Does Satan Cause Illness, Disease, &, Disability?
Is Satan the cause, the initiator, the deliverer, the source of illness, disease, sickness, and disability? Short answer NO! Long answer, complicated theology. Lately, I have been surrounded by this theological perspective that Satan is the cause of illness, disease, and disability. Our daughter Ana has Down syndrome. Recently, Simone (my wife) had someone tell her that our daughter’s Down syndrome was from Satan. This perspective is incredibly inaccurate, not to mention how pastorally insensitive and hurtful it is to say. But I’m not going to let anyone say it to me anymore because it is terribly biblically mistaken.
Discussions are happening almost consistently around me lately about sickness, disability, and illness, and I hear often this perspective that people believe that Satan is the source of sickness. I cannot think of one single biblical instance where Satan was the sole cause and initiator of some kind of illness, sickness, or disability outside of God's sovereign plan. As a matter of fact, I can only think of three separate instances where Satan was even the one who "gave" an illness in Job’s case, Paul’s thorn in the flesh (messenger of Satan), and Luke 13 a woman who had been crippled for 18 years by Satan. However, in these cases God allowed those situations to test both Job and Paul, and in Luke 13 the devil was obviously subject to Jesus authority. From these instances we see that God actually is the initiator. God says, “have you considered my servant Job” when Satan had not even mentioned Job. In Paul’s case God had also expressed complete control and sovereignty over Paul’s thorn to prove to Paul that, “my grace is sufficient for you.” and the keep him from "becoming conceited." However, to say or believe that Satan is the source or initiator of sickness is just not true. Satan is very real and active no doubt, but he is NOT sovereign in or over illness, disease, and disability. God clearly holds complete sovereignty over all things including sickness, and even those rare occasions where he allows the devil to torment people through possession, which is different than sickness, He is still in complete control. As we see in Jesus, he comes to earth to show that the kingdom of God is coming, and Satan is losing his grip on this world.
The roots of this view are undoubtedly from the Word of Faith movement that says that Christ took our sickness and illness on himself on the cross. This view that Satan is the cause of sickness is just a natural out working of the Word of Faith Theology. The Word of Faith view is profoundly flawed and so no wonder this view developed into such a troubling theology. I would like to propose a few perspectives on sickness, illness, and disability.
- It is incredibly inaccurate to say that God never causes sickness, illness, and disability
- It is also incredibly inaccurate to say that He only allows sickness, illness, and disability
- It is also unbiblical to say that Jesus paid for your health on the cross. If he had then Christians would not get sick, or die.
- It is rather biblical to say that, God in his infinite sovereign wisdom sometimes allows, causes, and even plans sickness, illness, and disability for our good and his ultimate glory.
- God in his infinite sovereign wisdom also works many and varied difficulties to his holy and perfect ends. He often works evil for good (Romans 8:28).
- His ultimate goals for us are salvation and holiness. Health, if given are only secondary blessings.
These theologies furthermore are part of a new movement called the New Apostolic Reformation I have written a book recently on the subject called “Divergent Theology” I would like to add a section of that book that speaks to this issue here...
In my time in California, (as a youth pastor) I was reintroduced to what is now being called the “Third Wave Movement” or the “New Apostolic Reformation.” From my previous study of the WOF, it became apparent how these newer movements are a development of that same deeply flawed teaching. During our time in California, my wife shared her testimony in a women’s Bible study. She shared about our journey with our daughter who has Down Syndrome, and during that particular time, a seizure disorder. My wife during her testimony shared our struggle with Ana during the time of her devastating seizures. She had something called Infantile Spasms, which is a seizure disorder that only occurs in infancy, and can be very devastating. After sharing her heart in this testimony, a woman approached her and gave her a CD of teaching by Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding, California. The sermon went something like this: “God is good; cancer is bad; Satan is bad; thus, Satan is the source of cancer.” While I cannot find that particular sermon in their sermon archives, this is how I remember what he said. He equated cancer with the work of the devil and never a work of, or allowed by God. This would be no surprise if you have any knowledge of the Word of Faith Movement. Bill Johnson was quoted in an interview as saying, “You can only give away what you have. Can God give away sickness? No, He’s not sick. You can’t give cancer if you don’t have it.”
