One of the biggest problems with alternative, or holistic medicine is that it often takes the concept of 'taking responsibility for your health' a step too far.
Now, taking responsibility for your health is generally a great idea.
It's a no-brainer that the less junk food you eat, the less negative emotions you wallow in, the more you try to live the life that God designed you to have, the healthier and happier you'll generally feel.
This general philosophy of health underpins the whole 'New Age' movement, that's been behind much of the revival of holistic health practices, and at a very superficial level, it 'fits' the authentic Jewish idea found in the Gemara that 'there is no suffering without prior sin' very nicely.
BUT there is a huge caveat that changes the whole healthcare picture, namely that God can choose to send illness to any one of us, at any time.
God's still running the show
Nine times out of ten, the illness just comes as a wake-up call, to eat healthier, or to stop bottling-up our repressed negative emotions, or to work on improving ourselves, or our outlook, or our behaviour in some way.
But the tenth time?
The tenth time is pure Divine providence, or to put it another way, just because God said so.
Breslev Rabbi Ofer Erez explains that sometimes, a person has to go through excrutiating tests of faith that are just part of that soul's particular spiritual destiny, and there is nothing a person can do to avoid them.
'New Agers' often like to make out that if you eat all the right foods, exercise regularly and keep a positive mindset, ill-health can't touch you with a barge-pool. And nine times out of ten, I think that's probably right.
But the tenth time? The tenth time is just because God said so.
It doesn't help to start blaming people for getting sick
When you don't have God in the picture, it becomes all too easy to start blaming people for their troubles, which is the infamous 'New Age Guilt'.
"You got sick because you ate McDonalds every day! You got sick because you smoke! You got sick because you've been secretly fuming at your mother for decades!"
And often, that's true. But here's the thing: outsiders never have the full picture of what's really going on with someone else. God gives us permission to work out the messages He's hiding in everything, including our illnesses, FOR OURSELVES, not for other people.
When it's myself, I have to assume that 'there is no suffering without prior sin', and try to work out which bad habit, negative emotion, or unhelpful (and often subconscious) belief God wants me to work on, in order to get well again.
When it's someone else, I have to assume that the only reason they're sick is just because God said so, and to make every effort to not get all arrogant about all the green juices I'm drinking, and all the sprouted spelt I'm eating, and all the big mitzvahs I'm keeping.
Getting the balance right
It's a very difficult balance, like everything else in 2015. On the one hand, we have the Western Medical approach that likes to pretend that ill-health is purely biological or chemical - ie, germs, genes and environment - which takes God completely out of the picture and gives people carte blanche to act however they want, without thinking of the consequences.
On the other hand, the holistic health scene rightly makes a lot of the connections between illness and emotional issues and bad, self-damaging behaviour - which as we've mentioned, is much closer to the Gemara's idea of 'there is no suffering without prior sin' - but neglects to connect all that good stuff back to God.
The result: New Age Guilt, aka blaming people for being, well, less than 100% perfect people.
There's always so much more to say about this subject, and God willing, I'll come back to it again.
But for now, let's sum it up like this: if the reason you're sick is because you're eating bad food, or doing stuff to yourself or others that isn't good for you, or you're pretending to be someone you aren't - then as soon as you recognise the underlying problem and start to work on it, the illness will probably ameliorate all by itself.
If the reason you're sick is that rare instance of 'just because God said so' - then you can take all the drugs in the world, undergo all the surgery, eat all the organic vegetables you want, and religiously act by the book - and the sickness or illness will remain, until God decides otherwise.
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