One of the more obvious ways that Satan makes his presence known in our lives is the situation of chronic illnesses. Like many people, I have plenty of experience in suffering from chronic illness in my own life and in seeing the suffering of other people from chronic illnesses. Without discussing too much personally, though, it is worthwhile to frame this discussion in what the Bible has to say about the issue in Luke 13:10-17: Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.”
What is remarkable about this passage is the way that the illness of the woman bent over who could not raise herself up is viewed as being bondage to Satan. While it is not hard to imagine demon possession as being bondage to Satan, it is vastly more striking and important to view chronic illness as being a sort of bondage. Why is it that we have chronic illnesses in the first place? The broadest answer is that we are fallen beings who live in a fallen world. Sometimes we are failed by our genes, such as not being able to metabolize various items that we come across in our lives and so have deadly allergies, or are unable to make good red blood cells or view parts of our body as enemies worthy of destruction and so our body attacks itself. Sometimes the traumas and injuries we suffer have biological effects, like tau proteins that harm our brains, or releasing so many stress hormones that we kill our kidneys with our fight or flight responses and so on and so forth. Sometimes our bones fail us and we end up with horrible and painful crystals in our joints, or our bones are contorted or break too easily or something else of that nature. Ultimately, many of these failures are cases where Satan is to blame for having corrupted humanity and our world.
What are the implications of Satan being to blame for chronic illnesses? For one, there is a frequent tendency of people to blame those who suffer from chronic diseases. There are certainly sometimes where the behavior of people has an impact on the way that diseases work, but in a great many cases, people are not responsible for the chronic conditions that they suffer from. It is highly unlikely, for example, that someone can be blamed for having chronic fatigue syndrome if the disease results from the human response to trauma and abuse, given that they were first a victim of horrors as a result of living in a wicked world and then suffer from the way that the human body responds to such horrors. Likewise, someone is not to blame if they do not have the ability to properly process uric acid. To be sure, people can handle the conditions they have well or poorly and there are consequences for this. But when we look at the question of where the responsibility for the conditions lie, we look at Satan. And Jesus is unambiguous about this, stating of a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years that Satan had bound her and that healing her was setting her free, and that such an activity was absolutely appropriate to do on the Sabbath in part because one of the characteristic themes of the Sabbath (see, for example, Leviticus 25) is freedom.
What does this mean for us, though? There are a great many people who suffer chronic diseases of one kind or another. In many cases these diseases are not cured so much as treated with drugs and lifestyle changes, and quite a few of them progressively deteriorate the condition of the body and the life of the person suffering from them over time. Often the presence of such problems is not a response to the sin of that person but rather the demonstration of the power of God either now or in the future in the lives of those who suffer. Whether or not people find healing now or when they are resurrected, such healing is an aspect of freedom from the effects of sin in this world, and such freedom through healing is a direct attack on the harm that is done to people for living in a world that is ruled by Satan and that lives with the consequences of problems that began a long time before anyone now living was responsible for the origins of the problem. To accept responsibility for how to deal with the repercussions and consequences of our existence is not to accept blame for their etiology, nor is it an abdication of the longing for freedom from those limiting conditions.