In this period of instability, certain measures—like social distancing and staying home—can protect our physical health. At the same time, our spiritual and mental wellbeing is also very important. Scripture states that a strong spirit provides internal stability in the midst of physical infirmity, and a positive mindset promotes joy in difficult times. According to Proverbs, everyone has God-given life-breath, which illuminates the divine-human relationship and fills each person with the brightness of spiritual health. Alongside a concern for physical wellness, the Bible highlights the importance of having a healthy spirit.
Proverbs reminds readers that inner health is an important component of one’s overall condition. One proverb notes, “A joyful heart (לב שׂמח; lev sameach) is good medicine, but a stricken spirit (רוח; ruach) dries up the bones” (17:22). In Hebrew thought, the “heart” (לב; lev) is the seat of intellect and thought; thus, a happy heart is the equivalent of a joyful mindset or healthy emotional state. A heart of rejoicing ensures an intact spirit: “A joyful heart makes a good countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit (רוח; ruach) is stricken” (Prov 15:13). Positive or praiseworthy thoughts lead to spiritual soundness, which can be a sustaining force through external difficulty (cf. Phil 4:8). Indeed, Proverbs says that a person’s “spirit (רוח; ruach) will endure sickness (מחלה; mahaleh), but a stricken spirit who can bear?” (18:14). To be clear, this proverb does not claim that a strong spirit prevents physical illness, but it does assert that one’s spirit is an engine of endurance that can help us to stand up under adversity.
Along with the Hebrew word רוח (ruach), another term for “spirit” is נשׁמה (neshamah). Genesis calls this God-given spirit the “breath of life” (נשׁמת חי; nishmat hai) that animates humanity and defines our personhood (Gen 2:7). Proverbs echoes this understanding, saying, “The spirit (נשׁמה; neshamah) of humanity is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inward parts” (20:27). Spirit-health creates an internal luminescence that deepens the human-divine relationship. Jesus picks up on Proverbs’ point when he proclaims, “The eye is the lamp of the body, so that if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Matt 6:22). In elaborating on this idea, he adds, “If then your whole body is full of light… it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light” (Lk 11:36). Just as we must prioritize our own physical health and that of our neighbors, we can also cultivate spirits that illuminate life’s shadows and serve as beacons of divine encouragement.