This is extraordinarily inaccurate. Of course, God can give away sickness, plague, pestilence, disability, or any other ailment He wishes. He gave leprosy, killed 14,700 people in Korah’s rebellion by a plague (Numbers 16), killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–11), He sent instantaneous blindness to Saul (Acts 9:1–9), Elymas the magician (Acts 13:9–12), and the Syrian army that came against Elisha (2 Kings 6:16-22). He struck Zechariah the priest dumb until his son John the Baptist was born for his unbelief (Luke 1:20). He struck the firstborn dead when the Angel of the Lord passed over Egypt (Exodus 12). He allowed Job, who was a righteous man, to be struck by boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet (Job 2). God smote the evil kings of Israel, and even on occasion freed them of their terrible judgements. The Lord struck Jeroboam King of Israel and he died (2 Chronicles 13:20). God struck King Jehoram with an incurable bowel disease. After two years, he became disemboweled because of the disease and he died in agony (2 Chronicles 21:18- 19). God did that to Him! God likewise afflicted king Azariah with leprosy until the day he died (2 Chronicles 26:20–21). These are just a few Old and New Testament instances of how God allowed or even pronounced illnesses and occasionally even death. When Johnson says, God can’t give away sickness, he is woefully incorrect. One may say that this is the age of grace and God would never behave like this anymore. However, judgement of illness and even death are parsed out like this in the New Testament often. As the word of God says, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O Children of Jacob, are not consumed.” And elsewhere it is written, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Johnson also taught in that same interview:
No. Two thousand years ago, Jesus made a purchase. He does not decide not to heal people today. The decision two thousand years ago was to heal. Either the payment was sufficient for all sin or no sin. Either the payment was sufficient for all sickness or no sickness ... The brushstroke of God’s redemption was to wipe out the root of sin, the root of illness and the root of poverty.
This did not surprise me, but it did once again bring back into my purview how widespread the Word of Faith Movement had become. Johnson is correct that Jesus sacrifice was truly sufficient for all sins. That must be true; if there was one sin not atoned for, then no sins are atoned for. If there is even one sin for which Jesus did not die, there would be no salvation for anyone. The second cannot be true. Christ’s sacrifice was not sufficient for all sickness, because if one sickness is not healed, then He did not die for all sickness. All men die, many from illnesses of one sort or another. Christians still get sick and still die. The Bible nowhere says unambiguously that Jesus died to heal all sickness, it is just not there. If even one single person is not healed, in this line of reasoning, then the atonement is lacking.
People could certainly become discouraged in the Christian life if they don’t experience healing for some illness or disability if people held to this teaching. It can cause needless depression and despair. But there is something more at stake than discouragement here. When healing doesn’t happen, people might stop seeing themselves as the problem. They might stop thinking that the lack is with them. What I have witnessed happen with individuals involved in these movements, is that they will begin to think that the lack is with the Word of God. That it isn’t real or true, and even worse, that Christ’s atonement is also insufficient.
If this was not erroneous and implausible enough, it gets worse. The deficiency of God not healing is not on God’s end but rather on our end. Bill Johnson writes on his blog:
How can God choose not to heal someone when He already purchased their healing? Was His blood enough for all sin, or just certain sins? Were the stripes He bore only for certain illnesses, or certain seasons of time? When He bore stripes in His body, He made a payment for our miracle. He already decided to heal. You can’t decide not to buy something after you’ve already bought it. There are no deficiencies on His end — neither the covenant is deficient, nor His compassion or promises. All lack is on our end of the equation.
Healing is up to God, not up to us. Healing is the sovereign prerogative of God. Many healings that we would have thought should have taken place in the Bible do not. 2nd Corinthians 12:1-10 describes Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Most commentators believe it was some problem with his eyes. Job was physically afflicted by the devil at God’s permission. Timothy had “frequent illness.” Jesus did not heal everyone (Mark 6:1-6). One thing Jesus never did was to produce a miracle without faith (Mark 6:2-3), and He did not produce a “sign from heaven” upon request (Mark 8:11-13), or a miracle that contradicted God’s plan (Mark 15:29-32).
