Are We Still On The Subject of the Supernatural?
Does God, or demons, or both cause sickness and affliction?
THE HUMANIST'S CLAIM IS: Based on biblical teachings, Christian theologians during those centuries thought the plagues were caused by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan. The Bible gave them ample support for their belief. It contains numerous instances of God punishing people by means of pestilence (e.g., Exodus 32:35; Numbers 16:44-49;
Jeremiah 21:6). And in describing Jesus healing miracles, the New Testament attributes the following afflictions to demons: blindness (Matthew 12:22); muteness (Matthew 9:32-33); lameness (Luke 13:11,16); epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-18); and insanity (Mark 5:1-13).
Those teachings led the early church leaders to promote the idea that demonic activity is the primary cause of disease. For example, St. Augustine, whose views strongly influenced Western thought for over a thousand years, said in the fourth century: All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons. . . .
With the coming of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, there was little change in the Christian attitude toward the causes of disease. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, repeatedly attributed his own illnesses to devils spells. He also stated: Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind, for he is the prince of death.
t is difficult to figure out what Biblical teaching the humanist author is specifically talking about. Keep in mind; what people believe is not always in line with what scripture teaches. I am going to take a guess that the problem is with the bible teaching that demons are real. Well, it is true. Demons are real. Yes, demons are from the spiritual realm. Yes, demons are powerful. Yes, demons can do things that humans cannot do. However, possibly the humanists do not understand that demons do not have supernatural powers.
I will go through the accusations point by point, making this a somewhat long chapter. If you prefer not to read it all, here is a summary: we do not judge the Bible based on what fallible people teach (Christian theologians, Augustine, Martin Luther, etc.). Instead, we judge the quality of the theologian by how accurately they teach about scripture. If men get it wrong, that is not the fault of God nor scripture.
What Powers Do Demons Have?
The spiritual realm is real. Demons are real. They are fallen angels, and angels are real, although they are not as pictured on TV or in movies.
Demons serve Satan, the father of lies. You will find that much of what demons do involves lies and deception.
Angels can manifest themselves as people, or other types of living things. Since demons are fallen angels, they can do the same things angels can do. They can also interact with the material world, although they are not part of the material world. For example, they can move through physically solid objects, such as walls.
Demons and Satan are eternal. They do not die. However, they are not omnipresent, omniscient, nor omnipotent. In other words, they can only be in one place at a time, they do not know everything, and they do not have the power to do supernatural miracles... but they are incredibly smart and powerful. In addition, keep in mind; they have over 6,000 years of experience with humankind.
Nonbelievers can be "possessed" by demons, meaning they are, to some degree, physically under the control of one or more demons. Believers cannot be possessed by demons. We have Christ living within us. Demons cannot live in the same place as Christ. However, believers can be influenced by demons.
Can demons cause disease and afflictions? Yes, in limited ways. Are demons the cause of all sickness and afflictions? No.
From descriptions in scripture, it appears demons can indwell non-believers, mess with their minds, possibly put thoughts in their heads, and it appears they can interact with the human nervous system to some extent. They can give people the symptoms of a disease. They can also lead people into situations that are likely to result in harm or sickness... and in that way cause someone to become sick.1
However, the Bible in no way implies that disease, sickness, and affliction comes from demons. While some people may assume demons are at the root of these things, and it is true demons can cause the symptoms of some diseases, there is absolutely no evidence that all, or even a significant portion of disease and sickness comes directly from demons. That God prescribed sanitation and quarantine laws demonstrates that demons ARE NOT the cause of most diseases.
In addition, the number of demons is finite. They cannot be everywhere. So if they want you to be sick, it is much better for you to become sick through natural means than for a demon to give you the symptoms of the disease.
Does God Cause Disease or Sickness?
