Reaching the Whole Person
The day started as did most in the life of a busy family physician. Along with other duties, I had also scheduled a surgery for that particular morning. The patient was new in the small-town rural community we served during our first years in mission service. As I was leaving home, the ring of the telephone signaled an emergency that needed attention prior to the elective surgical procedure. I called the hospital and told them I would be arriving a few minutes late, but that I would be there by the time the patient had been prepared and anesthesia induced.
I arrived at the hospital, and as I scrubbed for surgery I casually asked if the patient was already asleep. The nervous nurse encouraged me to see for myself. Imagine my surprise to find the anesthetist, the operating room nurse, and the assistants standing next to a wide-awake patient lying on the table!
When I asked why the patient was not yet anesthetized, the retort from my colleagues was: “Ask the patient yourself!” I did.
The patient was a friendly person with a genuine smile that penetrated the veil of the premedication. She responded: “I’ve been told that you always pray with your patients before you perform surgery, and I would not allow your colleagues to start the anesthetic before you prayed with me.”
I did, of course, pray with her. The occasion turned into a wonderful opportunity to witness to both the patient and my colleagues—illustrating the heaven-ordained method and approach to reaching the whole person.
We Are Wholistic Beings
Health is so inextricably intertwined in all that we do and are that it seems germane to our being Seventh-day Adventists. God demonstrated His interest in the health of His people from creation. He created a magnificent environment to sustain the well-being of His creatures. He provided a nutritious diet, fresh air, pure water, and opportunity for exercise as our parents tended the garden. He cared for their spiritual health, and walked and talked with them in the cool of the evening.
From the beginning, spirituality and health have been intertwined. Even after the Fall, the Flood, and the Egyptian captivity, God demonstrated His concern for the health of His people by giving them specific directives regarding health. These protected them against many of the diseases that ravaged the Egyptians and others.
In the fullness of time God modeled wholistic development in the life of our Lord Jesus. Scripture confirms that “the child [Jesus] grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him” (Luke 2:40). “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (verse 52). Here the physician, Luke, correlates the physical, emotional, mental, and social, and demonstrates the wholistic Being in whose image we have been created.
God, in His gracious love, emphasized that we are wholistic beings through the health message to this church through Ellen White. The vision given in Otsego, Michigan, on June 6, 1863, brought the clarion message that it is a spiritual duty to care for the body temple, and the wholistic integration of body, mind, and spirit was clearly confirmed. These same principles have stood the test of time and the scrutiny of science. The principles of rest, sunshine, balanced nutrition, trust in God, exercise, temperance, and breathing pure, fresh air are aimed at maintaining balanced wholeness.
The Otsego vision emphasized that the primary purpose of taking care of our health is to enable us to serve God and our fellow beings. We will enjoy better health, but this health is not the end in itself. We are saved to serve, as Ellen White wrote: “We have come to a time when every member of the church should take hold of medical missionary work. The world is a lazar house filled with victims of both physical and spiritual disease. Everywhere people are perishing for lack of a knowledge of the truths that have been committed to us. The members of the church are in need of an awakening, that they may realize their responsibility to impart these truths.”1
This was true then, and is even more urgently true today. This is a call to comprehensive health ministry, personally and corporately as a church, graciously sharing and caring while preaching, teaching, healing, and discipling.
Purpose of the Wholistic Health Message
The wholistic health message, firmly grounded on biblical understanding and inspired revelation, addresses the fundamental issues of the human existence: disease and resulting suffering. Although important, this refers not only to diet. Ellen White outlines the purpose of health reform: “In teaching health principles, keep before the mind the great object of reform—that its purpose is to secure the highest development of body and mind and soul. Show that the laws of nature, being the laws of God, are designed for our good; that obedience to them promotes happiness in this life, and aids in the preparation for the life to come.”2
The health message is God-centered, which transforms it from information about health into a fully integrated philosophy of health. There is a moral component to being stewards of this wholistic gift of life, as Paul illustrates: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
We are sustained and healed by the power of God. Any wholeness we enjoy comes from Him. Through His grace, we can even enjoy wholeness in our brokenness. Paul records this when, in his brokenness, he is assured by the Lord: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”
(2 Cor. 12:9).
Even in our brokenness, “our first duty toward God and our fellow beings is that of self-development. Every faculty with which the Creator has endowed us should be cultivated to the highest degree of perfection, that we may be able to do the greatest amount of good of which we are capable.”3
As we develop into our full potential, our service to God will be multifaceted, truly caring for all the needs of the human experience. An important component of sharing any message is the actual modeling of the principles taught. This is Christ’s method in practice. There is mingling, caring, sympathizing, ministering to the needs, and then encouraging people to follow Jesus.
What Does “Reaching the Whole Person” Look Like?
Throughout the Bible we find unforgettable examples of God’s reaching the whole person. He gave Israel a moral law and completed the circle by providing lifesaving health instructions. The ultimate revelation of whole-person care was demonstrated in the life, ministry, and miracles of Jesus. The Savior had compassion for the weary and tired (Matt. 9:36). He miraculously fed the hungry masses (Matt. 14:15-20) and urged His disciples to give a cup of cold water (Matt. 10:42). He restored the demoniac to a state where he was clothed, in his right mind, and sitting at His feet (Luke 8:35).
As a church, we have been blessed with the knowledge of how to live life to the full. It is our sacred duty to care for the body temple, and then to spend and be spent in service to a broken world, crying out for a grace-filled revelation of Jesus through His followers. As wholistic beings, we should honor Him in body, mind, and spirit to “preserve every power in the best condition for highest service to God and man.”4
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 7, p. 62.
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 146.
- Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 107.
- E. G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 319.