Does the Devil Make Us Sick?
SICKNESS SHOULD NEVER HAVE EXISTED. God created us to live forever in perfect health. It was a spirit creature, Satan, who caused sickness, pain, and death to afflict the human family when he led our first parents, Adam and Eve, into sin.—GENESIS 3:1-5, 17-19; ROMANS 5:12.
DOES this mean that all sickness is a direct result of interference from the spirit world? As noted in the preceding article, many today think so. Little Owmadji’s grandmother did. But was Owmadji’s diarrhea—a sometimes fatal disease for young children in the tropics—really caused by unseen spirits?
The Bible answers this question very clearly. First, it shows that the spirits of our ancestors cannot affect the living. When people die, “they are conscious of nothing at all.” They do not have spirits that survive death. They are asleep in the grave, where “there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) In no way can the dead make the living sick!
However, the Bible reveals that wicked spirits do exist. The first rebel in the whole universe was the spirit creature now known as Satan. Others joined him and came to be called demons. Can Satan and the demons cause sickness? It has happened. Some of Jesus’ healing miracles involved the expelling of demons. (Luke 9:37-43; 13:10-16) However, most of the cures that Jesus performed were of sicknesses not directly caused by the demons. (Matthew 12:15; 14:14; 19:2) Similarly today, as a rule, sickness results from natural, not supernatural, causes.
What about witchcraft? Proverbs 18:10 assures us: “The name of Jehovah is a strong tower. Into it the righteous runs and is given protection.” James 4:7 says: “Oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you.” Yes, God can protect his faithful ones from witchcraft and any other uncanny power. That is one implication of Jesus’ words: “The truth will set you free.”—John 8:32.
‘What about Job?’ some may ask. ‘Was it not a wicked spirit that made him ill?’ Yes, the Bible says that Job’s illness was caused by Satan. But Job’s case was exceptional. Job had long had divine protection from direct demonic attack. Then Satan challenged Jehovah to strike Job, and because great issues were involved, Jehovah partially withdrew his protection from his worshiper in this one case.
However, God set limits. When he permitted Satan to afflict Job, Satan could make Job sick for a time, but he could not kill him. (Job 2:5, 6) Eventually, Job’s suffering ended, and Jehovah rewarded him richly for his integrity. (Job 42:10-17) The principles proved by Job’s integrity have long since been recorded in the Bible and are evident to all. There is no need for another such test case.
How Does Satan Work?
In almost every instance, the only connection between Satan and human illness is the fact that Satan tempted the first human couple, and they fell into sin. He and his demons are not the direct cause of each and every malady. However, Satan is not above trying to influence us to make unwise decisions and compromise our faith, which might result in damage to our health. He did not bewitch, murder, or strike Adam and Eve with illness. He persuaded Eve to disobey God, and Adam followed her path of disobedience. Sickness and death were part of the outcome.—Romans 5:19.
An unfaithful prophet named Balaam was once hired by the king of Moab to curse the nation of Israel, which was threateningly encamped on Moab’s borders. Balaam tried to curse Israel, but he failed because the nation was under Jehovah’s protection. The Moabites then set out to lure Israel into committing idolatry and sexual immorality. This tactic succeeded, and Israel lost Jehovah’s protection.—Numbers 22:5, 6, 12, 35; 24:10; 25:1-9; Revelation 2:14.
We can learn an important lesson from that ancient event. Divine help gives faithful worshipers of God protection from direct attack by wicked spirits. However, Satan may try to get individuals to compromise their faith. He may try to lure them into immorality. Or, like a roaring lion, he may try to scare them into acting in a way that deprives them of God’s protection. (1 Peter 5:8) That is why the apostle Paul calls Satan “the one having the means to cause death.”—Hebrews 2:14.
The grandmother of Owmadji tried to persuade Hawa to use amulets and fetishes as a protection against sickness. What would have happened if Hawa had given in? She would have betrayed a lack of complete trust in Jehovah God, and she could no longer have been confident of his protection.—Exodus 20:5; Matthew 4:10; 1 Corinthians 10:21.
Satan tried persuasion with Job too. Robbing him of his family, his wealth, and his health was not enough. Job was also given very bad counsel by his wife when she said: “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) Then he was visited by three “friends” who made a concerted effort to convince him that he was to blame for his sickness. (Job 19:1-3) In this way Satan took advantage of Job’s weakened state to try to discourage him and shake his confidence in Jehovah’s righteousness. Yet, Job continued to lean on Jehovah as his only hope.—Compare Psalm 55:22.
