What if health is reduced to redefinition?

Our family brunches are usually educational. Yesterday, the family brushed the issue of gender assignment in children and did not think too much more about it. But the snippet stuck with me. I realized something: people do not have a right to be ill anymore!

In the quest to provide people comfort with who they think they are and with the condition they are presently in, we force them to be “well.” We increasingly take care of things that were formerly considered disordered (or sinful) by accepting them as they are. In effect, we redefine them as “well,” even if the person experiencing them feels unwell. These days, if you feel unwell, you may be pressured to accept yourself, even if you can’t really affirm your wellness. It is soul DIY to the nth degree. (This is not really a post about transgender children, but here is a discussion from the Globe with one of the experts, Ken Zucker).

Part of the push toward this new phenomenon, where 1.6% of San Francisco high schoolers will identify as transgender, stems from all the postmodern philosophy that is gradually reshaping assumptions and law. While I have no doubt that some teens have a fascinating and troubling discomfort with their own bodies or gender assignment (and usually their families!), I also know that they have less choice all the time other than accepting invasive and expensive reassignment techniques to make them comfortable with the selves they can (or now should) affirm.

Christians have similarly fascinating and troubling expressions of this same mentality. They are quickly becoming unable to experience the sin and suffering so basic to their redemption because redemption is being redefined as self-acceptance and, by “legal” extension, the demand that others accept us. For instance, when a fifty-something parent wants to talk to their daughter about moving in with her boyfriend, they may feel so uncomfortable bringing the issue up that they will not even talk about it. The rule is: self-identified comfort trumps any lack of acceptance from someone else. The parent knows that. Their daughter may, actually, feel secretly less-than-comfortable with following the new rules, but she might hesitate to let that be known because she is supposed to be able to affirm what is right for her without entertaining being unacceptable, which is wrong.

As a result of this quest to “find out who I am,” it seems to me that people jump into things about which they are unsure in the name of being true to themselves. They may actually be following a whim or a trend. Or they resist doing anything because they are frozen by anxiety-producing indecision. They may actually be deluded or over-confident in their data. I sound like I am describing an episode of Girls on HBO.  Maybe I am, since the twentysomethings on that show are super self-affirming, uniformly unhappy and resolutely, it would seem, godless, except to say “Jesus Christ” periodically in moments of frustration (Marnie). They do not have the right to be as ill as they are, or to deal with the problems they have. They are stuck saying, “That’s not me” all the time when they don’t know who is me.

As we are wandering through the exploration of this new era, usually latching on to work as a substitute for mentalizing, what are Jesus-followers going to do, who are enjoined to find their new selves in Christ? That true self is not going to arise from some predetermined brain function or innate genetic code, alone. It comes from relating to God who presents the fullness of God’s personhood in Jesus. “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:33). They may happen upon themselves by saying “That’s not me” enough until they trip over an inkling of who they truly are. But that seems unlikely to me if they cannot accept their illness, if they cannot deal with sin, and are committed to defining it away. If they accept all their illness or sin as “That’s just how I am” and seek all the help they can get to affirm it, they will be subject to such a deep lack of acceptance of their true self that they may never find it. As Jesus repeatedly said, “If you save your life, you’ll lose it.”

4 thoughts on “What if health is reduced to redefinition?

  1. Thanks for helping us consider our well being in a different light. Another musing: In medical and behavioral health professions, diagnosis definitions change frequently. I’m thinking about ICD-10 and DSM5, which got implemented this year. The definitions are purportedly based on research and professionals’ consensus. Since companies that develop treatment options influence the research and lobby over public opinions so heavily, I can’t help but think that those definitions change because of profitibility of treatment, not merely because of concerns about health.

    1. Absolutely. During my dissertation research I was amazed at the documentation showing how political pressure is behind many definitions. It is philosophy and profit, not pure science that is behind them quite often. Buyer beware.

  2. Thanks for this post. Your writing brings up some questions for me: Do I really have hope in Jesus’ resurrection? Do I really trust God for a supernatural reckoning with the overwhelming illnesses and sins I’d rather ignore? I’m encouraged by the story you spoke of yesterday in the meeting– a sick woman touched Jesus’ clothes and was healed. Here’s to getting closer to Christ, being honest about the healing we need.

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