Why did Jesus heal?

A Fictional Narrative

By Brian Lowther

One day four prominent evangelicals met for breakfast with a secular journalist. The journalist was writing a story about faith and disease. She posed this question: “Why did Jesus heal? After all, healing people doesn’t get them into heaven. But Christ sure used up a lot of his time healing. Why?”

The first evangelical said, “Jesus healed because he was compassionate. Like at the end of Mark 1, where the man with leprosy says, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus is filled with compassion and heals him. Jesus loved the people and didn’t want to see them suffer. It’s as simple as that.”

The second evangelical said, “No, no, no. That’s not why Jesus healed. I mean, it is to a degree, because obviously I’m not going to argue that Jesus didn’t care about people. But that wasn’t the ultimate reason. Jesus healed people as a means to an end. Like in Matthew 4, Jesus had to find his first followers. They didn’t come to him. He didn’t begin attracting a crowd until he started healing. So, he healed in order to get a following. After they got healed they’d hang around and listen to his teaching and that’s how he built the church.”

The third evangelical said, “Yeah, I can see your point. But I think the ultimate reason that Jesus healed was to bring glory to God. As in John 9:2 where the disciples ask Jesus, ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus replies, ‘Neither, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.’”

The fourth evangelical said, “Well, I suppose there is truth in all of these answers. But to me, I’m uncomfortable saying that healing is merely a tool for the cause of evangelism. I'm all for evangelism obviously, but I personally think everything Jesus did was an act of war against Satan. As in 1John 3:8, ‘The son of God appeared for this purpose to destroy the works of the devil.’ When he healed people of a sickness, he was doing battle with Satan. Throughout scripture disease is one of the main ways Satan affects humanity. Yes Jesus had compassion on people and healed them because he was compassionate but also because they were his comrades in this war, his brothers in the fight. And in a sense he healed to empower his evangelism, his “recruiting efforts” if you will. But it is bigger than that. It’s about the war. And, yes, he healed to glorify his Father. What glorifies a king more than when his enemy is defeated? But he did all these things in the context of the bigger story.”

The Roberta Winter Institute explores God's will for humanity in regards to the troubling realities of disease and evil here at and on Twitter and Facebook. If you're interested in disease eradication, read Needed: a Christian Network of Disease Eradication Workers. If you're interested in the problem of evil, check out Three Types of People in the World. Feel free to contact us with questions, comments or suggestions.


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Links: Dr. Foege; Eradicating ten tropical diseases by 2020; President George Washington

First check out this four minute interview of Dr. Bill Foege of the Gates Foundation. Dr. Foege is a devout believer and an American epidemiologist who is credited with devising the global strategy that led to the eradication of smallpox. In this interview Dr. Foege discusses lessons learned from the smallpox campaign, and what can be done to eradicate other diseases that have vaccines, such as pneumonia. Among other things, he mentions the Gavi Fund, a public-private global health partnership committed to increasing access to immunization in poor countries.
Next check out this article that details the new WHO campaign to eradicate at least 10 neglected tropical diseases by 2020. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan hopes this plan will finally end “the vast misery caused by these ancient diseases of poverty."
Lastly check out this article from the New England Journal of Medicine, which gives a great summary of infectious disease.  It gets fairly technical in certain places but also provides interesting details about infectious disease in the life of President George Washington. Did you know that he died of an acute infectious disease believed to have been bacterial epiglottitis, was scarred by smallpox, survived multiple debilitating bouts of malaria, suffered wound infections and abscesses, nursed his brother on a tropical island as he died of tuberculosis, and even had an influenza pandemic named after him (the Washington influenza of 1789–1790)? These details about Washington frame a historical perspective of infectious disease and show the remarkable progress that has been made since his day.

The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil (Andrew Delbanco)

