“the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” Psalm 19
You got to love this story.
In the mid-80s, a doctor in San Francisco General Hospital’s coronary-care unit, Randolph Byrd, M.D., very closely monitored the progress of two sets of heart patients in the hospital’s care. By design, one group was the subject of intensive intercessory prayer, prayers the patients themselves were not even aware of, prayers undertaken by people the patients didn’t even know. The other group, sadly enough, was not prayed-over. Incredibly, the study showed that prayed-over patients were nearly twice as likely not to suffer health complications.
Such prayer perks abound, of course. Attending worship services, researchers say, can slow down metabolic rates, easing stress and promoting overall good health. It almost goes without saying that devout people—no matter what their religious preference—are going to indulge in fewer health-threatening behaviors—alcohol and tobacco, for instance. And since the divorce rate among the devoted is lower, the myriad difficulties occasioned by family break-up simply do not occur.
Really, there is no end to the evidence for the idea that belief is good for you, but my favorite study involves smoking. Get this: smokers who are Christians (yes, there are some) suffer significantly fewer health problems than those who do. Go figure.
The old line among high school football players—at least when I was playing—was that guys who worry about being injured, do. I’m sure that’s not always true, but ordinary life experience suggests that excessive worry or the blues or a touch of paranoia can affect the biology of the body in very negative ways. The links between mind and spirit are, as they always have been, mysterious, even eerie.
When David begins this little exercise he’s undertaking in Psalm 19, this musical lecture on the efficacy of the Torah, he starts with this promise: that the law of God is perfect, reviving the soul.
Reviving (or “restoring” in the KJV) presumes some antecedent action: before the gospel’s influence, things were bad; something needed re-vivifying, re-enlivening. Something was dying, but the “way of the righteous,” as David says in Psalm 1, has a way of “pulling our lives together,” at least that’s how Eugene Peterson treats verse seven.
By way of the gospel, something dynamic happens in us, something is changed, the old way is altered, that which was seemingly dead is given new life; we are, in the language of Jesus, “born again”—comprehensively, body and spirit.
Ask convicts. Ask ex-meth users. Ask alcoholics. Ask adulterers.
For that matter, ask the Christian standing beside you, even those who’ve never huffed glue or sold their bodies or engaged, wholesale, in the kinds of tabloid sin we tend to note conspicuously.
I’ve gone on too long. I’m only repeating what’s obvious. David says the way of the Lord is perfect. It restores us to what we were, not only before that last stupid, regrettable, insane thing we shouldn’t have done, but also to what we were before a smirking snake, an apple, and a forbidden tree.
The way of the righteous is that kind of perfect. We’re healthier, in time and eternity.