Intro: U.S. health crisis, “salvation” and a Christian view of wellness

“Your Faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19

Too often we forget that the English word salvation, is actually a translation of the Greek word soteria, used in the New Testament. In Greek, the word applies to more than protection from harm, but also to health and well-being through Christ: the Healer (soter).

The medical profession started using the term wellness in the 1950 to describe conditions that promote optimal health. Today, Wellness constitutes an $8 billion a year global industry, promoting everything from Wellness branded shampoos to snake oil medicines.  But at its core, wellness tries to get at two critical long-term health problems in the West. The crisis of heart-disease and mild anxiety and depression in America.

Forget COVID-19, heart-related disease is the number one killer in America. Heart-related disease accounts for 25 percent of all deaths. Meanwhile a staggering 40 million adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders, nearly 20% of adults over 18 yrs. old. Anxiety and depression is by far, the most rampant mental disorder in the US.

The problem is a combination of lifestyle and environment. Unhealthy eating and physical inactivity are the leading cause of heart-related illness. Only 5% of American adults are physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, and only 20% of kids. Nearly 72% of Americans are overweight or obese.

Anxiety and Depression affect 20 percent of all adults in the U.S. Mindfulness practices have proven to be effective ways to combat and prevent these mental and emotional problems. A handful of Christian prayer practices fall into the category of “mindfulness”.

Anxiety and depression are harder to pin down. Stress is a driving force behind mild forms of anxiety and depression. We, in the US live in a hyperstimulated, hyper active culture, that may contribute to stress and anxiety. What we can say is that certain mental exercises known as mindfulness, meditation or contemplation, have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and make us more resilient to anxiety and depression. That is because these forms of mental exercise literally stretches our minds, producing neural plasticity, making it easier to cope with traumatic mental and emotional events.

Despite the unhealthy state of many Christians, we are called to life. God wants us to be healthy and to thrive. And the tools we need already exist in long forgotten Christian spiritual practices like fasting (no meat, no dairy Wed. and Friday) and contemplative prayer (medical science now referred to this as mindfulness).

“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life.” Matthew, 7.14. Note here that the word for life in Greek in this passage is zoe. The word bios, in Greek, means animated life, like biology. But zoe means more. It means alive-ness! God wants us to be more than just a life form. God wants us to feel alive! And that’s what wellness is all about.

Salvation, Soteria and Wellness

The funny thing is that what Christians normally refer to as Salvation, can also be translated as wellness. The word Soteria is the Greek word in the New Testament that has been translated into Salvation. But in Greek and in Latin the word means more than just protection from harm. It also means, wholeness, healing and yes, wellness. 

Christians were the first wellness-focused people. Christ the Savior, was Christ the soter, or healer, the bringer of wholeness to those in mind, body and spirit.

The data shows that changing daily habits is hard, and it really can only work with an engaged and supportive community, uh… like a church!

At PraXis we want to bring back this sense of Soteria, or Christian Wellness, not in the sense of spiritual salvation but in the sense of physical and mental aliveness and peace.  Christ can bring spiritual Soteria. But we humans can practice daily habits that cultivate a healthy body and mind, while at the same time, deepen our relationship with God. 

Christianity is a path that celebrates life. We are led by the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, to Salvation in Christ. Upon our baptism, the Holy Spirit literally came to dwell inside our bodies. And in this spirit, we should honor our bodies with daily practices that cultivate better bodily and mental health while bringing us closer to God: a Soteria or Wellness of mind, body and Holy Spirit.

Published by Cornelius Swart

Master in Public and Pastoral Leadership Fitness and Wellness Coach in Training 200 RYT Yoga Instructor (former journalist)

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