By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I am wondering what your perspective is on illness. I have chronic migraines and like many people, live in daily pain. When I attended Casas, some people in the ABF (Adult Bible Fellowship) I joined blamed my illness on Satan and Generational Curses. Are all physical and mental illnesses caused by Satan or some kind of Curse? I grew up Mormon and this seemed to make them certain that I was cursed in some way. Thanks.
I grieve deeply for you. Few things are more debilitating than migraine headaches. Too many suffer merciless onslaughts. I’m sorry that you’re one of them.
Sarah, I imagine that most people have little understanding of your throbbing pain, nausea/vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound. I’m sorry for the disruption of even the simplest of tasks. I’m sorry for the mental struggle that you experience as you wait for the next onslaught. As I think of the misery you endure, my heart just breaks.
By the way, I’m sitting in the office of a pain doctor as I write. My son, Ricky, is a fireman seeking relief from the painful neck injury that he incurred on the fire engine. The door opens and in walks a young woman. She sits in the chair beside me and immediately takes the Tim Tebow position. She is Tebowing. Her head is bowed, her eyes are squished shut and her hands are both folded into her forehead. Only, she is not praying like Tim Tebow. She’s in agony.
“You’re having a migraine, aren’t you?” I ask.
Her lips move imperceptibly: “Yes,” she breathes out slowly in two syllables.
I’ve learned what to do when I see hurt: I comfort it. So, I sympathize. “You look like you’re in agony. I’m in pain just looking at you. I am so sorry. By the way,” I said to her after a moment’s hesitation, “I’m writing an article on migraines right now.”
“Was there something that triggered your headache?”
“Yesterday,” she said, “my doctor told me that the C5 and C6 vertebrates in my neck needed fusing. I started spiraling down soon after. At least I’ll feel better when they give me the ‘juice.’”
Right then, Ricky is in the back getting his “juice.” I hope he feels better when he comes out.
Obviously, Sarah, you are trying to avoid the obvious things that people say can trigger migraines: irregular meal patterns; too much caffeine; variable sleep patterns; excitement; fear; anxiety; stress; weather changes; bright lights; and loud noises. Strong odors also can trigger an attack. So can food additives like MSG and the nitrites in foods like pepperoni pizza, luncheon meats, and hot dogs.
Many discover that hormone cycles like menstruation, or synthesized products like oral contraceptives and estrogen replacement can increase your risk.
Yet, with all of your care, the migraines still strike.
Migraines Can Just Happen
I think that many migraines are precipitated by malfunctioning brain chemistry without help from any trigger mentioned above. In one sense, all migraines are chemical in nature. Serotonin neurotransmitter imbalances, to a spreading depression of the cortex, are suspected. Whatever the ultimate cause or causes, nerve cells in the brain release inflammation-causing substances that produce constriction and swelling of the blood vessels. Pain and throbbing commence.
The cascade begins. The swelling and constricting of the vessels move back and forth in what I call a harmonic wave progression—back and forth and back and forth—from the front of the brain to the back causing the intense throbbing of the migraine. (Incidentally, the auras or visions some see during a migraine attack result from the irritation in the occipital lobe where the brain interprets input from the eyes through the optic nerves which result in human sight.
With that background understanding of migraines, let me address your questions in detail. As I read your letter I sensed an emotional component to your pain and hurt. Forgive me if I am wrong, but your friends in ABF have thrown the cause of your pain back into your own lap: From their perspective, being Mormon could open your life to a satanic attack or to a generational curse. You needed comfort. You got condemnation. I am sorry that happened to you—however, I believe that your friends had your best interests at heart.
The reason that your friends in ABF mentioned these three concerns is because each has an element of biblical validity worth looking into. So, let’s talk about that.
Are Sicknesses Ever Caused by Satan?
Paul’s experience in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 speaks for itself: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’"
Are Generational Curses Real?
In expanding on the Ten Commandments, God described in Exodus 20:4-6 the transmission of sin and its consequences (including satanic involvement and curses) from one generation to the next: "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Can Migraines Be Caused by Exposure to Mormonism?
From a Christian perspective, the connection between Mormonism and curses is seen in Paul’s teaching in Galatians 1:8-9: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
“Eternally condemned” translates a Greek word that is the strongest curse word in the Greek language. Participation in Mormonism is association with an organization which preaches a different gospel from the one Paul preached—and is thus under a curse.
Nevertheless, I doubt seriously that your migraines are a result of any of the above three possibilities. They are most likely triggered by the normal things that trigger everyone else’s migraines.
With as much suffering as you are enduring, and with such little medical help presently available, you certainly want to cover all the angles that may bring healing or relief.
You Can Pray for Deliverance
I encourage people suffering with physical sicknesses to pray for God’s healing, and if healing doesn’t occur then consider that you might possibly be experiencing a satanic attack—and you can start praying spiritual warfare prayers for deliverance. If the problem persists, then consider that your migraines are the tragic result of a world created perfectly by God that has fallen into disarray because of sin (Genesis 3). In our fallen world sin, sickness, pain, and sorrow occur all too often.
As you make “peace” with your affliction, I want to share with you a few Biblical reasons God may be 'allowing' your migraines. I use the following analytical questions as a checklist to help me understand some of the pain and suffering in my life—and to be certain that I have covered all the bases as I ask God for healing.
Remember that any particular trial may have one or more purposes. I find answers by asking the following questions. You will find some answers as you investigate them, too.
Questions for Making Peace with Affliction
Second, is this trial intended to keep me from future sin (2 Corinthians 2:7)? If so, stop asking for relief and, like Paul, enter into the experience of God’s grace. Christ said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient of you.”
Third, is this suffering designed to increase my faith and God-dependence (Matthew 8:23-27)? The faith of the Disciples soared when Jesus walked on water, and calmed the wind and the waves. Watch for God’s hand at work in your sickness. You may find your faith soaring.
Fourth, is this suffering designed for my personal growth and/or spiritual maturity (Job 23:10; Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 12:4-11)? Job understood the larger purpose of suffering: “He knows the way I take; and when He has tested me I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Fifth, is God using this trouble so that His glory may be displayed in my life (John 9:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:1-31)? Some things are carefully designed for God to receive glory by favorable circumstances or by our godly response and behavior.
Sixth, is God using this affliction to mold me into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29)?
As a pastor, I have watched too many suffer. My family and I included. On the bright side, most of those I know have lived victoriously despite pain. Let me share with you some insights that I see working in the lives of those who’ve made peace with their afflictions.
- Sometimes we are forced to live with mystery! We will understand everything later (1 Corinthians 13:12).
- Bruised hearts often emit the sweetest fragrance.
- One hour of intense trial often gives more insight into the deep meanings of life than years of success and prosperity.
- God has the right to give and to take away. Hold everything loosely.
- God never promised to remove every trouble. He did promise to provide the grace and strength we need to live well through them.
Throughout my life, Philippians 4:10-13 has helped me through my most difficult times. I hope you find the words blessed as well.
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who give me strength.
Dear Sarah, again, I am so sorry for your pain and suffering. And for friends likely meant well, but also may be causing you undue stress. I will pray for your recovery and current research to find a cure for your affliction.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Wavebreakmedia
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].