Rev. Frederick L. Schnarr
In many places in the Old Testament there is an appearance that the Lord is the source and cause of disease. The appearance is that He uses it to punish men for disobedience to His commandments. The sons of Israel were continually punished in various ways for disobeying the Word of the Lord; and, earlier, the Egyptians were plagued for disregarding the Divine commands. Even in the New Testament, where diseases are usually associated with the devil, the idea lingers that certain diseases are from God. Thus when Jesus passed by a man who had been blind from birth His disciples asked Him: "Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" But the Lord answered: "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9: 1-4).
Because of the apparent relationship between sin and disease in both the Old and New Testaments, many have advanced the idea that all mental and physical diseases are from the sins of the individuals who contract them. If one's faith were strong enough, it is said, one would be free from disease; and this idea seems to be confirmed by those passages in which the Lord promises not to bring diseases upon the sons of Israel if they will have faith in Him and obey His precepts.
Therefore it is argued that since faith in God can overcome sin, and disease is only the effect of sin, the mind and the body will be released from disease if faith is strong enough to overcome sin; and this conviction is fully confirmed, some believe, by the fact that the Lord, in healing all manner of sickness and disease, healed those only who professed faith in Him. All the forms of faith-healing practised by Christians rest essentially upon this idea of the relationship of sin and disease; with others it is merely a question of mind over matter.
The Writings tell us that there are certain truths in all these ideas about the origin, nature and cure of diseases. But they point out also that the truth has been so mixed with falsity that it can no longer enlighten man. False ideas about God, the purpose and nature of His creation, and man's part and responsibility in it, have so darkened the truths in the letter of the Word about the origin, nature and cure of diseases that the result is foolishness and confusion.
In His second coming the Lord has revealed the origin of disease; for this must be known if man is to have a correct idea of God. He has also disclosed the nature of disease-its relation to man's loves and thoughts; for this must be known if man is to be able to understand his own states and to co-operate with the Lord's purpose in permitting disease. And, finally, the Lord has uncovered the relationship of faith to the cure of disease, that man may know for what he is responsible and for what he is not; also that man may be encouraged through such knowledge to bring his life into order, and to advance in medical research as a means to this end.
The Heavenly Doctrine teaches that disease is not of the Lord's will, but that He permits it for the sake of the end, which is the preservation and salvation of man. If man were in Divine order he would be without disease, and would merely decline to extreme old age until he became again a little child, but a wise one. When the body could no longer serve the uses of the internal man, the spirit would pass without disease from the earthly body into a body such as the angels have, thus from earth to heaven. This was the case with the people of the Most Ancient Church (AC 5726; SD 4592).
Diseases did not arise until man began to fall. It was the love of evil and falsity that first began to change and distort the order of the inmost substances of the mind. That is where man's eternal spiritual life is formed, where the nature of his loves and thoughts is permanently impressed. As every spiritual form, love or thought, must have an ultimate form in the spiritual world, so the perverted forms of man's spiritual life were the causes of ultimate diseases and deformities in the physical body. Hatred, revenge, murder, theft, adultery, and other such evils, were the spiritual diseases which manifested themselves in the diseases of the body.
Every disease in the human race, therefore, is the correspondential ultimate of some form of evil or falsity, and came forth when that evil or falsity arose with men (AC 8364). For this reason, because of the activity of certain kinds of evil and falsity at the time, various diseases have predominated in different historical ages. When a new form of disease breaks out among men, it is because a new and somewhat different form of evil has been established in the hells (AC 5712; SD 4592).
Because the Word treats of man's spiritual life, and not of his bodily life, the diseases mentioned in the letter of the Word represent the evils and falsities which ravage and deform man's spiritual life (AC 5711, 8364). For example, by leprosy is signified a state in which man profanes truth (AC 8364: 4; AE 962: 10). A burning fever signifies the activity of an evil love (ibid.). Sores of different kinds signify various forms of evil works or deeds (AE 962). Blindness signifies a state of the understanding induced either by ignorance or by falsity (AC 1328, 1059, 2383; AE 283). Lameness signifies an evil state of the will resulting from ignorance of truth in the understanding (AE 455, 518; AC 4302). Thus the Lord's promise not to send diseases upon the sons of Israel if they obeyed His commandments signifies His assurance to all men that obedience to the Divine truths of the Word will protect their minds from evils and falsities. That sickness, in the Word, represents a state of sin is evident from many of the Lord's words to the sick. For example: "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee" (John 5: 14; cf. AE 163: 7)
Because diseases represent the evils and falsities of man's spiritual life, physicians, the medical art and medicine, represent those things which preserve and heal man of evil and falsity, that is, the truths of the Word which lead to the good of life (AC 6502). Thus, in the highest sense, the Lord is man's healer and physician, and He is so called in the Word. In explaining to the scribes and Pharisees why He ate with publicans and sinners the Lord said: "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5: 30-32: cf. AC 8365). The Lord's miracles of healing all represented the power of the Divine truth to liberate man from various kinds of evils and falsities; and most of His miracles were concerned with healing because the purpose of His coming into the world was to liberate the spiritual life of men from domination by infernal loves, and this was represented by acts of healing.
