Investigator 57 1997 November
 
 

THE BIBLE HELPS YOUR HEALTH

(Investigator 57,  1997 November)

Anonymous
 

INTRODUCTION

To reach your top potential in emotional and physical well-being refer to the Bible and go to Church.

Health-promoting discoveries of 20th century medical science confirm what the Bible taught 2000-and-more years ago.

The Old Testament says that Israel would have high population growth and low sickness rates when obedient to God. (Deuteronomy 7:15; 8:1; Psalm 34)

In Proverbs it says:

My son, be attentive to my words… For they are life to him who finds them, and healing to all his flesh.
 The New Testament similarly teaches that obedience to God relates to health and happiness. For example:
He that would love life and see good days… let him turn away from evil and do right; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous.   (1Peter 3:10-12)

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in health…  For I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life, as indeed you do follow the truth.  (3 John 2-3)

Yet a woman will be saved through bearing children.  (1 Timothy 2:15)

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10)

We can therefore search the Bible for clues on  health.

There is much more on offer than the advice,  "Use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments."
 

STUDIES

People who practice faith are healthier than people who don't. This was the conclusion of an American study by medical sociologist Kenneth Ferraro. (1991)   Data on responses from 1,473 people was controlled to allow for education, income and age. According to Ferraro,  "Religion was having a surprising effect.  It proved to be nearly as significant as age and social class."

A separate study of 1,077 students by Professor W Oleckno and Michael J Blacconiere of Chicago was published in 1991.  It was found that frequency of church attendance and strength of religious commitment correlated positively with measures of  "wellness" such as fewer illnesses and less use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.

Reader's Digest says: "Growing evidence links belief in God to better physical health. In 22 studies,  frequent churchgoers had lower rates of a variety of illness."  (Browder 1995)

The book Religion in Aging and Health  edited by Jeffrey S Levin surveys over 200 published studies covering the past 1½ centuries. Again many correlations showed up between religion and health. Levin analysed these studies and concluded that epidemiologists failed to interpret their own data  and so missed out on knowing about the importance of religion to health!

There are a lot of chemical links between the brain and the immune system. Levels of immune cells which destroy bacteria and heal tissue-damage correlate with levels of neuropeptides produced in the brain's emotion controlling centre – the limbic system.  Pleasant emotions and feelings therefore lead to a stronger immune system and hence faster healing and more effective prevention of sickness. Pleasant emotions also promote the release of endorphins – natural chemicals which like opiates reduce pain.


SOCIALISING

People have a need for social contact. Simply being with others on a regular basis reduces a range of stressful emotions including anxiety, boredom, doubt, fear and loneliness. (Middlebrook 1974)  Reliable networks of relationships also lead to quicker answers and feedback in questions and problems.

One factor therefore influencing the greater wellness of religious people is socialising.

Science magazine reported:

Social relationships, or the relative lack thereof, constitute a major risk factor for health.  (1988 July 29)
According to J Poppy in  Esquire (1989 May)  a 14-year study of 2,750 people in Tecumseh (Michigan, USA), showed that close relationships increases life expectancy.

The article Your Mind’s Healing Power (Reader’s Digest 1989 November pp. 33-36) referred to studies which showed that:
1  Socially active people tend to live longer than less active, separated, widowed and single people;
2  Confiding in others has long term psychological and physical benefits.

The Bible in harmony with these findings teaches treating each other as family and attending meetings. (Hebrews 10:24-25)  It  also says:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

Therefore confess your sins to one another,  and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  (James 5:16)

It is well known that  "A problem shared is a problem halved" and that this reduces stress. Pennebaker & Susman (1988) showed that confiding in friends and people you trust adds to your general well-being and health.

Pennebaker et al (1987) concluded: "We have demonstrated that the disclosure of important personal events has physical and psychological benefits."

Research in the 1950s showed that laboratory animals which are petted have lower blood pressure and live longer than animals getting no attention.  A hug in humans or a caring touch reduces depression, raises the haemoglobin level, boosts the immune system, improves sleep, gives a sense of elation and speeds recovery if you are sick or injured.

Paul the Apostle wrote,  "Greet one another with a holy kiss."  And the Old Testament says, "There is a time to embrace."

If you don't go to church try for similar boosts to your health by hugging your friends!


