Health and Disease

In what ways are followers of Jesus demonstrating God's loving character through caring for the sick, preventing disease, and even attempting to eradicate some diseases?

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Reflection: Health and Shalom

WCIU Journal: Health and Disease Topic

May 12, 2015

by Beth Snodderly


Recently I read a Florida State University dissertation, “Shalom and its relationship to health/healing in the Hebrew Scriptures.”* A society that is healthy and experiencing shalom, is one that is in right relationship with God’s cosmic order. In a sick society, the righteous suffer at the hands of deceitful and untruthful people. Bribery is a way of life in much of the under-developed world. This dissertation gives a biblical explanation for that under-development. The following excerpts from Joseph Savage’s dissertation lend support to the philosophical and theological approach to international development that WCIU takes.

“In David Kinsley’s book, Health, Healing, and Religion: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, Kinsley suggests that at the most general level all cultures regard health, sickness, and healing as having religious or moral implications. … Serious illness can raise significant personal questions concerning one’s own existence, the meaning of life, and the place of human beings in the cosmos. Health and healing are often directly related to addressing these questions and placing them in a meaningful context (p. 23).

“In Psalm 60:2 the cosmic terms and metaphors that portray Israel’s need for Yahweh’s help are given in the first three verses, where we see both the land (v. 2) and the people (v. 3) suffering because Yahweh is angry with Israel (v. 1). Israel’s defeat is portrayed metaphorically with earthquake imagery (cf. Ps. 18:7). … The destructive judgment of Israel is Yahweh’s “non-presence,” resulting in defeat (p. 36).

“It is apparent that the themes of healing, forgiveness, and salvation are not (and cannot be) separated in Scripture. Healing … includes the deeper dimension of forgiveness and restoration into fellowship with God. (p. 38).

“All shalom that is disrupted is in need of healing/restoration so that it may be reclaimed and God’s cosmic order reestablished (p. 61).

“Psalm 28:3: Shalom in this psalm is the antithesis of all that is evil, and all evil, therefore, is illness in Yahweh’s cosmic order of shalom that requires healing and health (p. 62).

“The psalmist is in real trouble in Psalm 35. He states that his enemies seek after his life (v. 4, 7), and that without cause (v. 19). These statements alone indicate how sick the society is that the psalmist has to contend with. If the Psalmist is true in his profession of innocence, then those who wrongfully accuse him are in need of serious psychological and spiritual healing. The shalom/health that the psalmist hopes for can either be acquired by the accusers reforming their evil ways and treating the psalmist justly, or by Yahweh intervening and negating their evil influence on the psalmist.

“Contextually, lies, or words of deceit are the main problem that have to be overcome in order for healing/shalom to be reestablished among those who are quiet in the land. Speaking words of deceit is a theme in a number of Psalms: 10:7; 34:13; 36:3; 50:19. In each case speaking deceitfully or lying is associated with evil or mischief, which the righteous cry out against. In Psalm 35:20, words of deceit are the polar opposite to words of shalom (pp. 69, 70).

“Righteousness is but another word for that human well-being which is shalom and health. Indeed, health is defined in similar terms when we speak of it as consisting of a right relationship of a person to God, to themselves, to their fellows, and to their environment (p. 80).

“Obedience is the operative term for the establishment of a healthy shalom relationship between Yahweh and the worshiper. Contextually, the Hebrew use of shalom in Psalm 119:165 describes a state of well-being. This state consists of the relational nature of a properly ordered life of an individual with God that results in a healthy peaceful relationship with Him (p. 86).

*Savage, Joseph M. 2001. “Shalom and iIs Relationship to Health/Healing in the Hebrew Scriptures: A Contextual and Semantic Study of the Books of Psalms and Jeremiah.” PhD diss. Florida State University.

Also see the last chapter of this book of WCIU faculty, alumni, and student writings, The Goal of International Development: God’s Will on Earth as It Is in Heaven.: “Shalom: The Goal of the Kingdom and of International Development.”