God can cause disease, sickness, and death. However, He is rarely the cause of disease or sickness. Sickness and afflictions are the result of the fall
Yes, there are examples in the Bible of God directly causing disease or affliction, but they are rare. King Uzziah suddenly broke out with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:19-20). The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was "driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle" (he became insane) until God returned his sanity to him and he understood that “the Most High rules in the affairs of men.” (Daniel 4:28-37)
Then There is Exodus 15:26
And He said, If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians;
God is saying two things here. One is that, if they follow all of His laws and statutes, and that includes the sanitary laws and food laws, they will be free from disease. Second, speaking of His laws in general, if they obey Him, He will bless them. One way He does that is by protecting them and keeping them healthy. This is a promise of protection, not God threatening to send disease.
Directly Addressing The Humanist Claims
Quoting the humanist’s accusations: Based on biblical teachings, Christian theologians during those centuries thought the plagues were caused by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan.
Humanists have their history wrong once again. To be accurate, their statement would be better worded:
Based on a misunderstanding of biblical teachings, some Christian theologians during those centuries thought the plagues were caused by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan.
First, we also need to be careful in how we understand what some "Christian theologians" actually believed. God is in control of everything. That is a fact. That does not mean He causes disease. However, He does allow disease.
Second, what did the "theologians" referred to by the humanists think? We do not know. All we have are questions. Which theologians? What, specifically, did they say or write about this? The humanists do not tell us. Keep in mind, what people (theologians) believed the Bible taught, and what the Bible actually teaches can be quite different.
The humanist identifies his source for this information as: Andrew D. White, writing in "A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. II" published in
1910. This is an incredibly unreliable source. Here is what Jonathan Burke writes in Draper & White: Misleading Writers on Christianity & Science:
John William Draper’s ‘History of the Conflict between Religion and Science’ (1874), and Andrew Dickson White’s ‘History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom’ (1896), were pioneers of the conflict thesis in its academic form. Both works are still cited today by those who are unaware of their factual errors, and unaware that modern historians dismiss these works as of little or no historical value. - Jonathan Burke, "Draper & White: Misleading Writers on Christianity & Science"
Please take a few minutes to read our article on Andrew White. It provides information about Andrew White. As we continue to work our way through the humanist’s accusations White is the reference humanists most often use. He is the source for nearly half of their references. Trying to say it kindly… he is not an authoritative source. He tended to make up whatever “facts” he needed to support his claims. That someone would even use White as a source demonstrates they have no interest in truth.
Quoting the humanist’s again: The Bible gave them ample support for their belief. It contains numerous instances of God punishing people by means of pestilence (e.g., Exodus 32:35; Numbers 16:44-49; Jeremiah 21:6).
Context is important, but quoting the complete context, all Exodus chapters 31-33, would result in a very long chapter in this book. You will need to read these chapters in your Bible. I will provide a summary. The following is the first verse the humanist references:
Then the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made. - Exodus 32:35
Lead by Moses the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt. However, while Moses was talking with God on Mount Sini, they fashioned a golden calf (a major deity in Egypt) and began to worship it and give it credit for bringing them out of Egypt. God had just saved them, and they almost immediately turn away from God and worship using an image of an Egyptian god crafted to represent the true God. Not good. Not good at all.
Moses called the people to action, and the Levites killed those who persisted in idolatry. While scripture is not specific, it is thought that "the Lord smote" in the referenced verse refers to what the Levites did.
There is a lot more to the story, but the bottom line is, they had just come out of Egypt; they were very spiritually naive and prone to follow false Gods; and the death penalty for the 3,000 worst offenders prevented a further spread of idolatry. It was just, and it was appropriate. In addition, it protected the remaining 3 million people.
...and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly. Then they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun! Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died
on account of Korah. - Numbers 16:44-49
The context of this is that the people had rebelled against God and Moses. (Numbers 16:1-35). This first rebellion resulted in 250 people dying. As harsh as the penalty was, wickedness continued and a second revolt against God and Moses arose (Numbers 16:41). This time they unfairly attacked Moses blaming him for the death of "the Lord's people." This was more serious than the first revolt. The people had not learned. The prescribed penalty for revolt against God is death... and a deadly plague began spreading among the people. Moses and Aaron intercede on behalf of the people and the plague ends after killing 14,700 people… victims of their own folly.
