Sickness and Disease—Will They Ever End?
SICKNESS and disease have journeyed with mankind throughout history. Every civilization has attempted to alleviate or erase human suffering. But the successes have been limited.
Even today, where can you look and not see misery brought on by sickness and disease? Everyone is at least acquainted with some persons who suffer, if he himself does not do so. Men still ask, Will sickness and disease ever end?
Jesus Christ, hundreds of years ago, showed that we could expect disease to continue into a time period he called “the conclusion of the system of things.” He said: “There will be . . . in one place after another pestilences and food shortages.” (Matt. 24:3-7; Luke 21:10, 11) The word “pestilences” is translated “outbursts of disease” in The New Testament in Basic English and “epidemics” in The Living Bible.
As has been shown many times in this journal, mankind entered “the conclusion of the system of things” in the year 1914. Much of the sickness we see, therefore, is in fulfillment of his words. Certain persons, nevertheless, question Jesus’ prophecy and its modern fulfillment. In what way?
Some wonder: What is so unusual about that prediction? Has there not always been pestilence or disease? It is true that widespread disease and suffering are not new. But today, frustratingly, these persist even with the finest medical facilities, medical schools and hospitals available. Knowledge of health and medicine is disseminated to remote parts of the earth. Yet disease flourishes. That fact helps to mark this as a peculiar time in history.
On the other hand, some ask, Has not medical science conquered most diseases? If so, Jesus’ words have not come true. So, to appreciate clearly his accuracy, let us examine the facts and see if science is ending disease.
ANCIENT DISEASES STILL WITH US
Consider cholera, an age-old disease. Is it gone? By no means. In the early 1960’s what some have called a “pandemic”—a worldwide epidemic—of cholera started in Indonesia and spread through much of Asia. In 1971 fourteen nations (one third of those nations with cases of cholera) reported the disease for the first time.
Cholera is relatively new in Africa. Yet during 1971 and 1972 some 80,000 cases were officially noted from that continent, 20,000 of which ended in death. As late as last summer a cholera epidemic hit Italy, and one case was reported in the United States. Efforts to contain cholera earth wide have had only limited success.
Malaria is another ancient affliction. Is it still active? Periodically, some doctor or organization envisions a malaria-free world. For instance, in 1961 the World Health Organization (WHO) boasted of “a complete series of effective drugs in the treatment of all stages” of malaria. How effective were these “effective drugs”? That same year there was a dramatic rise in malaria! That ended what one medical professor called a “period of smug satisfaction” toward the disease.
In a four-month period starting in late 1971, the number of cases more than doubled, to 20,000, in Sri Lanka. Malaria is indeed active. Malaria, trachoma and schistosomiasis (snail fever) now afflict eight hundred million people in the world’s impoverished lands. Then there are smallpox, tuberculosis, diphtheria, rheumatic fever, polio and influenza—all still killers. Man has not ended disease!
But why is it, in spite of medical advances, that sickness persists? There are a number of reasons.
WHY MEDICINE HAS NOT STOPPED DISEASE
For one thing, medicine cannot completely eradicate all the minute organisms that cause disease. There are too many for man to try to control. But have not a number of diseases been stopped with vaccines? Yes, there have been some triumphs. But note what Peter Farb says in Ecology (1970):
“There are now vaccines that protect against polio, measles, smallpox, tetanus, cholera and numerous other dreaded diseases. However, these victories are largely illusions. They do not take into account the fact that the microbial organisms themselves are capable of extraordinarily rapid . . . changes, resulting in new strains resistant to man’s most potent drugs.”
Germs develop new drug-resistant strains. For instance, stronger varieties of gonorrhea, malaria, tuberculosis and shigellosis can withstand well-known antibiotics.
Mexico has been vigorously fighting what may be “the largest outbreak of typhoid fever to occur anywhere in the world for several decades.” Though there are drugs to deal with typhoid, this particular strain has not responded to treatment.
OTHER REASONS WHY DISEASE CONTINUES
It should be remembered that sickness and disease are not just “medical” problems. There are such matters as good nutrition. Persons who do not eat properly are more likely to contract serious illnesses. A billion persons earth wide may suffer from malnutrition or hunger. Over 20 percent of the children born to these people die before they are five years old. Their life, by current medical averages, will be twenty years shorter than that of a child born in one of the more affluent countries.
Sickness also has social and environmental roots. Disease, it has been said, is not entirely erratic. In other words, there are reasons for its appearance. Squalid and crowded living conditions, with unclean water and little privacy, breed disease rapidly. It thrives in such conditions once it appears.
These wretched circumstances are often brought on by war. Wars, in the last sixty years, have been international in scope. The normal patterns of living in huge regions have been upset. Disease then appears, scatters and intensifies, canceling the hard work of many doctors. These are just a few of the reasons why men have not stopped disease.