ALTRUISM and ETHICS

Obedience to Biblical ethics – rules and guidelines on right and wrong – effects health.

Reader’s Digest had an article on The healing power of doing good  by E R Growald & A Luks.

Dean Ornish of the University of California Medical Center specialises in internal medicine and wrote the book Stress, Diet and Your Health.  Dr Ornish has concluded that unselfish acts toward others promotes health and healing in yourself. He gets heart-attack patients who dislike each other to do each other’s laundry.  He says that helpful actions reduce cholesterol levels and chest pains. (Juan 1990)

Doing good reduces stress, raises your self esteem because you've been useful, gives you a "warm" feeling, and causes release of pain-reducing endorphins. This happy mood makes the brain release neuropeptides which in turn raise the production of white blood cells.

The Bible teaches doing good to each other and to strangers:

See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.
(1 Thessalonians 5:15)
The Golden Rule "do unto others"  (Matthew 7:12) and Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) therefore have more relevance than previously thought!  These sayings not only inspire a lot of charitable work – which itself is health promoting and life saving in recipients – but promote better health in the do-gooder too!

One "good" in particular to do for others – which affects one's own health – is speak the truth. Telling lies is bad for your health, according to a psychotherapist and author of a new book that outlines a "truth therapy" plan that works on both physical and mental health.

Brad Blanton, author of Radical Honesty says people with notable stress disorders such as ulcers, insomnia and spastic colitis are worse liars than normal people. (Sunday Mail 1997 April 27 page 22)

The Bible has numerous commands to be truthful and commands against telling lies.  For example:

Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbour. (Ephesians 4:25)

Do not lie to one another. (Colossians 3:9)


  ANGER

Reader's Digest says "hostility and anger can be fatal" and  "cynical mistrust of others" raises risks of coronary heart disease. The article recommended, "Assert yourself positively" and "Practice forgiveness."  (1990 April p. 46)

In the 1960s and 1970s some psychologists advocated  "ventilating your rage" and "getting it off your chest." As a kettle might explode if the steam is not released, the reasoning went, so a person might damage himself if he traps his anger inside himself. In Cosmopolitan we read, "The only way we can cease to be victims of our own anger is to let it out." (1983 October p. 83)

Psychologist Carol Tavris, in contrast, wrote,  "In fact, studies show that 'getting it off your chest' only makes you angrier." (1982) Regularly "blowing your top" releases tension and this rewarding aspect can make it a habit. The result can be bowel problems a strained heart and poor decision-making. And of course if you  easily "let fly", others may respond similarly toward you creating a vicious circle that leads to fights.

Alternatively, to not display anger when someone hurts you  but instead letting your anger simmer as resentment is not good either. The bad feelings decrease your immune response and leave you with increased vulnerability to colds, flu and perhaps cancer.

Acute anger when something hurtful happens to you, or you observe needless hurt to others, is normal. The emotion is expressed and soon over. Jesus expressed anger over commercialism in the Temple and over self-promoting double standards of religious leaders.

Hans Eysenck of the Institute of Psychiatry in London conducted studies spanning 20 years and showed that either extreme – regular rage or simmering resentment – is bad for you.

This conclusion is reflected in the Bible  which emphasizes that we avoid "bitterness and wrath and anger" (Ephesians 4:31) but also permits us to be "slow to anger":

A man of quick temper acts foolishly, but a man of discretion is patient.   (Proverbs 14:17)

He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.  (Proverbs 14:29)

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. (Proverbs 15:18)

This Biblical approach to anger is regularly taught in churches and is the scientific choice for a healthier, longer life.


ANXIETY

J A C Brown in The Social Psychology of Industry (1954) listed about 20 illnesses linked to emotional stress such as anxiety. These illnesses included  high blood pressure, duodenal and gastric ulcer, angina pectoris, asthma, migraine, hypertension, diabetes, skin diseases, lumbago, etc.

Jesus counselled:

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have its own anxieties. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.  (Matthew 6:25-34
Psychological research has shown that chronic worriers not only imagine lots of gloomy outcomes compared to non worriers but tend also to think their imaginary gloomy futures will happen.

 In church people learn and practice to:

Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22)

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)


EXERCISE

Do you exercise? 

