Disability & Rare Disease, God

When Faith Meets Rare Disease Advocacy

World Rare Disease Day is upon us – a day for raising awareness of rare diseases and disorders in hopes of sparking research and better treatment.

I’m one of the millions of rare disease warriors worldwide supporting such efforts. For the past few years, I have been active with the organization leading research for my disorder. I want my disorder to be better understood and treated.

I’m also a Christian. I believe that, regardless of whether we are healed in this life, our bodies will be resurrected in an immortal state at Christ’s second coming. I also believe that spiritual health is more important than physical health. These are core tenets of my faith.

How does a focus on spiritual health and belief in the Resurrection fit with rare disease advocacy? Why would anyone with such a worldview bother pursuing physical betterment in this life, for others or themselves?

Here are a few thoughts:

Christ healed when He was on earth. Healing was a large part of Jesus’ ministry. When religious leaders questioned whether He should heal on a holy day, He responded that healing is an act of good and a means of saving human life, and thus appropriate for a day dedicated to honoring God, the source of life and goodness. On another occasion, He identified healing as a sign that God’s reign was coming to earth through Him, the promised Messiah.

The ability to heal is a God-given gift. When the apostle Paul talks about spiritual gifts – abilities bestowed upon believers by God’s Holy Spirit for the common good – he includes the ability to heal, alongside things like prophecy and teaching. Although we Westerners tend to view modern medicine as less miraculous than the feats of healing described in the Bible, medical advances are nonetheless gifts entrusted to us. Our Creator continues to give us new insight and tools for better health through scientific research. And these tools are no less miraculous just because we can trace their origins and the logic behind them.

We are called to honor God with our bodies. When asked which command God deems most important, Jesus pointed to Deuteronomy 6:5 – “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (NIV) In other words, we are to love God with our entire being – emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. Paul calls our bodies God’s temples. Caring for our bodies and seeking their well-being is thus a sign of respect for our Lord and Maker.

Physical health is an opportunity for ministry. On one level, our bodies allow us to communicate with and serve each other – abilities that we should steward well. On another, the act of improving someone’s bodily well-being can serve as an expression of love – an opportunity for that person and others to glimpse God’s goodness and life-giving authority.  By meeting physical needs, we point to the ultimate Provider who values and cares about the needs of every person.

Is it possible to go too far in our quest to solve all health problems? How do we pursue physical, here-and-now healing without losing sight of the promise of the Resurrection and the paramount value of the spirit?

We can take our cue from Christ Himself. Christ always addressed spiritual issues, not just physical ones. His mission was to connect people with their Maker, and that was the aim of everything He did, including healing. And He did everything in a God-honoring way, so that people could clearly see God through Him.

Likewise, we should always prioritize spiritual needs and acting in God-honoring ways. We must remember that a full life is not necessarily a long, healthy one. Nor does a healthy body automatically lead to a healthy spirit. And a person’s value isn’t determined by how healthy they are. Physical well-being isn’t worth compromising spiritual welfare, morality, and ethics.

We must also remember that physical health is a resource, a means to an end – not the end. The end is God’s glorification, where He receives the credit He is due and holds His proper place in everything. It is He who ultimately holds authority over life, just as He does over everything else.

Yes, these bodies will be resurrected. If they can be healthy now, great – the easier to attend to the important task of spreading God’s Good News. If not, that’s okay. We can still participate in the gospel work. Maybe even more powerfully so, because suffering and weakness are platforms for displaying God’s power and grace.

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