Health is the beating pulse of modern life. It is impossible to watch commercial TV or read a magazine without encountering ads for drugs designed to make our lives better. Alas, we are the consumer but do not have access to the medications except by demanding them from our health care providers. Every week I receive dozens of emails and print pieces from my own health insurer offering me help for my diabetes (which I do not have), weight loss programs (well, I probably could benefit from this), telehealth visits, virtual physical therapy, and the trackers for my exercise, vitality, and healthiness (or lack thereof). If I spent the time they expect on these programs, I would have little time for much else.
The high value to which our culture holds good health is obvious in our society. Of course, exercise is a good thing and so is good diet and taking care of your body. But as good as these are, are these the supreme goals and purposes of our lives? Is the supreme goal and purpose of this life a life well-lived or are their values higher than this? Is virtue still honored in the world around us? Are sacrifice and service still esteemed more than protecting your own life at all cost? We seem to be facing a near paralyzing anxiety about getting sick, now with COVID but what might come next, that are out of proportion to real risk, danger, or good living.
When Christian leaders begin to mirror the same preoccupation with health that is outsize of the values and purposes of our Christian vocation in the world and our Christian destiny in the resurrection to everlasting life in the world to come, something is wrong. There is nothing wrong with vaccines or safety precautions but there is something very wrong when these replace our hope and when we presume these to be the Gospel instead of the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. When our confidence moves from the promises of God and His presence in the worst that this life can offer to a healthy, well-lived life, lived on our terms, then we have sold our souls to the devil and turned the Gospel into another cheerleader for whatever prevails as science, health, or medicine today.
It is certainly a good thing to improve both the quality of our lives and their length. We ought to praise those whose medical advance have relieved suffering and restored people to a productive life but if we think that such a focus is benign we are foolish. Just as an abundance of wealth neither satisfies nor gives contentment, neither can an abundance of health fill our souls or make life worth living. There must be something more -- something that is not directed to or flowing from the moment. This is the Gospel whose voice is heard ONLY in the Church and, if not here, nowhere. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead but not every sick person in the world and not everyone who died. He did so not to echo the world's focus on the moment but to proclaim Him Lord of life and death AND resurrection. He used these miracles as signs of the kingdom fulfilled in His death and resurrection that deliver to us a death to sin and a resurrection from death to be His and be with Him forevermore.
So when Christian leaders jump on the latest news or direction for health and proclaim it as the hope or the law that guards the hope within us, Christ is not served, the purpose of the Church is lost, and we are left with only this life. And death. Yes, don't forget death. For we can postpone it but we cannot overcome it or find our way through it. Only God can and has done this in Christ. Sin must be answered. Death must be overcome. This is the Gospel -- that Jesus died to end the reign of sin and rose to vanquish our enemy death.
There may never be a COVID free world but I can say with certainty there will never be a world without some threat to our lives and health. We will probably have to learn to live with COVID in some form or another (the way we have lived with influenza and other viral threats along the way). We cannot pin people's hopes to a day which may never come. We cannot simply offer them the recycled words of political, scientific, and medical leaders. We must give them something to answer every threat because it answers the source of them -- sin -- and their power -- death. Only then can we as churches begin to fulfill our calling to be Christ in the world.