We have noted that the Lord healed diseases according to the faith of those who sought to be cured; this was true also of the healing done by the disciples in the Lord's name. Christian sects practising faith-healing use this to support their position.
However, the Writings tell us that the healing done by the Lord and His disciples was specifically to establish the acknowledgment of the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ among men (AE 815: 4). His miracles were done for this purpose alone, and only because the Lord could not establish the Divinity of His Human among men in any other way, when yet this was necessary for salvation. It was not the Lord's will to perform open miracles, because they can take away freedom; they were done because they were necessary for salvation. Once the Divinity of the Lord had been established, and provision made by means of the New Testament for men to see and acknowledge Him as God, the need for open miracles had ceased. For this reason the New Church does not accept ideas of faith-healing which involve sudden or miraculous healings of diseases of the physical body.
Although all diseases have arisen through man's evil loves and false ideas, and not in any way from the Lord, still the Lord permits them to exist for the sake of preserving the essential human, which is liberty and rationality. The Lord does not direct the affairs of man's life openly and miraculously, for that would be to destroy the nature which sets man apart from all other forms of life. All human love must be born in freedom, and so must man's love for God. However, as with all other disorders, the Lord does not permit diseases to exist unless some use may result. What, then, are those uses?
The Writings tell us that man cannot be reformed or regenerated in any sickness or disease that takes away his freedom. Anxieties, misfortunes, dangers to life, sorrows, fears and many other such things arising from sickness and disease, exert added pressures upon man's normal thoughts and loves, causing him to think and do things he would not normally think or do. A man near to death, looking fearfully at the unknown future, may ask forgiveness for many wrong things he has done in his lifetime; yet it is the pressures of the moment that cause him to do so, not any love of God or of his fellows. Loves are not born in a moment, or changed in a moment, nor are they formed through external forces or pressures. For this reason the New Church does not believe in such things as deathbed repentance. Yet while man cannot be reformed or regenerated in states of sickness, because they influence his freedom and reason, he can be brought into states through them in which reflection upon his past life prepares for future reformation and regeneration. For example, a disease may serve to interrupt or break a state of disorderly lusts or practices. While the disease lasts, the externals of man's life may be forced into a pattern of relative order. And the Divine law is that as soon as there is external order, the good and true loves of heaven may approach nearer to man. This causes him to raise his thoughts to religion and to reflect upon his life from it.
When the disease passes, these reflections may cause him to revaluate the purpose of his life and strive to bring it into order (AC 762, 857, 2284, 3147, 5127, 4352; DP 141, 142).
While it is true that all disease arises from evil and falsity, and thus from sin; and while it is also true that man may bring disease upon himself through illicit lusts and pleasures of the body, through intemperance and many other things; it is by no means true that each man is responsible for bringing upon himself every disease he contracts. In the spiritual world, which is governed by different laws than is the natural world, man contracts those diseases which agree with his loves; for there external things agree and make one with internal things. Thus the body of a spirit shows the nature of his internal loves. Because the internal loves of angels are good, their bodies are most beautiful and perfect, free from blemish and disease; because the internal loves of infernal spirits are evil, their bodies are unclean and diseased. The laws that govern the natural world, however, are such that the substances of the natural world may act independently of man's internal loves. Natural laws must operate in this manner in order that man may form fixed and eternal loves. That is why the Lord created this world, and why it is necessary for man to be born into it.
Because natural substances are governed by natural laws essentially apart from mans internal loves, those substances act upon one another apart from individual human characters. The sun shines upon the just and upon the unjust, and the rain falls upon the merciful and upon the unmerciful. And disease and sickness attack both the good and the evil! That is why a little child, who knows nothing of sin, may be attacked and taken. That is why the Lord does not miraculously heal man's diseases, no matter how true his faith or how sincere his prayers (AC 5713-5715; SD 4591-4592; SD min 4648). It is also why the Divine Providence concurs with every attempt to heal physical diseases through the study of material substances and their functions in the organs of the body. The New Church should support every proper and orderly endeavor to advance the medical arts.
Unless man is able to see that disease and sickness do not come from God he cannot but think of God as wrathful and vindictive. Unless he is able to see that the Lord does not will disease for man, but that He permits it for man's preservation and salvation man cannot understand the omnipotence of God; nor can he see the Divine purpose and intelligence in all things of creation. And if these are not seen, how can man respect and love his Creator?
Looking always to the purpose and end of His creation, the Lord does everything in His power to bring the human race back into the Divine order in which He first established it.
He does everything in His power to control man's evil loves and thoughts through the truths of His Word, and thus also to release man's external life from the ultimate forms of evil and falsity. Through His truths, and the delights of man's understanding of them, He is present in temptation, in sickness and disease, to comfort in every possible way; to show man His purpose in creation; and to show him the mercy and love of God in providing a kingdom where disease and death are not known; where happiness and peace reign.
New Church Life, 1959