What Is It With Disease, Anyway?

On the last day of 2002, Dr. Ralph Winter wrote an article entitled “A Growing Awareness about Disease.” It reflects the significant shift in his thinking in the last decade of his life in response to the loss of his wife of almost fifty years Roberta to multiple myeloma. He is fascinated by the disconnect between God’s good creation and the fact of life that all in the animal kingdom (including human beings) live fearful of predators be they other humans or animals of all sizes down to the microscopic level. Winter points out that enormous expenditures go into the medical field all the time, but, he says, “I was surprised to discover that this enormous expense is almost entirely focused on healing the sick not seeking the source of the sickness.” After all, lots of money from patients and insurance companies seems to be available to benefit people in pain and sickness. And people are focused on the present conditions, not thinking about the bigger picture of eradicating diseases for all of humanity. Winter believes it to be ironic that the research universities and government entities are doing along the lines of eradication is funded by pharmaceutical companies! He thinks the FDA is in the business of making money, which is why they charge substantial amounts for their process of approval, and only approve drugs that will be expensive on the market.

Winter, in addition, recognizes the theological implications of all of this. He writes that Christian theology since the fourth century has been informed by neoplatonism in ascribing all evil to God, not Satan. In the books of Job and I Chronicles, reference is made to a significant spiritual Adversary to the work of God. The New Testament equally does “remind us that disease and evil in general are the work of an intelligent evil Adversary.” Winter asks if we will be able to seriously fight disease at its origin if we continue to be unclear about where it comes from. Jonathan Edwards tried to fight smallpox with cowpox vaccine and other pastors did not support him because they thought this act interfered with Divine Providence. Edwards killed himself in the midst of testing vaccines. Then it would not be until two hundred years later that a World Health campaign eliminated smallpox and not in the Name of Christ either.

Winter states, “Our inherited theology allows us to fight ‘terrorists’ that can be seen with the naked eye but not to fight tiny terrorists that can only be seen in a microscope.” He then returns to his area of expertise and ties his reflection to evangelism and mission by acknowledging that there are believers who have lost their faith because of the mystery of evil and suffering. The spectrum is wide when it comes to beliefs, from God allowing evil because of unconfessed sins and Him choosing suffering people to display faith even when in pain to God just being mysterious and God hating sickness and healing all those who believe that He wants to and will. Winter concludes by lamenting that evangelical leaders are not constantly promoting Jesus’ call for His followers to partner with Him to destroy the works of Satan, including disease.

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