The Bible distinguishes between physically and spiritually caused conditions. In John 9, Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. The Pharisees, who were convinced that sickness was always the result of someone’s sin, asked Jesus who had sinned in order to cause his blindness. Jesus responded, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v.3 NASB). This statement parallels other passages in the Scriptures (such as Luke 13:1-5) which indicate that the difficulties and misfortunes common to all of us here in this fallen world should not usually be interpreted as being the result of our personal sin.
However, even though it would be wrong to assume all illnesses and injuries have spiritual causes, modern science has concluded that physical disorders often are based at least partially on psychosomatic causes—factors that aren’t physical (material) but psychological (spiritual.) (See the ATQ article, Can a Christian be hurt by witchcraft or black magic?) 1
The New Testament confirms that physical illness can sometimes be caused by sin. In 1 Corinthians 11:26-32, the apostle Paul implies that taking part in the Lord’s Supper unworthily (i.e., with unconfessed, unrepentant sin) can result in physical illness or death:
“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:26-32 NIV).
Also, the epistle of James indicates that unconfessed and unrepentant sin may result in physical illness:
“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:13-16 NIV).
These passages affirm not only that some illness has a spiritual cause (unconfessed sin), but also that dealing with unconfessed sin may result in physical healing.
What would happen if someone suffering illness because of serious, unconfessed sin sought healing through faith in occult ritual or an occult healer?
Because any kind of faith is a powerful force for healing, even placebos might bring relief. (See the ATQ article, Why Are Believers in Magic or Other Religions Sometimes Miraculously Healed?) However, if the person’s illness is based in unconfessed sin, the relief he might experience will only be temporary. Since the cause of the inner conflict creating the physical symptoms remains unresolved, the illness will return. This is one of many reasons that placebos can be harmful.2
The same principles apply when a person suffering illness from unconfessed sin goes to an occult healer for help. Because the healer can do nothing to resolve the sin-based conflicts causing the physical problem, they remain hidden like a dormant cancer. Faith in the healer will produce a growing dependency that at the very least will keep the victim from identifying the source of his/her problem and experiencing spiritual growth. In the worst cases, dependence on an occult healer could lead to full-fledged demonic control.
A person with unrooted faith may experience temporary healing, but the long-term effects of his counterfeit faith will be worse than death. The Bible makes it clear that our spiritual condition is ultimately much more important than our physical health (Matthew 16:26; Luke 12:19-20; 16:19-23). For genuine spiritual healing to take place, faith needs the right object. This is why physical healing that depends on faith in falsehood comes at the cost of spiritual sickness, judgment, and destruction.
Jesus said: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26 NKJV).
- “Psychosomatic or Somatoform disorders are among the most common psychiatric disorders found in general practice.
“It is a condition of dysfunction or structural damage in bodily organs through inappropriate activation of the involuntary nervous system and the glands of internal secretion.
“Psychosomatic disorder is mainly used to mean a physical disease which is thought to be caused, or made worse, by mental factors. Some physical diseases are thought to be particularly prone to be made worse by mental factors such as stress and anxiety.
“The DSM III has dropped the category of Psychosomatic diseases, but according to the DSM II classification it has listed 10 categories of psycho-physiologic disorder:
- Skin disorders
- Muscoskeletal disorders
- Respiratory disorders
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Genitourinary disorders
- Endocrine disorders
- Disorders of organs of special sense—Chronic conjunctivitis
- Disorders of other types—Disturbances in the nervous system in which emotional factors play a significant role, such as multiple sclerosis.
“Sometimes a physical symptom is a metaphor for the person’s psychologic problem, as when a person with a “broken heart” experiences chest pain. Other times, a physical symptom reflects identification with another person’s pain.
“Some people also use the term psychosomatic disorder when mental factors cause physical symptoms, but where there is no physical disease. For example, a chest pain may be caused by stress, and no physical disease is can be found.” (Quoted from an article from the www.surgerydoor.co.uk Web site.) Back To Article
- “Contrary to popular belief, placebos can be harmful. Placebo responses can ‘teach’ chronic illness by confirming and/or reinforcing the delusion of imagined disease (Jarvis 1990). Patients can become dependent on nonscientific practitioners who employ placebo therapies. Such patients may be led to believe they’re suffering from imagined ‘reactive’ hypoglycemia, nonexistent allergies and yeast infections, dental filling amalgam ‘toxicity,’ or that they’re under the power of Qi or extraterrestrials. And patients can be led to believe that diseases are only amenable to a specific type of treatment from a specific practitioner. On the other hand, the practitioner can also be blinded to the real disease because of being convinced that the patient’s condition is only imagined. Jarvis (1990) reminds us that ‘for both patient and practitioner to be blind to the clinical realities is an unacceptable version of the double-blind.’
“The use of placebos can undermine the doctor-patient relationship by requiring deception on the part of the caregiver. Consumer advocate Stephen Barrett has explicit reservations concerning overreliance on the placebo effect in clinical practice: ‘I am against people being misled. The quack who relies on a placebo effect is also pretending he knows what he is doing—that he can tell what is wrong with you and that he has effective treatment for just about everything . . . he is encouraging people to form lifelong habits of using things they don’t need’ (Barrett 1977).
“In addition, placebos ‘need not always be beneficial and may be frankly toxic: dermatitis medicamentosa and angioneurotic edema (allergic-type reactions) have resulted from placebo therapy. More subtle but equally important negative placebo effects must occur when the physician by virtue of a moment of inattention, a raised eyebrow, or a transient look of disgust, loses the trust of his patient’ (Bourne 1991).
“Paracelsus (Swiss alchemist and physician 1493–1541) wrote: ‘You must know that the will is a powerful adjuvant of medicine.’ It is imperative that skeptics recognize the wisdom and warnings inherent in this statement.” (Excerpted from the article, “The Mysterious Placebo,” by John E. Dodes) Back To Article