Two scenes stand out in memory: one a place of beginning, the other a place of understanding. In the first, a nineteen-year-old girl sits alone in her car on a summer afternoon, while the boy she loved walks away. She is hurting, and the feeling of rejection is intolerable. She is disgusted with herself, so she uses her pain as a catalyst for change—she will finally take control of her health.
In the fall, she begins her junior year of college, returning to the dorm with tennis shoes, supplements, and a juicer, which she props on the corner of the bathroom counter. In the mornings, before class, she gets up silently, doing Tae Bo videos while her roommate sleeps, or slipping out for a brisk walk around Lake Hollingsworth. She feeds carrots and apples and peppers and lemons and parsley into the juicer, and cleans up the mess, and she uses every spare minute to research ways to reclaim her health, to look like all those taut education majors lounging at the pool by 11 a.m.
She never does look like those girls, by the way, but she turns a pitying eye on others who lack the willpower or the information to radically change their lives. She is all in. She is fully invested. She seeks out new practitioners and reads up on theories of health and healing. She does not try a supplement or a cleanse or a new methodology for a week or two and give up. Oh, no. She grits her teeth and gives it six months, a year.
She is troubled, though, and increasingly so as time passes. There are people who eat what they want, drink what they want, whose bodies look as if the Greeks have carved them from marble. She can’t make sense of it. Meanwhile, she faces serious health challenges (both internal and cosmetic) that show no sign of improvement. Doctor after doctor shakes his head in dismissal. They have no answers.
In the midst of all this, she meets a guy and falls in love. Loving him and being loved by him, seeing her life laid out before her like a fairy tale, makes her feel like a goddess. She is invulnerable, immortal, undeniably beautiful. She has the power to lose so much weight in the days leading up to her wedding, that the seamstress does an emergency fitting to keep the dress from falling off. Then she returns from her honeymoon to a new city, a new church, a new house, a new job, and the reality of married life, conflict, and financial struggle. Depression sets in. Her superpowers vanish.
There follow seasons of struggle, of failing to live up to the standards she sets for herself, and seasons of searching for answers. There are brief periods of triumph, when the strength of her resolve sets her back above the masses. People come to her for advice, and she begins to shy away from their questions. She is learning that she cannot heal them. Then comes pregnancy, and the host of both sensible and irrational fears that accompany the arrival of a new human child. She labors over pre-natal vitamin choices, and decisions about the baby’s environment, diet, schedule, sleep, and safety. Yet her child gets sick. He catches colds and cries and develops rashes, and another baby comes along to prove that no amount of information or willpower can guarantee the perfect health of her children.
Daily, we feel the infinite tiny losses that will culminate in one great loss. And we pray for healing and we search for answers, but even if we find them, they are fleeting. The Law of Sin and Death is too much like the second law of thermodynamics.Helena Sorensen
This is where the second scene opens. The woman stands in the chiropractor’s office, watching a documentary on a mounted television screen. Around her, the walls are plastered with motivational quotes and flyers about upcoming seminars: ways to improve heart health, strengthen the immune system, drop twenty pounds. On the screen, the experts are weighing in, declaring that animal products cause inflammation and all manner of evil. The woman flinches, startled by the sudden break in the soundtrack of the last eighteen years. “Wait,” she says. “Haven’t they been saying for ages that grains were the problem? I thought it was bread that caused inflammation and weight gain and all manner of evil.” And it hits her with stunning clarity: they don’t have the answers. They’re trying to beat an unbeatable law. They’re trying to beat the Law of Sin and Death.
All of them—the doctors, the naturopaths, the herbalists, the personal trainers—all the experts, and all of us who listen, all of us living in a world where your eczema medication can give you leukemia—we’re all trying to beat the law of sin and death. It was a revelation two decades in the making.
When Adam sinned, he set himself under a new system of power and authority. Separation from God, from Life, placed him automatically under the jurisdiction of death. We who are his children have inherited that judgment. The cells of our bodies die and are renewed, and as time passes, the dying outpaces the renewing. Our strength goes, our clarity of mind goes, our vitality fades. Daily, we feel the infinite tiny losses that will culminate in one great loss. And we pray for healing and we search for answers, but even if we find them, they are fleeting. The Law of Sin and Death is too much like the second law of thermodynamics. This body is wearing out. Though I push it to its limits, eventually it will fail me, and I am more vulnerable, more fallible than a nineteen-year-old girl could have thought possible. I cannot overcome the law that governs the galaxies.
One hope remains. I can submit myself to a higher law. That’s it. It’s so simple, but I had to exhaust myself completely before I could see it. All along, I’ve had access to a different way of living and thinking, because “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:2) My only hope is to place myself in the hands of the One who conquered sin and death. I cast myself at the feet of a man who entered a culture of rigid adherence to dietary restrictions and yet told his disciples, “Eat whatever is offered to you and heal the sick.” (Luke 10:8,9)
I still don’t understand it. I can’t explain why some people abuse their bodies and live long, robust lives while others act with wisdom and caution and die young. I don’t know why medications help some and essential oils help others. I don’t know why some of us live on vegetables and suffer while others skate comfortably into old age on whiskey and bitterness.
But I can look with tenderness on the nineteen-year-old girl sitting lonely and wounded in her little green Pontiac. She was determined to search within the problem for a solution when the Answer was there in the car, sitting with her in her heartache.