Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 3, 1970

Sickness: Physical-Mental-Spiritual

Thomas F. Shropshire

The idea, which seems to be prevalent these days, that various things such as drinking, dope addiction, murder, sex perversion, etc., are illnesses on a par with heart disease, T. B. and other physical ailments, keep cropping up in conversations from time to time. Not that we deny that the things mentioned may not be classified as disease, nor that one who is afflicted with them does not need help. But the idea that such things are on a par with ordinary physical illness, is a dangerous idea.

It is a dangerous idea because the nature of diseases such as drinking, dope addiction, murder, sex perversion, etc., can cause one to be eternally lost. They have a fatal effect upon the soul unless spiritually treated. But lest we get ahead of ourselves in discussing the subject in hand, let us deal with these illnesses according to the order in which they appear in our heading.

Physical Illness

Physical illness has to do with the physical man and does not necessarily have to do with spiritual matters. There can be an indirect relationship, but this does not mean that the illness itself has a relationship to that which is spiritual. We will clarify this point by dividing physical illness into two classifications.

(1) Physical illness which is brought on unavoidably and where no sin on the part of anyone is involved: This is the kind of sickness such as smallpox, whooping cough, or measles; to which one may be exposed through no fault of his own or anyone else. It is simply a normal occurance under the law of nature when circumstances are right for such to occur. I feel sure that all will agree that it is not sinful to be sick or have a disease over which the one afflicted has no control.

(2) Physical illness which is produced by one engaging in something which the Bible teaches is sinful, and of course, which has a relationship to the thing which caused it. But the illness is not sinful though it is the consequence of a sinful act. I do not hold with the idea that a thing is necessarily sinful simply because it results or may result in making one ill. This was the idea held by the scribes and Pharisees as seen in Mt. 15. They believed it was sinful to eat (bread) without washing their hands, verse 2. Jesus indicated in verse 17 that it was not sinful for one to eat without washing his hands. Jesus knew, and we know today, from a scientific physical standpoint, that one might get sick (and most probably will if he makes a habit of it) through contamination by eating without washing his hands. Nor was Jesus teaching that one should eat without washing his hands. But he did teach that it was not sinful to do so.

Mental Illness

There is more which this writer does not know about mental illness than he does know. That such illness exists among people today, and has existed in ages past, is a fact which I am sure no one would be inclined to deny. I personally, have observed cases of such illness with pity, realizing that I, and probably anyone else, could do nothing to help. There are those who, in some cases, can help the victim of mental illness who has lost control of his mental faculties. I would be the last person to deny or be opposed to such help. But this, like the case of physical illness, is not sinful. It is obvious that this would be true since the victim has no control over the matter.

But this area, that is, mental illness, is where some people have placed certain things which do not belong in this classification. The things we have reference to belong in the classification which we shall devote the remainder of this article to.

Spiritual Illness

There are certain things which the Lord in his word, has classified as sinful. We find a catalogue of them in Gal. 5:19-21. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of this which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." If there were any sins which were not specifically mentioned in this list, they were included by the phrase, "and such like."

Some seem to hold the idea that if a person is a drunkard, he is just sick and cannot help himself. I do not deny that the habit of drunkenness may fasten itself upon a person to such an extent that he seems beyond helping himself. But we have never observed a case where such a person could be helped by anyone else unless he helped himself to some extent. But be that as it may, the Lord has taught in his word that drunkenness is sinful. The drunkard, regardless of the state of advancement of his condition, is guilty of sin and stands condemned in the sight of God for it. The same would be true with reference to any other act or characteristic in the list of sins contained, not only in this passage, but throughout the Bible.

Are the people sick who are afflicted by the habit of doing the things we have been discussing? Our answer would be yes. But this sickness is spiritual illness. Spiritual illness is the most deadly illness there is. This is true because its deadliness is spiritual in nature. One may die of leprosy which is a deadly physical disease, and yet stand clean and pure spiritually before God in the judgment. One may die while deprived of his mental faculties yet stand justified before God in that last day. But if one dies in sin, he is doomed to eternal destruction in hell.

Yes, the person who is living in sin is a sick person spiritually. Jesus said, when criticized for eating with publicans and sinners, "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." Mt. 9:12. The Lord did not have reference to physical sickness but to spiritual sickness. The spiritual sickness alluded to was sin. If a person is physically sick, he needs to go to a doctor for treatment and pray to God that the treatment may prove successful. If he is spiritually sick, he should learn from Christ in his word, the great Physician, what he needs to do and then apply the spiritual remedy that he may be healed.