Other examples of God’s sovereignty are the Apostles. They were killed ruthlessly. In other words, God did not deliver them from suffering and death, but rather at his sovereign command, He permitted their suffering under His gracious hand. Jesus gave us a command to invite those suffering under the weight of disease and disability into our homes for feasts, but doesn’t command us in that same passage to heal those we invite. His hope in the command is rather that we show kindness, and hospitality to those who are suffering (Luke 14:12-14). God, speaking to Moses, displays his ultimate sovereignty over illness and disability when the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?””
Another example, Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, in the Old Testament was injured in an accident and crippled. David took it upon himself after Jonathan’s death to show kindness to the house of Jonathan and invited Mephibosheth into his home to eat at his table for the rest of his life (2 Samuel 4 & 9). Leviticus displays to us that taking care of the disabled, and those who are suffering, has something to do with our reverence for God, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” In other words, if there is no reverence for God then one might not care for those suffering under disabilities. If, on the other hand, there is a fear and reverence for the Lord, then there will be a care for people who are suffering under these disabilities. Healing, suffering, and diseases are more about God and his sovereign plan than about our hope for immediate healing.
God, in the Old Testament, often wielded sickness, ailments, disease, disability, even plagues to His sovereign ends. The rebellion of Korah in the Old Testament, as previously mentioned, is a prime example. God killed with a plague 14,700 people in one day as a judgement on rebellion (Numbers 16). God often used these circumstances as judgement on people for wickedness. However, He also allowed these situations for His glory, for instance, Naaman in the Old Testament. It says that the Lord had given victory to Syria because of Naaman and he was a mighty man of valor. He had the favor of God, but he also had leprosy. Naaman sought healing from Elisha, and God gave healing, inasmuch as He had allowed the leprosy to begin with. John 9 is the most stunning instance of God’s sovereignty over disability and illness. The Disciples see a man born blind and ask Jesus “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responds to them, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” God had allowed the blindness in this man that he would one day encounter Jesus, and the works of God would be put on display in and through him.
Additionally, those born with disabilities are woven together in their mother’s womb by the all-powerful hand of a good and loving God. Psalm 139 describes a God who “knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Everyone, everywhere from Adam to the present who has ever been born have been God’s wonderful needlework. He has formed each and every person uniquely in our own individual ways. In the same vein Paul describes that the body of Christ needs weaker members. 1st Corinthians 12:12–27 says, “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indespensable,” which shows us that we need those who are frail to make the body of Christ whole. Without the weaker parts of the body of Christ the church is not complete. Healing, health, birth, life, death, suffering, sickness, and disease are all given or permitted according to the prerogative of an almighty supreme God, not according to our sufficiency or deficiency.
When and if God chose to heal people it happened, and continues to happen in response to an effectual faith, in accordance with His great mercy and kindness. Johnson would have us believe if people are not healed that the, “lack is on our end of the equation.” If Christ purchased our atonement on the cross and our sins past, present, and future are forgiven then our healing ought to have also been accomplished immediately. Just as our full atonement is consummated upon repentance and faith, so also should our healing according to this logic. If we were to apply Johnson’s teaching fully, Christians who have placed their faith in Christ, should never get sick. In actuality, our full and complete healing will not be achieved until we receive our incorruptible bodies at the resurrection of the righteous.
The previous quotation from Johnson is to me a crass reminder of my own experiences of the control, the hurt, the pain, the guilt, and shame that this cult-like message from Bethel and Bill Johnson produces. The covenant is not deficient; all lack is on our end of the equation. If we took Johnson’s teaching at face value, our daughter is infused with a disease from Satan, and our faith is too weak to secure her healing. The lack is on our end of the equation, and that is why she is not healed. It was so offensive and hurtful to us as a family so many years ago, but our feelings are not the crux of the matter, the truth is. If this were true, as previously stated, then all believers, as soon as they put their trust in Christ, would immediately be free from illness, poverty, and death, because Christ bore our illness and poverty on the cross, just as He did our sins. If our sins are forgiven and are gone, so also should all our sickness, disease, torment, and poverty. In actuality, they are not done away with. The truth is, even the Christian will struggle under these until we receive our glorified bodies and death is finally done away with.
