Letter to the Editor
...And a Response [to Osborne]
Wilbur L. Bullock
13 Thompson Lane
Durham, New Hampshire 03824-2725
From: PSCF 44 (September 1992) 216-217.
James Osborn raises an important issue. "Why does disease exist?" However, a discussion of the theological problems of disease was not the aim of my paper. Rather, I was primarily concerned with comparing two theories (natural selection and germ theory) in regard to their development, their acceptance, and their over-enthusiastic application to problem solving that was often beyond scientific justification.
Discussion of the religious implications of disease is a subject on which many books have been written, but might I, in reply to Dr. Osborn, offer my own tentative evaluation of the problem?
First, as a biologist/parasitologist I have been much involved with the reality of predation and parasitism/disease in the regulation of natural populations. This is an undeniable feature in the biological world.
Second, as a Christian I accept this world as God created it and He declared His creation to be "good." I see no evidence, scientifically or biblically, to cop out of the problem with the highly dubious hypothesis of recent creationism that predation, disease, and biological death originated with the sin of Adam in the garden of Eden.
Third, although these natural phenomena are mysteriously "good" in God's eyes, much to our consternation "the lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God" (Psalm 104:21). There will come a time, in the "new earth," when "the wolf and the lamb will together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox." This obviously describes a drastically different natural order than we see today. Certainly, if we have anatomy and physiology courses in that day we will need different texts from the ones we use today! These will be marvelous events, but we are incapable of understanding them at the present time.
Fourth, there is the effect of human sin on all this. Dr. Osborn rightly points out our responsibilities "to maintain healthy bodies." Human sin, whether greed, gluttony, or adultery, is a major factor in human disease. Furthermore, as in the cases of sexually transmitted diseases and second-hand tobacco smoke, our personal sin often results in harm to others. Certainly Christians should have no problem recognizing these far-reaching effects of sin. However, even though we can legitimately think of these sicknesses as, at least partly, "punishment" we need to always remember the biblical principle to "hate the sin but love the sinner." This means that Christians need to avoid greed, gluttony, and adultery in their personal lives, and we should be encouraging our society to do the same because we love our neighbors. We need to be concerned about just and adequate health care for all even though individuals and the society around us continue to smoke, abuse drugs and alcohol, and are promiscuous in their sexual relations. We need to do these things, firm in our commitment to biblical ethics, but in a gentle, educational manner rather than to harshly criticize all who think or do differently.
Finally, it is important to recognize that human sin harms, not only individuals and society but even the biological world around us. How well the words of Hosea (4:2,3) describe this aspect of our world today:
There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.
here are no easy answers to Dr. Osborn's question. It is so much tied in with the--to us--unfathomable relationships of a Holy God and sinful human beings. Meanwhile, for me, I will continue to trust in God's goodness and marvel at the intricate balances between host and parasite, balances that result (most of the time) in beautiful commensal or symbiotic relationships.