Where did illness come from?
The answer to this question can be approached by several routes as indicated by the questions, What is the fundamental cause of illness? What circumstance introduced illness to the earth? Who was responsible for its introduction? and How does a person become ill?
Loss of Immortality
God's original plan for the human race made adequate provision for life to continue indefinitely without the handicap of illness. By arranging for access to the tree of life, the human organism was sustained in perfect condition and was not vulnerable to deterioration or malfunction .
But when it became necessary for man kind to be deprived of access to the tree of life, his body was no longer self-perpetuating (Gen. 3:22-24). However, Adam and Eve and their immediate descendants still possessed an abundant supply of vital energy enough to spare them from the common illnesses as we know them and to prolong their lives for periods of several hundred years (Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp. 22, 23; Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 138,139). The book of Genesis contains no record of physical deformity or of the occurrence of disease as we know it today.
Although the issue is complex and we understand it only partially, it is clear that the process of death began when man disqualified himself from partaking of the tree of life. In the last two chapters of the Bible the indication is that in the new earth state when the tree of life is again made available, there will be no illness or death (Rev. 22:2, 14; 21:4).
How Illness Began
It was because of sin that Adam and Eve were deprived of access to the tree of life. But there is a more direct relation ship between sin and illness than appears in this mere statement. It was the sinful indulgence of appetite and lust among the inhabitants of the earth that depleted the individual's store of vital energy and made him susceptible to disease. By in temperate disregard to the natural laws that were designed by the Creator to preserve the vital forces, human vitality declined generation by generation. (Counsels on Health, pp. 19, 20; Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 461.)
And just as it was a disregard of natural law by way of sinful indulgence that caused deterioration of the human race, so, today, the individual's quota of vital force may be preserved or may be squandered, depending upon a regard or a dis regard of the principles of healthful living. True, men and women now living do not possess the generous supplies of vital energy that enabled the antediluvians to live for hundreds of years. But the principle still holds: obedience to the laws of health is rewarded by relative freedom from disease, whereas violation of these same laws exacts the penalty of illness and debility.
The Responsible Person
If sin is the cause of disease, then it follows, logically, that Satan is the person responsible, for it is he who originated sin and who has concentrated his heinous efforts, through the centuries, on bringing about a disregard of God's moral and natural laws with the result that the human body has become progressively more susceptible to illness. (The Great Controversy, pp. 589, 590; Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 443.)
Too often we think of illness as a divinely imposed penalty for transgression. On the contrary, it is only because of the God-given capacity to resist illness that we are able, at all, to maintain health. God has endowed the human body, even in our day, with great capacity to adapt to unfavorable circumstances, with a capacity to resist disease, and with automatic mechanisms for bringing about healing once its tissues have been damaged. When we follow the principles of healthful living, when we avoid intemperance and indulgence, then it is that our bodies are best able to maintain health and to resist disease. It is when we disregard the way of life that promotes health that we then become victims of illness. For this we should blame only ourselves except as we recognize that it is Satan who prompts us to be indifferent to the laws of nature which were established by our Creator.
Breakdown of Adaptation
Health and illness are phases in an adaptive or integrative continuum. They are not distinct entities, but represent reactions in which the body's integrative process is more or less successful or unsuccessful.
A failure of adaptation to stress, such as produces illness, may occur in either the physiological or the psychological realms. The human body is a unit and the physio logical and psychological entities are closely interrelated. In the case of a failure to adapt to the invasion of germs and vi ruses, it is the body's immunity mechanisms that are unequal to the challenging stress. Under psychological stress, the mechanisms for emotional control may prove to be inadequate with a resulting rage reaction and its potential for personal harm.
There may be a crossover with respect to the symptoms that result from a certain kind of stress with secondary manifestations in the opposite area that may even be more serious than those in the area that was primarily affected. For example, the patient who has a serious infection may become so psychologically depressed that he contemplates suicide. In the opposite direction, a person who experiences the stress of unresolved emotional tensions may develop physiological symptoms, a common example being peptic ulcer, which may even endanger the patient's life by way of hemorrhage.
Many illnesses present a combination of physiological and psychological elements. Examples in which the two elements may be quite evenly balanced include peptic ulcer, migraine headaches, asthma, and high blood pressure. Diabetes is an example of an illness in which the breakdown of adaptation is largely physiological but in which there is, nevertheless, a psychological overlay to the extent that the illness becomes worse when the patient is under emotional tension. There are other diseases with mixed components in which the psychological factor predominates. An example here is conversion hysteria, in which the patient presents symptoms that involve physio logical disturbances of the organs, an outstanding case being false pregnancy.
Psychological Problems and Organic Disease
It is important to understand how psychological problems can cause physiological disturbances that may eventually result in actual organic disease. Every emotional circumstance produces some physiologic response. Common examples of the body's response to emotions are blushing, laughing, and weeping. But the body's internal organs are also affected, so the changing emotions alter the heart rate, the rate and depth of respiration, and even the activities of the digestive organs. Once the emotional state has returned to its normal, the functions of the various organs do the same.
It is normal for an automobile driver to have a temporary elevation of blood pres sure when he meets a traffic crisis. The same response occurs when a person is suddenly alarmed by any means. This is a part of the body's automatic preparation to meet an emergency. Once the crisis or the alarm is over, however, the blood pressure returns to normal.
But when emotional tensions are prolonged over periods of days or weeks, the corresponding alterations in function of the body's organs are also prolonged. The physiological response to anxiety may be the same as the normal response to fright.
Many early cases of high blood pressure are still in the reversible phase, that is, the blood pressure will return to normal if and when the emotional tension is eliminated. When such a response to unwholesome emotions is sustained long enough, however, certain tissue changes occur by which the disturbed functions of certain organs become chronic. In the reversible phase of such an illness we speak of functional disease, whereas, after there has been tissue change, we speak of an irreversible situation in which organic disease has developed.
Just why some persons react to emotional tension with one group of symptoms and others react differently is not easy to explain. Very likely there are certain inherent tendencies that predispose one to react in a certain fashion. The time of life at which the emotional tension develops and the particular nature of the experience surely have much to do with the kind of the body's reaction and with the determination of symptoms. Further more, some persons have a much greater tolerance for stress than do others.