MODERN “IMPROVEMENTS” BRING SICKNESS
Surprisingly, however, some of the advances that man has made have actually aggravated sickness and disease. They further show the correctness of Jesus’ prophecy about “outbursts of disease” in our time.
There are areas where infectious diseases such as malaria and cholera appear to be under control, at least for now. Freedom from shooting wars and a sufficiency of nutritious food exist. But there are still sickness and disease. Why?
Along with these seemingly good things comes modern industrial society with its pressures, strains and stresses. Heart attacks and digestive problems take huge tolls. Smog fills the air, contributing to respiratory ailments and cancer. And what about obesity? One out of five men and one out of four women in America are overweight and a prime target for certain killer diseases, including diabetes.
Another thing: Science’s seeming successes have created a complacency in thousands of persons. An aura of overconfidence in medicine has appeared. Dr. John J. Witte of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia (U.S.), cites an example: “I’m sure there are many young parents who are much less terrified of the ravages of polio than parents of a decade ago because they haven’t lived through epidemics or seen cases of polio.” As a result, he says, “polio could spread significantly if introduced into certain areas.”
The potential for massive epidemics, not just of polio, but of other seemingly conquered diseases in the “advanced countries” is very real. So we read: “One catastrophic change in American living standards would once more make tuberculosis a threat to millions of people across the nation.”—Health and Disease, Time, Inc. (1965).
WILL SICKNESS AND DISEASE END?
No matter how the question is examined, we can see that Jesus’ words have come true. Disease persists in spite of—sometimes because of—all the dedicated and diligent medical work to the contrary. There is little reason for true optimism that men will completely solve man’s health problems. But does this mean that they will never end?
Many persons have resigned themselves to that attitude, feeling as does René J. Dubos, who wrote in Mirage of Health: “Complete and lasting freedom from disease is but a dream.” But it is not an impossible dream. We have sound basis for believing that sickness will end!
Is it not reasonable to look to God, man’s Maker, lastingly to solve our health problems? Who better knows man’s makeup? He promises in the Bible that by Jesus Christ the existing worldwide wicked system of things will be destroyed, and soon. After that Jesus’ kingdom must rule “until God has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.” (1 Cor. 15:25, 26) If death is to disappear, would not the conditions that lead to death, like sickness and aging, also terminate? Obviously.
That God cares enough to end sickness and disease and that he can do so is illustrated by the Law that he gave to his people Israel in times past. When they obeyed the Law, their lives were prolonged and they were preserved from many of the diseases and afflictions of neighboring nations. (Ex. 15:22-26; 23:25; Lev. 26:14, 16, 25; Deut. 28:15, 20) But disobeying or sinning against that Law led to unnecessary sickness.
Breaking God’s law (sinning) and sickness are thus linked. The prophecy at Isaiah 33:24, which found a fulfillment on ancient Israel, emphasizes this connection. It says: “No resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” How could anyone back then make that claim? The verse answers: “The people that are dwelling in the land will be those pardoned for their error.” When they were again obedient to God, what might be called ‘spiritual health’ resulted. And that brought the physical health benefits that Jehovah promised. (Compare also Psalm 103:1-5.) This is equally true today.
Those that follow godly laws forbidding sexual immorality, for example, are not plagued with venereal disease. Persons who keep their bodies clean from cigarettes do not purposely expose themselves to hideous forms of cancer, do they? Obedience to God means real health benefits right now.—Matt. 5:27, 28; 2 Cor. 7:1.
But even if someone tries to lead an upright life he eventually dies. Why? Because men are by birth imperfect; they inherit sin. (Rom. 5:12) And over this form of sin they have virtually no control. When Jesus was on earth he showed his authority over all sin by miraculously giving or restoring health. We read of his healing a paralytic: “‘Child, your sins are forgiven . . . I say to you, Get up, pick up your cot, and go to your home.’ At that he did get up, and immediately picked up his cot.”—Mark 2:5-12; Matt. 9:1-5.
Surely, if Jesus, when living in one small part of the earth, could forgive sin and restore literal health, he can do even more when ruling from heaven. All sin will be eradicated. World wide, healing will take place.
For now, the wise person will obey the laws of God. He will attempt to maintain his health. But he knows that in the last analysis the sure end of ailments will come from God in his new system of things. Why not study with Jehovah’s witnesses and find out how you too can be alive when “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’”—Isa. 33:24; Rev. 21:1-4.
[Graph on page 131]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
DISEASE INCREASE 1960-1969 U.S.A.
21%— HEART DISEASE
49%——— LUNG CANCER
[Picture on page 133]
Can you imagine how much more enjoyable life will be when sickness and disease are gone?