The reality is that we die and death is the ultimate illness. About one-third of people who die daily die of some sort of illness. About two thirds of daily deaths are people who die naturally of old age (that number is almost 90% in industrialized countries). The only way that Johnson can get away with this disconcerting view is that he qualifies it with the phrase “all lack is on our end of the equation.” If we die of cancer as a Christian, the lack must have been on the cancer victim’s end. But that is precisely where the perspective breaks down. We all die at some point. Death is the ultimate disease, which takes this perplexing theology out of the realm of the logical and moves it into the realm of the absurd. This view certainly pours on the guilt, shame, and hurt when God does not heal despite deep faith and hopeful prayers. Surely God can and does heal us when we pray in faith, but does God do it as a rule? Or is it connected to the forgiveness of our sin? Is healing bound up into the atonement of Christ? The other possibility is that of the historic orthodox view of Christianity. In Genesis 3, when sin entered the world, it affected everything. Death entered the world through one man’s disobedience as Romans 5:12, 19-21 shows us:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned ... For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We can see here that the obvious judgment on Adam’s race was death and decay, but on the other hand, by the one man’s obedience, many will be made righteous. No mention of the restoration of health, wealth, or prosperity, but rather in verse 21 a righteousness leading to eternal life. So yes, one day He will restore our lowly bodies at the resurrection of the righteous, but until that day, the earth is “groaning with the birth pangs.”
In conclusion, this view is perilous because it creates an inclusion to the cross of Christ that has not been historically accepted in any of the manifold views of the atonement. The only verse that could be used, as a proof text, is found in Isaiah 53:5, which says, “ ... and by His wounds we are healed.” The danger here is to build a whole theology from one isolated text. Take, for example, the passage in Mark 16:18 that says we will pick up serpents and drink deadly poison and not be hurt. We cannot build a whole theology and practice off of one proof text. Unfortunately, many churches do practice snake handling and drinking poison. Did Mark and Isaiah mean that we ought to practice these things? We should rather address the “whole counsel of God” when addressing puzzling passages of Scripture so as to clarify their meanings. The WOF, TWM, and NAR add the element of health, wealth, and prosperity into the atonement that has never before been hypothesized, and in so doing, expand the atonement to unbiblical boundaries.
A very good article on this subject is found at Desiring God called Ten Aspects of God's Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan's Hand in it
I always like to close my blogs with a moment for worship. We can know God has our good in mind when we go through various trials because he is good. Be blessed by this song and sing with Shane and Shane "Though you slay me yet I will rejoice."
 “Bill Johnson – God is good, ALL the time,” YouTube video, 07:31, April 6, 2010, posted by “Whizzpopping,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SehJOzfj0Rg, accessed April 10, 2016
 “Bill Johnson: God Does Not Cause Illness and Never Chooses Not to Heal,” Do Not Be Surprised, accessed April 10, 2016, http://www.donotbesurprised.com/2013/08/bill- johnson-god-does-not-cause-illness.html
 Malachi 3:6 (ESV)
 Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)
 “Bill Johnson: God Does Not Cause Illness and Never Chooses Not to Heal,” Do Not
Be Surprised, accessed April 10, 2016, http://www.donotbesurprised.com/2013/08/bill- johnson-god-does-not-cause-
 “Q&A,” Bill Johnson Bethel Sites, accessed April 20, 2016, http://bjm.org/qa/is-it-always-gods-will-to-heal-someone
 Exodus 4:11 (ESV)
 Leviticus 19:14 (ESV)
 John 9:1-3 (ESV)
 1 Corinthians 12:22 (ESV)
 1 Corinthians 15:12-58 (ESV)
 James 5:13-16 (ESV)
 Rom. 5:12, 19-21 (ESV)
 1 Cor. 15:12-49 (ESV)
 Matt 24:8; Mark 13:8 (ESV)