An article for the Christian, on the biblical outlook for our bodies, our health, and the importance of and connection between stewardship and worship
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 // 1 Corinthians 10:31 // Romans 12:1-2 // Job 12:7-10
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth… And he saw all that he made and said it was GOOD.’
From our plunge into sin in the garden mankind has excelled in putting on display their one defining characteristic: trying to take what God has made good and thinking I can do it better.
After the invention of processed sugar in the 1500s, the industrial revolution, and the chemical revolution after WWII and the Vietnam war, humans have continued this experimentation with what God has created good and have put refined products, lab-created experiments, and chemical cocktails designed for war into the hands of farmers, and ultimately on grocery store shelves to the profit of their pockets and the detriment of our bodies.
And yet… anyone who desires to be healthy can attest to the trials that will stand before you. For the Christian, we seek to submit mind, body, soul, and strength to the will of God and his purposes, and to love him. But what does it mean then regarding the body? Is the body exempt from submission?
When it comes to our physical bodies things are often narrowed down to simply what not to do. Do not be gluttonous (does anyone even pay attention to this?)-oh and you should probably exercise because Paul said to run the race well, didn’t he? Far too often we completely ignore what we do three times a day, every single day, and will spend hours doing for the rest of our lives.
For the Christian, the question is how then should we eat?
With the storm of 2020, and unpredictable 2021 before us, why not seek change that is good and actually attainable? Ads for gyms and diets plague our lives and media outlets simultaneously give us false hope and discouragement. But what if health wasn’t about that low-fat diet that starves you with salads or the stress of counting macros? What if health was something God created and cares about, and was as easy as simply returning to his design? Too good to be true, you might think.
To help you see through my eyes, let me tell you a story. Growing up in the Seattle suburbs, like any other child in the 90’s I feasted upon pop tarts, sugary breakfast cereal, boxed macaroni, pizza, soda, and bread. Oh, the bread. I was a fairly healthy kid according to my standards, no food allergies, and I never needed to go to the doctor. I was adventurous, climbing trees and catching frogs. This state of health went on into my 20’s. And I figured that since I no longer ate fast food nor drank soda and I liked vegetables that I was doing pretty good. I was a Christian, I attended church regularly, I was seeking to grow in my relationship with Jesus, and I never once heard anyone talk about the spiritual importance of your physical health beyond the dangers of obesity and the sin of gluttony (and even that was rare). So I never thought about it. If no one was talking about it then the bible clearly doesn’t have anything to say and it’s not a big deal, right?
Then I experienced a few years of back-to-back extreme stress from every area in my life and I began to see signs and symptoms of health issues, and I became so worn down that I hit the bottom. It took others in my life to tell me I had changed, and I finally realized I had lost the will the thrive. Life felt empty and meaningless, depression kicked in, extreme anxiety, terrible eczema, exhaustion, awful heartburn, headaches every day with mental fog and confusion, I was bloated and in pain all the time. Above all of this though was that I seemed to no longer have the capacity for joy. The doctors I saw didn’t have any answers. No one seemed to understand what was wrong with me and I felt alone and hopeless. Was this God’s design for my life? Surely I wasn’t living in sin, but no one at church had answers. Was I being punished? After finally reading a book that was forced upon me about adrenal fatigue, I finally began to see some hope. And as difficult as it was to swallow, I began to see that I was responsible for a lot of what was happening to me, and ultimately I was responsible for my own health. It was not that I was being punished, as Job’s friends would have said, it was that in many ways I was neglecting God’s design for my body, and for this I was reaping the consequences. I saw how I had been ignoring signs along the way, ultimately ignoring the command to steward my body well. I also saw that if i was going to steward my body in a biblical way that I had to sacrifice a lot to do it. So I quit my job, left Seattle, and went back to school to study nutrition. And my life has never been the same.
I wound up studying functional nutritional therapy, and while I studied I marveled at what common grace the Lord has bestowed upon so many that do not know him in giving this insight and understanding of food and all of creation. This knowledge of the wisdom and goodness of ancestral traditions in God’s creation in the food he has made has changed my life and my health. I began to see that if we are a part of the created order then we have a design as to how we are to operate within it, as a part of the ecosystem. I began to see the root causes of the issues I struggled with, and once I embraced whole, real foods and nutrition, and lifestyle changes that gave my body what it needed as the Lord designed it, I began to heal. And yet I still hear it all the time- ‘Ooh you eat healthy huh? How boring!’ Why do you call what God created and called GOOD to be boring?
