I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller the other day about idols and epidesires (“over desires,” from the Greek word epithemia). Keller defined them as anything that if you lost it, would make you not want to live.
My initial reaction was “I’m not attached to anything that strongly,” since I’ve read his book Counterfeit Gods in which he illustrates this point with examples of CEOs and CFOs that committed suicide after the stock market tanked in 2008. I am definitely not attached to money, fame or success like that.
But since I admit my status as a sinner and try to catch myself when I start thinking I’m “above” anything, I thought about this idea more. There had to be something in my life that was an epidesire.
And then I figured it out: my health.
I love being active. I spend many hours a week exercising. Travis and I like to do active things together. If I stop being active for even a week, I feel like a blob and am itching to get back at it.
I also have to admit that I love being a healthy weight. I can easily find clothes in my size, I (for the most part) like the way I look, and can wear a bikini with just a smidge of self-consciousness. (I don’t think I’d be human if I had none!)
One of my biggest motivators for staying active and eating healthy, though, is the desire to avoid major health issues and be able to hike and run when I’m 70 (like I see so many elderly people doing out here in Colorado!). I don’t want to have diabetes or take 20 minutes to walk 10 feet. I want to run around with my grandchildren, go swimming at the lake, and enjoy life!
So, what if all that changed? What if I had to take a medication that caused me to gain 20, or 50, pounds? What if I got into an accident and lost the use of my legs? What if I got breast cancer, like so many other women do, and had to have a complete mastectomy?
Would I still want to live?
Would I still rejoice at life and be joyful? Or would I pity myself? Based on my track record, I’m guessing the latter.
Like everything in life, there’s a line between health being a good thing, and it being an ultimate thing. That’s what Tim Keller is getting at when he talks about epidesires. It’s good to want to be healthy, to be good stewards of our bodies through diet and exercise, and to be consistently mindful of those things. God created our bodies to function best when they’re used through physical activity and fed with natural foods.
But it’s easy for health to turn into an ultimate thing. How many sleep-deprived mornings have made me angry, assuming that my lack of sleep was going to make me sick? How many days does my harsh assessment of my body shape make me feel depressed and unhappy? How many times have I felt superior to people who aren’t healthy and in shape?
The truth is, we’re not in control of our health. We can direct its general course, but God has the ultimate say. One of our friends (who I have mentioned on here before) was a non-smoker but just got diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Life — and our health — are fragile.
Same thing with body shape — we can keep our weight at a healthy level and develop muscle by strength training. But we can’t alter our body shape. That was determined by God when He knit us together in the womb. (Something I need to be reminded about often!)
Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t a get-out-of-cancer-free card. It’s not a guarantee from God that we’re never going to get sick, be hospitalized, or lose the use of some of our faculties. Our bodies are like the rest of the world: falling apart. This whole world is falling apart. It wasn’t meant to last.
I sometimes get frustrated at the transient nature of things. Happy moments don’t last. A clean house doesn’t last. The pristine condition of something new doesn’t last. Everything ends, falls apart, breaks, or gets beat up. That’s the nature of the world we live in.
I am learning to let those frustrations push me into the glorious hope of heaven, “where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal,” instead of into a bitter mood or cynical outlook. Because of what Christ has done, when we find a new wrinkle, or lumps where before there were none, or we don’t have the endurance or speed or flexibility we once had, instead of lamenting our demise into old age, we can glory in our hope of being raised with imperishable bodies. I’ll end with this extended quote from 1 Corinthians 15:
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body… The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.