When we are sick, we too may become depressed. In such a situation, Satan is quick to try to make us act in some way that will compromise our faith. Hence, when illness strikes, it is important to keep in mind that the basic cause of our suffering is likely inherited imperfection rather than some uncanny influence. Remember, faithful Isaac became blind a number of years before his death. (Genesis 27:1) The cause was not wicked spirits but old age. Rachel died while giving birth, not because of Satan, but because of human frailty. (Genesis 35:17-19) Eventually, all the faithful ones of old died—not because of spells or curses but because of inherited imperfection.
Imagining that unseen spirits have a direct influence on every sickness that befalls us is a snare. It may inspire a morbid fear of the spirits. Then, when we become sick, we might be tempted to try to appease the demons instead of keeping far away from them. If Satan can scare us into resorting to spiritistic practices, that would be a betrayal of the true God, Jehovah. (2 Corinthians 6:15) We should be guided by a respectful fear of God, not by a superstitious fear of his Adversary.—Revelation 14:7.
Little Owmadji already has the best possible protection against wicked spirits. According to the apostle Paul, God considers her “holy” because she has a believing mother, and her mother can pray for God to be with her daughter by means of holy spirit. (1 Corinthians 7:14) Blessed with such accurate knowledge, Hawa was able to seek effective treatment for Owmadji instead of relying on amulets.
Various Causes of Sickness
Most people do not believe in the spirits. When they get sick, they go to a doctor—if they can afford it. Of course, a sick person can go to a doctor and still not get healed. Doctors cannot perform miracles. But many superstitious individuals who could be healed go to a medical doctor only when it is too late. They try spiritistic healing methods first, and when these fail they go to a doctor as a last resort. Many die unnecessarily.
Others face untimely death because of ignorance. They do not recognize symptoms and do not know what practical steps to take to prevent sickness. Knowledge helps to prevent unnecessary suffering. It is noteworthy that literate mothers lose fewer children to sickness than do illiterate ones. Yes, ignorance can be fatal.
Negligence is another cause of illness. For example, many get sick because they allow insects to crawl over food before it is eaten or because the ones preparing the food do not wash their hands beforehand. Sleeping without a mosquito net in malaria-infected regions is also dangerous.* In matters of health, it is often true that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
An unwise life-style has caused millions to get sick and die prematurely. Drunkenness, sexual immorality, misuse of drugs, and use of tobacco have ruined the health of many. If a person indulges in these vices and then falls sick, is it because someone put a spell on him or a spirit attacked him? No. He is to blame for his sickness. Blaming the spirits would be a refusal to accept responsibility for an unwise life-style.
Of course, some things we cannot control. For example, we could be exposed to sickness-causing microbes or to pollution. This is what happened to Owmadji. Her mother did not know what was causing the diarrhea. Her children are not sick as often as other children because she keeps her house and yard clean and always washes her hands before preparing food. But all children get sick once in a while. Some 25 different organic infections can cause diarrhea. Chances are, no one will ever know which one caused Owmadji’s problem.
The Long-Term Solution
Sickness is not God’s fault. “With evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” (James 1:13) If one of his worshipers gets sick, Jehovah sustains him spiritually. “Jehovah himself will sustain him upon a divan of illness; all his bed you will certainly change during his sickness.” (Psalm 41:3) Yes, God has compassion. He wants to help us, not hurt us.
Indeed, Jehovah has a long-term solution for sickness—Jesus’ death and resurrection. By means of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, righthearted ones are redeemed from their sinful condition and will eventually have access to perfect health and eternal life in a paradise earth. (Matthew 5:5; John 3:16) Jesus’ miracles were a preview of the true healing that God’s Kingdom will bring. God will also remove Satan and his demons. (Romans 16:20) Indeed, Jehovah has wonderful things in store for those who exercise faith in him. We just need to be patient and endure.
In the meantime, God dispenses practical wisdom and spiritual direction by means of the Bible and the worldwide brotherhood of faithful worshipers. He shows us how to avoid the vices that cause health problems. And he provides us with true friends who will help when problems arise.
Think again of Job. Going to a witch doctor would have been the worst thing Job could have done! It would have deprived him of God’s protection, and he would have lost out on all the blessings that awaited him after his ordeal. God did not forget Job, and he will not forget us. “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave,” says the disciple James. (James 5:11) If we never give up, we too will receive wonderful blessings in God’s due time.
What happened to little Owmadji? Her mother remembered an article in The Watchtower’s companion magazine, Awake!, about oral rehydration therapy.* She followed its instructions and prepared the solution for Owmadji to drink. Now the little girl is fine and healthy.
Nearly half a billion persons are infected with malaria. About two million per year die from the disease, mostly in Africa.
See Awake! of September 22, 1985, pages 24-5, “A Salty Drink That Saves Lives!”
[Pictures on page 7]
Jehovah has arranged a permanent solution to the problem of sickness