue health and wholeness for body and spirit, it should be with thankfulness and hope because God has saved us. The motive of pursuing reward can easily taint our practices towards others, whereas thankfulness humbles us as we pursue practices that put others before ourselves and honor God.
It is God who ultimately brings healing.
Hear the prophet Jeremiah, who tells it straight from the Lord: “I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security” (33:6).
Don’t be surprised at his methods. Sometimes fnimal fat and ashes make great soap. Sometimes a dip in a muddy river removes sores. Sometimes carpenter spit cures blindness.
Sometimes—this is crazy—you’re a Puritan who learns from a slave named Onesimus that you can prevent a pandemic by inoculating folks with a weak form of the illness. And before you know it, much another slave named Onesimus and his master, someone has nudged you to transcend racial difference and consider wisdom differently, to bring some healing and good news.
Sometimes it’s your doctor. Sometimes it’s your momma. Sometimes it’s you. Sometimes it’s a pharmacy. Sometimes it’s a food and exercise brand. Sometimes it’s a government service. Sometimes it’s avoiding one of those things. But any good things from any of these has its source in God, and not a thing from any of these (including yourself) can save you like God can.
Shalom to you and your house.