By Brian Lowther
Before I came on board with the Roberta Winter Institute (RWI), two of my colleagues spent a half-year establishing the RWI’s conceptual framework. One of the results of their work is a document called the RWI Handbook. This document includes things like the development of the mission statement, some interviews, a list of the RWI’s key ideas and many other helpful things. It provided for me a concise overview of the RWI and served as a springboard for all of my subsequent efforts. Also, the handbook includes notes on about fifty relevant books. These notes are so good—and include so many incisive gems—that I thought, “Why don’t I build on them and turn them into occasional blog entries?” 
The book for today is The Death of Satan: How Americans have Lost the Sense of Evil, written in 1995 by Andrew Delbanco, the Julian Clarence Levi Professor of Humanities at Columbia University in New York. 
My predecessors summarized the book in one sentence: “How Satan has vanished from the Western worldview and why it matters.” 
Delbanco himself describes his book as “a kind of national spiritual biography." He examines American life and literature starting with the Puritan period. Then he walks the reader through the colonial times, the Civil War, the Victorian period, the Progressive era and up to contemporary postmodern society. The whole time he explores how Satan gradually transforms from the embodiment and explanation of evil, into something much more trivial, a "relic of a perished past, a ludicrous ham actor," or as Dr. Winter liked to point out, “a cartoon character in red tights carrying a pitchfork.”
The book illustrates well the idea that Satan's greatest achievement is to cover his tracks:
So the work of the devil is everywhere, but no one knows where to find him. We live in the most brutal century in human history, but instead of stepping forward to take credit, he has rendered himself invisible.
In other words, we are extensively unaware of exactly what Satan is doing. Delbanco isn't attempting to probe Satan’s activities, or how we can sabotage them. His goal is simply to document the gradual loss in American culture of the belief that Satan exists at all. 
When Delbanco talks of the devil, he is referring to a malevolent force in human affairs. While it is clear in the Bible that Satan is actively tempting us to sin and working to harm our relationships at every level, I can't help but wonder, where else is he at work? Can his influence be felt in the rest of creation? Perhaps in the animal/microbial world? These questions are explored in depth in the comments of this blog entry.

Is Satan only responsible for tempting us to sin? 

By Brian Lowther 

In my last post I suggested a list of five possible answers you might get if you were to ask people,  “Are the destructive germs that cause disease the work of Satan?” Below are my reflections on perspective #1, “No, I think Satan is only responsible for tempting us to sin.”

Though it does seem pretty clear that one of Satan’s chief responsibilities is temptation, the first thing that comes to mind in response would be a brief (and by no means exhaustive) list of scripture references that describe Satan doing anything other than tempting us to sin. So here goes.

Satan is portrayed as being:
  1. “the god of this age/this world [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel,” 2 Cor 4:4
  2. “the ruler of the power of the air,” Eph 2:2
  3. “the prince (or ruler) of this world,” Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11
  4. “the accuser of the brethren” Rev 12:10
  5. He is portrayed as possessing all the kingdoms of the world, Lk 4:5-6
  6. He is said to have control of the entire world, 1Jn 5:19 
  7. He is portrayed as being the one behind:
    • death, Jn 10:10; Heb 2:14; 1Pet 5:8
    • murder, Jn 8:44; 1Jn 3:12, (though this can be tempting people to murder)
    • lying, Jn 8:44, (though this can be tempting people to lie)
    • persecution, Eph 6:12-13
    • sickness and disease, Job 2:7; Lk 13:16; Acts 10:38
    • physical ailments such as:
      • inability to speak, Mt 9:32-33; 12:22, Mk 9:17-25 
      • epileptic symptoms, Mt. 17:18; Mk 9:17-22
      • blindness Mt 12:22
He and his fallen army are portrayed as having supernatural capabilities to: 
  1. obstruct Kingdom work, 1 Thes 2:18
  2. hinder prayer, Dan 10:13
  3. do counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 2 Thes 2:9
  4. deceive, 2Cor 11:14;  Rev 20:8
  5. choke faith, Mt 13:19; Mk 4:15
  6. demonize people, Mk 1:26; 5:1-20; 7:26-30; Lk 4:33-36; 22:3; Acts 16:16-18. 

To illustrate, I’ve created this pie chart that categorizes the works of the devil. 


Are the destructive germs that cause disease the work of Satan? 

By Brian Lowther
One thing Dr. Winter liked to point out was, “Our current theological literature, to my knowledge, does not seriously consider disease pathogens from a theological point of view—that is, are they the work of God or Satan?” Frontiers in Mission, pg 179.
This particular question sparked a long and thoughtful debate in the comments of a blog entry from June 2011. These comments illustrate the wide-ranging opinions about this topic.
I think I can boil down the whole argument into five basic perspectives. 
  1. No, I think Satan is only responsible for tempting us to sin.
  2. No, harmful germs were created by God for his sovereign purposes. God created bacteria, parasites, viruses and all the other things we don’t like for a purpose. I don’t know the purpose but he does. 
  3. Maybe, but there is no way to prove it Biblically.
  4. Maybe, but not ALL harmful germs are of the devil. I think disease is often just a result of our fallen nature.
  5. Yes, I do think Satan is behind destructive germs. 
If you were to ask a few dozen people at church this Sunday if the destructive germs that cause disease are the work of Satan, in each case I think you’d get one of these five answers. Matter of fact, just a few weeks ago someone said perspective #2 to me—almost verbatim—except for this additional thought at the end, “Therefore, it is wrong to eradicate any of his creations, even harmful ones.”
In the next post, I’d like to explore perspective #1 a bit, and in the future I’ll tackle the other four.
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