We welcome Brian Lowther, Director of the Roberta Winter Institute, as our guest blogger for the next three posts. The Roberta Winter Institute is dedicated to investigating and discussing evidence of an intelligent evil having a destructive influence on God’s good creation and the implications that notion would have on disease eradication efforts. Disease is a major cause of underdevelopment in many countries around the world, and so this discussion is extremely pertinent to the WCIDJ.
Thank God for the many earnest believers who are working to overcome poverty, illiteracy, political corruption, spiritual darkness and other works of the devil. Down through history believers have displayed a remarkable willingness to tackle the great world problems of the day. This is especially true in the case of disease.
Following Christ’s example, believers have devoted tremendous efforts and genuine compassion to treating and caring for the sick. Think of the many hospitals established by believers since the time of Constantine, or the health clinics and medical missionaries spread all over the globe today. Believers are even involved in disease prevention work, as in the case of the many groups who distribute anti-malarial bed nets,1 or denominations that have produced educational materials addressing HIV-AIDS.2
But there is a relatively new reality in the fight against disease and it is the conviction of the Roberta Winter Institute that believers can play a significant role.
When the late Ralph D. Winter’s first wife, Roberta, contracted multiple myeloma, he began a frantic pursuit for more information about the disease. In his research he discovered a fact that wowed him: in comparison to the truly enormous amount of money and human resources that are devoted to disease treatment, very few resources go toward disease eradication.
Or course, this fact is understandable. As Winter pointed out, “the load of healing the sick is such a burden there is no time or energy left over to delve into the eradication of disease pathogens.”3 It’s a case of being so busy mopping up the floor that we can’t turn off the spigot.
Now, you may think I am trying to raise awareness about nutrition, exercise or avoiding stress. While these preventative lifestyle principles are essential, Winter considered them defensive measures. He often used the following analogy:
It’s like walking through a sniper’s alley with a bulletproof vest on. The vest (prevention) will protect you from the sniper, but only so much. If a bullet hits you where your vest doesn’t cover, you’ve got to get the medic to remove the bullet and stitch you up (treatment/cure). But the most crucial objective is to eliminate the sniper (eradication).
“All of these are important, but the third is the most urgent and crucial.” Winter explained. “You can fumble the ball in treating the wounded and dodging bullets, but you can’t win the war without the offensive.”4
Winter decided that if believers could summon the necessary resources and resolve to mount an offensive counter attack against eradicable disease, not only would it be dramatically helpful in alleviating suffering, it could also “radically add power and beauty to the very concept of the God we preach, and thus become a new and vital means of glorifying God among the nations.” 5
The eradication of smallpox in 1979 has been called “one of the greatest accomplishments undertaken and performed for the benefit of mankind anywhere or at any time.”6 Just consider all the suffering that immediately stopped the moment smallpox entered the archives of human disease. Think of the truly enormous amounts of money and human resources that are no longer necessary to treat it. What would be said and believed about Jesus if his followers teamed-up to eradicate other diseases? How much more would God be glorified if it were clear that it was done for that very reason? To demonstrate, consider the passages where healing revealed God’s character or resulted in people glorifying him: Mt 15:30-31, Mk 2:12, Lk 5:26; 17:11-16;18:43, Jn 20:30-31.
[it] would be on the lips of every citizen in the world and in the pages of every newspaper—in a good way. The world would see the whole gospel—the good news of the kingdom of God—not just spoken but demonstrated, by people whose faith is not devoid of deeds but defined by love and backed up with action. His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. This was the whole gospel that Jesus proclaimed in Luke 4, and if we would embrace it, it would literally change everything. 7
1 On-line. Available from http://www.christianpost.com/news/malaria-spurs-christians-to-trade-lunch-for-mosquito-net-27073/, accessed 18 August 2011.
2 Alex, Mwangi, 2005. “Orthodox Church Launches An AIDS Eradication Strategy.” On-line. Available from http://ke.christiantoday.com/article/orthodox-church-launches-an-aids-eradication-strategy/4548.htm, accessed 31 May 2011.
3 Winter, Ralph D. 2005 “Editorial Comment.” Mission Frontiers, July-August 2005.
5 Winter, Ralph D. 2008 Frontiers in Mission: Discovering and Surmounting Barriers to the Missio Dei. Pasadena: WCIU Press, 221
6 Oldstone, Michael B. A. 2010. Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present and Future. New York, Oxford University Press, 84.
7 Stearns, Richard, 2009. The Hole in Our Gospel. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 219