Age-Old Wisdom

In discussing infectious diseases and the steps that can be taken to minimize our risk of infection, most people ignore the age-old wisdom revealed in the pages of the Bible. There we find that God gave numerous instructions to the ancient nation of Israel to help them avoid the diseases and plagues of their day. The advice He gave them is no less applicable today.

In Moses’ writings, for example, we find orders to quarantine those suspected of carrying infectious diseases (see Leviticus 13 and 14). Before there were effective medical means of intervention, quarantine was—and of course still is—a vitally important means of combating the spread of contagions. The food laws that God gave to ancient Israel also went a long way to protect from illness and disease (see Leviticus 7:26; 11:1–31; and Deuteronomy 14:3–21). These laws are widely acknowledged even today as having value in preventing disease and illness. Similarly, biblical laws of hygiene are critical in controlling the spread of disease (Leviticus 11:32–40).

God told the Israelites that their failure to follow His way of living would bring dire consequences that included rampant disease (see Leviticus 26:16, 21, 25; Deuteronomy 28:21–22, 59–61). In saying this, He was not laying some ghastly curse on people. Rather, He knew that straying from His intended path would make them vulnerable to a variety of unpleasant and life-threatening maladies. God is a God of love and wants to protect people from hurt and harm. His recommended way of life is practical and impacts all areas of living.

The New Testament is not silent on these matters either, and in fact builds on the principles set out in the Old. The apostle Paul summed it up by reminding followers of God’s way to take care of their physical bodies, because “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. . . . Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

For the most part, Jesus Christ and the apostles focused their instruction not so much on the physical as on the way we think—our mental and emotional processes—which not only affects everything we do but also our health, as scientists began discovering in the latter half of the last century. Paul wrote, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). We need to guard our minds, knowing that negative thoughts tend to manifest themselves in physical ways, including illness.

On a larger scale, wrong thinking—such as misplaced ideology and selfish desires for conquest (see James 4:1–3)—can also lead to conflict and war. And war, together with the inevitable devastation and social disruption that accompany it, often leads to malnourishment, famine and disease. It’s a sad commentary on human nature that this has largely been the natural history of human existence.

But it won’t always be that way. The Bible reveals that the real solution to humanity’s problems, including that of disease and its various causes, will occur when Jesus Christ ultimately returns to establish God’s kingdom on the earth.

Even though these diseases will not be completely brought under control until that time, however, there are things we can do now to help curb their spread. Modern science has made spectacular advances in dealing with many infectious diseases. We can be thankful for remarkable achievements in the area of disease prevention and amelioration, without which this would clearly be a different and more dangerous world.

But with or without scientific advances, the quest for solutions to various diseases needs to move forward on a personal level as well. To that end we would do well, on an individual basis, to take heed of the wisdom found in the pages of the Bible.