The Bible says: "Bodily training is of some value." (1 Timothy 4:8) The phrase "walk with God" suggests a positive attitude to the activity of walking. In Old Testament times dancing was part of worship  and some churches still encourage dancing during worship. The prophet Elijah once ran from Mount Carmel to Jezreel, the same distance as the marathon in the Olympic games! (1 Kings 18)

Exercise does not need to be vigorous to benefit you. The Bible in the book of Proverbs criticizes "lazy" people who don't do enough work to support themselves. Right from the start the first man, according to the Bible, was instructed to  "subdue the earth". (Genesis 1:28)

A Reader's Digest article titled  Fitness Without Exercise said, "even mild physical activity is helpful in countering the effects of a bad diet or in lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure."  The article cited a study of 17,000 university students and another study of 13,344 people which showed that moderate activity using 8,400 kilojoules per week gave significant protection against heart disease.

Besides the long term benefits to physical health, regular exercise elevates the moods during the exercise and for a day or two afterwards. The elevated moods  in turn promote health as explained previously.


HOPE  AND  HAPPINESS

Your Mind's Healing Power,  already referred to,  cited evidence showing that optimism fights disease. The second strongest disease fighting attitude is happiness/joy.

New Scientist reports that women with a history of depression have lower bone density and therefore a high risk of bone fractures in later life. (1996 October 19 p. 11)

The Bible and therefore Christian churches put great emphasis on both optimism (called "hope" in the Bible) and happiness. The words hope and happy / joy / joyful / joyfully / rejoice occur hundreds of times in the Bible. For example:

"A righteous man sings and rejoices."  Proverbs 29:6)
"And we are writing this that our joy may be complete."  (1 John 1:4)
"Rejoice in your hope ..."  (Romans 12:12)
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy ..."  (Romans 15:13)


LAUGH AND CRY FOR HEALTH

Children laugh 400 times per day,  adults 15 times.

Many American hospitals have humour rooms where patients read funny books, watch funny films and exchange jokes.

Laughter reduces pain and stress, increases resistance to infection and alleviates emotional problems. Laughter does this by stimulating the blood circulation and the release of the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. Laughter triggers secretion of adrenaline which acts on the pituitary to release adrenocorticotropic hormone which in turn stimulates the adrenal cortex of the kidneys to release cortisol which has anti inflammation properties. Laughter also stimulates release of endorphins – chemicals with pain relieving properties like opiates – from the hypothalamus.

According to David Garlick of the University of New South Wales School of Physiology: "There can be a release of brain substances as well as body hormones which may lead to an improvement in the immune system." (The Advertiser 1992 August 21)

Laughter is also a mini workout which elevates mood and reduces tension similar to exercise.

In Proverbs 17:22 we read, "A cheerful heart is a good medicine."  Some churches include humour and laughter in worship.

Laughter as medicine is now a common topic in magazines. A few examples:

Besides laughing people need to cry occasionally:

The  Time reference says: "The notion that men should not display their emotions in public, and most specifically that they should not shed tears, was enshrined during the 19th century in the Spartan code of English public schools, which popularized the doctrine of the stiff upper lip..." (p.68)

Tears wash stress-causing chemicals out of the body. Researchers found different concentrations of proteins in tears caused by irritants like chopped onions  than in tears accompanying emotional upheaval. Suppress your tears often and you risk stress related illnesses – ulcers, asthma, heart problems.

Jesus wept! (John 11:35) People sometimes cry at church services – as part of repentance and sometimes out of joy.

The Bible gets it right when it says:

For everything there is a season, and a time for everything under heaven: …a time to weep, and a time to laugh. (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)


MUSIC AND SONG

David (better known for killing Goliath) played the lyre and so:

Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.  (1 Samuel 16:14-23; 18:10-11)
Music in therapy has occasionally been discussed since the 18th century. The idea received emphasis after use on shell-shock cases in World War 1.

By the 1970s professional training was available in England, USA and Germany. The British Journal of Music Therapy  appeared quarterly and hundreds of hospitals had music therapists. Australia had an Association for Music Therapy. Research on, and work with, music therapy was done for alcohol and drug addiction, the mentally ill and handicapped, the emotionally disturbed, delinquents and autistic children.

Music in Geriatric Care (Ruth Bright) was published in 1972. In July 1974 the German periodical Der Spiegel  had an article  Musik als Pille which mentioned benefits of music for autism, lethargy, and breathing and muscle tone.