The people knew that the penalty for rebelling against God was death. They had seen that happen just a short time previously. Yet they rebelled again, turning against both God and Moses. The just and appropriate penalty could not be avoided. God imposed that penalty Himself this time2.
They had just come out of an Egyptian culture of idolatry. They had been warned. However, they ignored God and so God brought about what He promised would happen.
The next verse the humanist reference is Jeremiah 21:6
I will also strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; they will die of a great pestilence. - Jeremiah 21:6
This is part of a prophecy describing what will happen when Babylon conquers Jerusalem. We previously looked at a similar prophecy in Ezekiel 9.In brief, Israel had turned away from God. This had been going on for a long time. God had warned Israel that punishment was coming. It would be a 70-year captivity under the Babylonians. God brings this about by withdrawing from Israel, meaning He withdrew His protection and His blessing. That was appropriate. Israel had withdrawn from God, so now God leaves them.
Without God's protection, the powerful Babylonians are able to lay siege to Jerusalem, causing hunger and disease to spread in the city. Eventually the city falls and the Babylonians take many Israelites into captivity. Over a period of 21 years, Babylon captures Jerusalem three times and eventually transports nearly all of its residents to Babylon. The punishment not only fits the "crime," but also is exactly what Israel asked for. Israel turned away from God, so God gave then what they wanted, He turned away from them.
New Testament attributes the following afflictions to demons: blindness (Matthew 12:22); muteness (Matthew 9:32-33); lameness (Luke 13:11,16); epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-18); and insanity (Mark 5:1-13).
Yes, demons can do these things, or create symptoms that make it appear these "afflictions" exist in a person. However, the Bible in no way teaches that these "afflictions" are always caused by demons. Jesus cast out many demons in order to heal people. However, it was much more common for Jesus to heal people, with no need to get rid of demons, because demons were not the cause of the sickness or affliction.
However, that is not the point. The humanist claim that “Christian theologians during those centuries thought the plagues were caused by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan.” is meaningless. What “Christian theologians” such as St. Augustine believed, or what Martin Luther believed, must always be compared with scripture. Even the greatest Biblical scholars are fallible. The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans for checking what he taught against scripture:
The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these [the Bereans]
were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. - Acts 17:10-11
Every “Christian theologian” is subject to error. No matter how great the man. If scripture does not support what they say or teach, they are wrong.
How about applying logic anyone can understand to this. If God or demons caused most plagues, diseases and afflictions, why does God command the use of good sanitation and quarantine practices? Those are not effective against either God or demons.
Conclusion: The Bible does not teach that sickness, disease, plagues, and afflictions come from God or demons. Only in very rare and unique circumstances, that are not repeated today, has God caused sickness or a plague. Demons can also cause afflictions and the symptoms of diseases, but that is also rare. Based on the Bible, the most common cause of disease and affliction is the fall and the resulting corruption of humanity and nature.
There is still more: As a result of believing in supernatural causes of disease, theologians taught that plagues could be averted or stopped by seeking supernatural assistance. And the way to obtain Gods help, they thought, was to perform religious acts. These included repenting from sin; providing gifts to churches, monasteries, and
shrines; participating in religious processions; attending church services (which often only increased the spread of disease); and killing Jews and witches (since it was thought Satan used them as his agents in causing illness). Religious leaders largely ignored the possibility of physical causes and cures of diseases.
Can "religious acts" cure disease? What does the Bible say? Get the real answer... click here.
Footnote 1: The humanist accusation implies that numerous diseases were healed by casting out demons. Demons were very much aware of who Jesus is, and that God had come to earth as a man. Demonic Activity was intensely focused on a small area near the eastern Mediterranean, where Jesus was ministering. Satan and his demons knew that Jesus' mission had to be thwarted. As a result, the Gospels describe an unusually high number of demonic encounters.
Footnote 2: Part of what the Israelites needed to learn was that God was powerful, more powerful than the Egyptian gods. They also needed to learn that God was sure, He did what He said He would do. To accomplish this, God acted directly so there would be no misunderstanding about who was acting.