This past week, I began a four-week lecture series in a local church's Sunday School class. The parish, a significant portion of which is comprised of doctors and lawyers, had requested a class in Christian bioethics.
Believing they were expecting a four-week class in "which side to come down on" ethics, and hoping to problematize their approach somewhat, I decided to focus on biblical portrayals of health and sickness for the first three weeks of the class. We won't get to "Issues in contemporary medicine" until the last week.
The first class focused on Old Testament depictions of health. I depended heavily on observations by Norman Wirzba and Ellen Davis on the holistic nature of the Hebrew concept of Shalom--a concept that included human health, of course, but also the health of the land, of the people's relationship to its God, of the politics of the people, and of interpersonal relationships among the people. Not just health, but justice, mercy, forgiveness, love, economic responsibility, and environmental stewardship are encompassed in the biblical concept of health and wholeness.
We looked at texts like Isaiah 65 and Leviticus 26 to ground our understanding of God's desire for all of creation to share in God's Shalom. I'm hoping that they begin to see that "health," as we moderns understand it (i.e., the absence of pathology in an individual body), is a paltry substitute for Shalom.