How Physical Health and Mental Health Affect Spiritual Health

Dr. Tim AllchinFor Those Giving Help1 Comment

If you grew up in a church like mine, you often heard about the need to pursue a healthy spiritual walk.

This was often defined by actions such as reading your Bible, participating in church, living a generally moral life, and sharing your faith within our modern culture.

Rarely did we ever hear that caring for our physical health was a spiritual virtue. We certainly never heard that eating a diet of junk food was just as foolish as the young man led astray with wine or women, or that failing to get routine medical tests and care was unloving to those that love you.

At times, we would hear about how our body could tempt one to sin, whether through lust, gluttony, or addiction, but we didn’t hear about caring for our bodies and recognizing them as God’s gift to us.

The Importance of Physical Health

In recent months, our staff has been thinking about ways to update our biblical counseling training and discuss more deeply the role that our physical body plays in fulfilling the purposes for which God put us on earth.

Romans calls us to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice” to God. In other words, we don’t live to please our bodily desires but live for God’s purposes.

We might flesh that out as we challenge husbands to exert themselves selflessly and sacrificially as they love their wives, likewise as mothers raise their children and cultivate a home atmosphere of peace. For deacons to care for widows, it takes physical health and strength.

It is one thing if someone’s health is poor through no fault of their own, but it is unwise to pretend that many health issues are not preventable.

If the goal of counseling is wisdom and maturity to respond to life’s struggles, then good counseling will address how someone is caring for their physical bodies and the spiritual worship that is helped or hindered by that care. I think most Christians would agree with this paragraph, even if their physical health choices haven’t been the best, they would agree that pursuing good physical health is important.  

The Interaction with Mental Health

Just as we would advocate for physical health, so we ought to also think about mental health. A common definition we use is “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.” [1]

But that raises an interesting question: how preventable are mental health concerns? Further, how much of mental health concerns are really medical or physiological problems? In other words, how much of mental health concerns can actually be treated by a doctor effectively?

It’s a tough question and one that doesn’t have simple answers. Recent research has led to vigorous debates on the following questions about the most common medical diagnosis:

·      How well do anti-depressants really minimize depression?

·      Does EMDR effectively calm anxiety?

·      Can nutraceuticals help mitigate the propensity towards OCD?

·      Can diet and exercise more effectively treat ADHD?

To answer those questions is well beyond the scope of this article, but they illustrate the importance of understanding what is primarily physiological versus what is primarily learned thought processes.

In every major category of mental illness, there is something more going on than simply a body experiencing a body issue. How we think, feel, and act involves far more than how optimal our brain serotonin levels are or how effective our thyroids regulate a certain aspect of our mood. Doctors have concluded that there is a significant impact from health issues on the ways we think, feel, and act, but from a Christian perspective, we know that our spiritual life impacts these areas in a great way as well.

Providing Spiritual Care to Those in Need

We hosted a webinar with Dr. Charles Hodges entitled, “What’s Medical About Mental Illness?” It may be a provocative title, but it’s an even more important question for these two reasons.

First, all Christians are called to have a heart of compassion that leads us to provide restorative medical care for those who are suffering physically, including mental illness. We recognize that many people are suffering and desire more churches to get involved in providing care. Second, this question calls us to clarify whether mental illness is rightly seen as medical in cause and needs to be treated medically. What kind of care is most effective in helping those who deal with mental health struggles without a clear physiological cause?   

Dr. Charles Hodges recently edited a book called the “Christian Counselors Medical Desk Reference” [2] that seeks to answer medical questions as it relates to physical and mental health and serves as a resource for those wrestling with this question who also have a spiritual perspective. The book is controversial in that it challenges all counselors and doctors to consider how the Bible would have us respond to many of the medical challenges in life.

Many doctors and counselors don’t take the time to listen to the stories of their patients and focus only on the body, but this book reminds us that physical health and mental illness are not entirely physical – we have to take the time to listen to the story. It also gives a good reminder that physical health and mental illness are not entirely spiritual – we all have a limited body that will break down.

The Bible calls us to seek good medical care, and it also calls us to seek biblical guidance and strength from God Himself to fight the battles of life.  



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