What does the Bible say about the self-care movement?

July 5, 2019

Burnout has become an official clinical syndrome, according to the World Health Organization. Characterized by mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion, this condition of chronic stress threatens millions of Americans who face long work hours, difficult work and home situations, and little time for rest. In a society and culture where busyness is the norm, technology keeps us constantly connected and occupied, and leisure is viewed as laziness, we often end up feeling, well, tired.

Amidst this crisis has come calls for “self-care,” a movement focused on personal well-being and mental health. Advocates of self-care submit that the underlying cause of our stress and exhaustion comes from lack of self-focus and that we need to serve ourselves first in order to serve others better.

What is self-care?

Self-care can be described as being mindful of your own limits and needs so that you can ensure your own physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Its proponents emphasize developing personal habits and practices to manage stress and reduce anxiety.

Strategies may include:

What does the Bible say about self-care?

While the Bible doesn’t directly address the idea of self-care, it does offer guidance for understanding the role of our physical and mental health.

Since the time of Moses in the Old Testament, God has provided instruction for the care of our bodies and minds. God values and commands rest (Ex. 34:21; Heb. 4:3-4) and care for our physical bodies (Ex. 22:26-27). Jesus himself prioritized rest. When faced with great crowds, Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). He cared that his disciples “had no leisure even to eat” and instructed them to “rest a while” (Mark 6:31).

We can also learn from Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, recognizing that we cannot live self-sufficiently and must intentionally care for our physical and mental health.

How can Christians develop a biblical practice of care?

1. Recognize your limitations, and practice good stewardship of your body and mind.

When we recognize our physical limitations, we acknowledge the supremacy of God and our dependence on him. Caring for our bodies and minds should not come from a pursuit of our own comfort and pleasure, but from an act of worship and submission to God. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 that our bodies are not our own; they were bought with a price to be temples of the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason that we “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1).

When we exercise and eat healthily, we act as good stewards of the gifts God has given us—our bodies and minds, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works” (Eph. 2:10).

2. Go to the source.

The self-care movement is grounded in the assumption that the power for healing and rest lies within, that we have the power to care for ourselves. The gospel counters that true power can only come from Christ. It offers a profound and eternal care that addresses even our deepest needs.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

All of the problems that the self-care movement attempts to address—unfulfillment, exhaustion from caring for others, lack of connection and purpose—are ultimately answered in the gospel. Jesus’ death and resurrection won the victory over sin and death, so that we can experience his eternal life and peace. If we want true rest and energy, we must turn to the source of all peace and joy: Jesus Christ.

3. Turn to the gospel as a better, more sustainable motivation for life and work. 

Part of the underlying cause of burnout is a misunderstanding of the purpose of work.

If our goal and hope is simply to acquire wealth or “make a difference,” we will be easily discouraged, unfulfilled, and exhausted.

The gospel frees us from the burden of living and working for our own wealth, accomplishment, and reputation by declaring that our life and favor with God comes not from our own work but from God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ. With this understanding, we can view life and work as a blessing instead of a curse (Eccl. 3:12-13, 5:19-20).

The Bible tells us that we were “created in Christ Jesus to good works” (Eph. 2:10). As the character and nature of God are revealed by his work (Psa. 8:3, 19:1-4), we reflect his character and nature by investing in our work. We live and work in response to God’s grace, calling, and design for our lives, for his glory and the good of those around us (Eph. 4:28, 1 Cor. 10:31).

With this understanding, we can live and work wholeheartedly but with hope and confidence, trusting that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13; Psa. 127:1-2).

Helpful habits

What about investing in hobbies? Spending time with friends and family? Meditation and relaxation techniques?

In light of the aforementioned principles, we can view these habits and practices as helpful but not ultimate. They can help us find joy and peace as long as they bring us to the source of all joy and peace, to God. We exercise, eat healthy food, and sleep well as an act of worship and stewardship of our God-given bodies and minds. We spend time with loved ones because God has called us to and blessed us with fellowship and community. We play music to turn our hearts toward the Creator of all things good and beautiful. And we meditate, not on ourselves and on our own ability to overcome our circumstances, but on God’s works and promises.

Sitting at his feet

Ultimately, the self-care movement makes helpful suggestions but empty promises. We may change our personal habits, but we cannot always change our circumstances. What’s more, the gospel submits that the biggest problem lies not even with our circumstances but within ourselves. What we need is a deeper and greater source of life, joy, and peace, one that exists outside of ourselves. We find this in Jesus Christ alone.

We often relate to Martha as described Luke 10: “distracted with much serving,” “anxious and troubled about many things,” and wondering why everyone else “has left [us] to serve alone” (Luke 10:40). Our culture might offer a myriad of suggestions for Martha’s self-care regimen, telling her to care for herself before caring for others. But Jesus’ response was different and surprising. Rather than telling Martha to take care of herself or even commanding Mary to help, he simply stated, “few things are needed – or indeed only one.” What was this one thing that was better, that would “not be taken away?” (Luke 10:42): To adopt the posture of Mary, who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39).

Perhaps before we turn to new diets, gym memberships, and spa days, we should remember the one thing that is needed above anything else—to simply sit at the feet of Jesus and enjoy all that he is for us.

Grace Liu

Grace Liu serves as communications assistant for the ERLC, with a special focus on editorial content and initiatives. Outside of the ERLC, Grace serves as Donor Relations and Communications Coordinator at The Field School in Chicago, Illinois. She received a B.S. in Community Leadership & Development and Violin Performance from … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24