Do Illness and Disease Come from the Devil or from God?

Salvation for the Body (3 of 6): Where Does Illness Come From

Posted by danieljkoren on February 27, 2011 in Viewpoints |

With painful clarity, the Old Testament positions health on the side of those in covenant[1], and maladies on those in rebellion.[2] Brown says

Painful, wasting diseases are terrible afflictions, not divine blessings. Health is good; illness is bad. Debilitating sickness and devastating plague are signs of God’s anger, not his pleasure. In fact, nowhere in the Bible does the Lord ever promise sickness, disease; or calamity as blessings for his obedient children. Nowhere in the Bible is sickness, in and of itself described as a good thing.

As simple and self-evident as these statements are, they are fundamental to a proper understanding of the OT theology of divine healing and should not be taken for granted. “Suffering sickness for the glory of God” was not part of the Torah’s theology of covenantal blessing and curse.[3]


When curses fell on Israel, God expected them to say, “Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?”[4]

However, if God expected all His followers to live in perfect health, why did He give detailed instructions for dealing with lepers[5] and others with disabilities[6]?  In fact, it seems He takes credit for even the irregularities in human composition.[7] Other health conditions arise with the advance of age[8] even in the lives of the very godly.[9] On the other hand, God promises long life[10] and fertility[11] for His covenant people.

Many times, God takes the credit for sending poor health on those who opposed Him.[12] So, perhaps a critic could argue that sickness is job security for God: first He sends the malady, then offers the remedy.  Certainly, God isn’t so conflicting as that.  One clue comes in the story of Job who suffered a dreadful disease on his body.  Job contracted these boils and sores only after God removed His protection, allowing the devil to move in and wreck havoc.[13] Even Job’s description indicates how he perceived this evil presence.[14]

The theory of satanic power behind disease finds support in rabbinic teachings and among post-apostolic writers.  Both Origen and Augustine saw disease as being entirely coming from demons, even leading Origen to say that he believed “according to the gospel that this illness in those affected is caused, as is well known, by an unclean… spirit”[15] leading him to distrust the abilities of medicine against the supernatural.  Even modern phrases indicate an underlying belief that external forces cause internal maladies: “we speak of a heart attack, or an epileptic seizure, or being stricken with a cold”.[16] Interestingly, Jesus and the disciples never pray for the infirm.  Instead they speak to the person and command healing in a manner not unlike the means of exorcising a demon—speaking the word in the Name of the Lord.

One need not look far in the Bible to recognize that sin leads to death[17] or to sickness leading to death.[18] The Old Testament construct linking sin and sickness finds support in Jesus’ ministry also.  With a man sick of palsy, Jesus publicly forgave his sins, knowing the contempt this would elicit from His detractors.[19] Here, He healed the man to prove that He had the power to forgive sins.[20] Numerous other passages link sin with disease.[21] As the antithesis to sin causing sickness, we find Hezekiah pleads against his deteriorating health by reason of his godly conduct.[22] However, the Isaiah song of this miracle references the cleansing of sin as well.[23] Perhaps this sin-sickness relationship would explain the symbolism of Naaman’s “baptism” which may or may not have been covenant initiation.[24] For that, does sickness have an inherit blessing quality in bringing sufferers closer to God?

Healing as Part of the mission

Modern Views of Jesus’ Mission

Where Does Illness Come From?

Is Sickness Good?

Why did Jesus Heal?

The Compassion Motive

Healing after Christ

Applying the Promise

[1] Exodus 15:22-26; 23:25-26; Leviticus 26:3-13; Deuteronomy 7:14-15; 28:1-14; Proverbs 3:7-8

[2] Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 28:15-68

[3] Brown, 79-80

[4] Deuteronomy 31:17

[5] Leviticus 13, 14

[6] Leviticus 19:14; 21:18-21

[7] Exodus 4:11-12; Psalm 94:9

[8] II Samuel 19:32, 35; I Kings 1:1; 14:4

[9] I Samuel 3:2; 4:15; II Kings 13:14

[10] Genesis 15:15; 25:8; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Judges 2:8; 8:32

[11] Genesis 1:28; Exodus 23:25-26; Deuteronomy 7:12-15; 28:18

[12] Exodus 5:3; I Samuel 5:6-12; 6:19-20; II Kings 6:18-20; 15:5; II Chronicles 26:16-21

[13] Job 1:12; 2:4-7

[14] Job 4:6-15

[15] Brown, 65.

[16] Paul W. Walaskay. “Biblical and classical foundations of the healing ministries.” Journal of Pastoral Care 37.3 (Sep. 1983): 202.

[17] I Samuel 12:19; 25:36-38; II Sam 12:13-18, 22; II Kings 1:2, 16-17; II Chronicles 13:20; 36:15-16; Romans 6:23

[18] II Samuel 3:29; I King 13:4; II Kings 5:24-27; II Chronicles 21:18-19

[19] Matthew 9:2-5

[20] Matthew 9:6-8; McGinley, 68.

[21] Isaiah 33:24; 53:4-5; John 5:14; I Corinthians 11:27-32; James 5:13-16

[22] II Kings 20:1-6; Isaiah 38:1-3

[23] Isaiah 38:17

[24] II Kings 5:14

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  • Doreen says:

    How does Satan give someone cancer?

  • Doreen Davidson says:

    Can Satan put cancer into someone’s body and if so how?

    • danieljkoren says:

      Mark 7:29-30 talks about a child being made well after the demon left. Acts 10:38 tells us Jesus healed all those oppressed by the devil. Therefore, at least some diseases are the work of the devil. I have heard of a woman with stomach cancer who had a demon cast out of her and instantly the tumor left her abdomen. How does all this work? I do not know where the spirit realm crosses into the physical and medical arena. I do know that Jesus heals, however. We had a serious situation with my wife last Saturday, and God instantly touched her body when we prayed. He put words in my mouth to rebuke the devil and speak life into her body. This is not a science but a spiritual relationship.

  • Lauran says:

    “Debilitating sickness and devastating plague are signs of God’s anger, not his pleasure”

    I can’t imagine children with cancer are “signs” of “God’s anger,” but I can imagine God allowing cancer and suffering for salvation.

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