In  Reader's Digest (1992 September) David Mazie wrote on Music’s Surprising Power to Heal.  Music reduces pain in rehabilitation and is effective in treating depression, emotional and physical handicaps, and neurological disorders.

The Old Testament teaches:

Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
(Psalm 98:5-6)
Music and singing is part of almost every church service!

When churches follow the New Testament instruction to "sing and make melody" (Ephesians 5:19) it's health promoting.
 

 

OTHER  CHRISTIAN  HELPS  TO HEALTH

Most of my discussion on helps to your health through church and Bible has centred on emotional factors.

Many churches also oppose smoking, heavy drinking of alcohol and use of non-medicinal drugs. The Biblical reason is:

Do you not know that you people are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
If this is so then:
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
Associating with like-minded people, plus prayer, gives Christians greater motivation to give up "every defilement". Just as well because Brown (1994) wrote,
"Tobacco kills one smoker in two."
And New Scientist reported that sperm damage in fathers who smoke heavily is responsible for "15 per cent of all childhood cancers". (1996 December 21/28 p. 12)

Many churches teach and promote good eating habits. An article on  Bible Tucker is Good Tucker was published in Investigator No. 53.  A reference not there mentioned is:

Doctors from the Imperial Cancer research Fund and the Medical Research Council recorded the eating habits of nearly 11,000 Britons and followed their health records over an average period of 17 years. The results show there were almost one third fewer deaths from strokes among those who ate fresh fruit daily. (The Advertiser 1996 September 28 p. 15)
Fruit is among food mentioned favorably in the Bible! (Genesis 1:29; 3:2)

The Bible and churches which follow the Bible also teach healthy morality in sexual conduct. The article in Investigator 48 The Bible, Science and Sex Relationships started: "Do you agree that long life, good health, good relationships and good feelings are goods worth having? The sciences of medicine, psychology and statistics prove that living by the Bibles moral standards promotes the attainment of these goods."

The article went on to prove that this claim is correct.

And what about that phrase  "saved through bearing children"? (1 Timothy 2:15) This apparently does not mean that Christian women will be saved by bearing children but rather they will come safely through the procedure. Some interpreters say the scripture refers to the woman's faith being preserved or "saved" during childbirth – perhaps through less trouble with post natal depression.

Others compare 1 Timothy 2:15 with Exodus 23:25-26 and literally anticipate easier, safer childbirth. If this latter understanding is correct it would still not be a 100% guarantee. No general advice in the Bible is a 100% guarantee of favourable outcomes in this life because:

Time and chance happen to them all.  (Ecclesiastes 9:11)
Advice and clues to health in the Bible are such as to improve your chances of living healthily if you obey – but without making success certain.

Najman et al (1988) compared pregnancy outcomes of sect members,  mainstream Christians, and infrequent church attenders. The conclusion based on 6,566 women was that:
"The sect members appeared to have the most favourable health, lifestyles and healthy babies at delivery."


CONCLUSIONS

Hartwig (1993)  wrote on  For Good Health, Go to Church.  Citing research by David Larson a psychiatrist and government researcher,  Hartwig concluded: "Scientific studies suggest that religious commitment offers some major health benefits."

I have shown what some of those health benefits are and how they come about. Skeptics who want longer, healthier lives in which to criticize the Bible should heed the Bible's clues to health.

For improved and longer-lasting health  go to church and follow your Bible!
 


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anonymous Bible Tucker Is Good Tucker,  Investigator,  January 1997, No. 53,   pp. 31-38

Bloom, P  The Healing Power Of Music,  Simply Living,  Volume 3, No. 10,  pp 33-38

Bright, R  1972 Music in Geriatric Care,  Angus And Robertson  Australia

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Brown, J A C 1954 The Social Psychology of Industry, 1970 printing,  Penguin,  p. 260

Brown,  P  Tobacco kills one smoker in two,  New Scientist,  October 15, 1994,  p. 4

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Dunne, P  Men, Women And Tears,  Time (Australia)  September 30, 1991,  p. 68

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Ferraro, K F et al Does religion influence adult health? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, June 1991,  Volume 30 (2)  pp 193-202

Fricker, J 1993 Why laughter is the best medicine, Focus , May 1993,  pp 12-15

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