The Lord has since planted in me a desire to share my story and this knowledge with others. I have in no way ‘arrived’; I currently struggle with yet again new health issues that have cropped up, but I have hope because I know that he created things good, I am a part of that created order, and that he has a purpose in all that he designed and in all that he allows. As I seek his will and learn more each day about the way he intended our bodies to function and thrive, I am further in awe of the complexities of my Creator in his intricate designs. From his design of the church to the role of our microbiome inside of us, we have been purposed for community in everything that we are.
But more than just my physical health, he has shown me the importance of stewardship for the earth and its creatures. From the animals, plants, rivers, oceans, and earth to the billions of created creatures that dwell within us as our microbiome, as the pinnacle of creation, it is our duty and responsibility to honor and steward what the Lord has given us and has called good and to honor his design for how we are to live in community with each other and his creation. To do this we must consider the far-reaching implications of our choices in what we eat and how we eat. By way of what we eat and what we buy, we have the power to drive a food system in our world that honors the Lord by saying ‘I will honor and cherish the good gifts the Lord has given, and protect what He loves’.
I have attended biblical counseling conferences and amidst all the discussion on sorrow, depression, anxiety, mental health, and many other topics, never once is it discussed what the role of food has on our mental health, on our depression, on our anxiety, on our joy in general. What if part of the puzzle, or even the answer, was in God’s great design all along? We are body and soul. We are a part of his creation, yet we separate ourselves from it. Upon recently finding out from medical tests that my thyroid and adrenals are struggling, and that my vitamin D levels are dangerously low, my physician declared, ‘Well no wonder you feel like crap!’ I started taking therapeutic doses of vitamins and I finally felt hope after weeks, maybe even months, of feelings emotionally and mentally compromised. Vitamin D is a hormone that affects our brains, so maybe it’s not that you’re in need of anti-depressants, or that you need to simply, ‘trust God more’, but maybe your brain is struggling from malnourishment, and this is the best it can do with what its been given. We must ask ourselves if we are believing that we know better than God when it comes to our health. Do we understand how our bodies were designed to function, what he is doing, and what he has given us in creation?
It’s easy to be caught in a here and now bubble, believing that what is around you is normal and what has always been, but when you look back through the history of mankind you have a sobering reality check. This is not normal. The first medically recorded heart attack was in 1920. That’s only 101 years ago, out of the thousands of years we have walked this planet. When we look into ancestral tribes around the world and the state of their health before processed foods became available, there is little to no disease found. This begs the question: what have we done? God creates good gifts, but just as sin has tainted everything, so it has tainted everything. Including our food. Including the way we relate to food, and the way we view food. Humankind has since the fall made a name for itself in taking a good thing that the Lord has made and thinking we can do better. We have taken the glorious bounty of food in plants and animals, perfect as he intended it, and have industrialized it. Packaged it. Disrespected it. Destroyed it. Abused it. And we disrespect God’s good gifts of our bodies when we do not steward them well with what we consume.
We are far too simple and far too easily pleased; just as CS Lewis said a child does not want to leave his mud pie because he cannot fathom a trip to the sea, so are we who cannot fathom what good is in the world of food that God has abundantly provided, so we settle for man-made concoctions that are void of life and nutrition.
If my body is not my own but Gods, do I not then have the obligation to take care of what is his? And as the Creator of the universe, he knows best in terms of taking care of us. As we have lost the connection to and wonder of food, so we have lost our understanding of one of the best gifts God has given us.
I am grieved as I stand in the trenches between two worlds and look out. I see so many who proclaim Christ yet turn a blind eye to this world of nutrition and the stewardship of Gods creation, even becoming hostile against it, and I see those who deny the creator and yet bask in the deep riches of his mercy in the world of ancestral traditions and healing methods through foods and proper stewardship of our external and internal ecosystems. The irony is that they see the importance of honoring and cherishing the creation, while many of those who know the creator do not.
The heavens and the earth declare his glory. You can see it in the stars, you can see it in a waterfall, you can also see it in the intense and unique flavor of saffron, the bite of vinegar, the creamy texture of pastured butter, the richness of bone broth, in the cowness of the cow, the simple scratching of a chicken, the gentleness of a baby bunny. Even the workings of our digestive system and the neurotransmitters in our brain honor the Lord, as it is his design. Do we not seek to understand the intricacies of those we love? Do we honor God in a wholistic way, knowing that we are not outside of his creation, but part of it? Do we honor God the creator in how we treat the least of these? His beautiful and wondrous designs, from the roaring Lion to a tiny pea shoot, they all speak to his majesty and greatness. They are all wrapped up together, you cannot separate them.
As we feel the weight of sin and sickness in our bones, what are our bodies crying for? Our souls cry for salvation, and our bodies cry for nutrition. Let this be a call to our souls to return to God’s design for his created order. This may just change everything