Fear not: God has given our bodies weapons for overcoming disease

Dr. Eric Potter  ·  Nov 23, 2020

First in a series of articles on the immune system.

The prevailing tone of modern society is anxiety.

An infatuation with youth and vitality has resulted in the expectation that medical science will preserve our youth and prevent even the semblance of decline, even as we have forgotten the virtues of age, of experience, and of wisdom. Beyond the struggle with degenerative diseases such as heart attacks and Alzheimer’s, a massive amount of effort is put into “anti-aging” products and therapies designed to preserve all possible athletic and mental productivity.

Yet, despite our best efforts, medicine ultimately fails. In the end, people age and die. The pandemic of 2020 has forced us to confront that fact. A previously unknown disease was thrust into our lives, affecting us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and societally.

In response to the challenges to our physical health and emotional equilibrium, to our bonds of trust and our ways of relating to each other, we must rely upon God-given principles to guide us. Because we can trust God’s provision and providence, we can rely upon the immune system designed by God to protect us. We can then defend ourselves and help others do so as well, ensuring no more fear for us or them.

We can begin with the knowledge that, because we live in a fallen world, God designed us with an immune system prepared to respond to such infectious threats.

Our fallen world abounds in microbial enemies, results of the Fall and sin that lead to death. Body systems are disrupted, leading to morbidity and mortality. Already, COVID-19 has killed around 1.2 million humans in the world and caused suffering in millions of others, and this number is just another statistic in the annals of disease and death alongside heart disease, malaria, and the annual flu.

People we know die. People we know suffer. Reality is painful after the Fall. Fear seems appropriate.

God's design counteracts fear

As a counter to this outworking of the Fall in our health, we see God’s design for our immune system. He placed in our bodies processes and constituents to delay eventual death. These constituents, these cells and substances, are our soldiers and weapons of war in overcoming disease. As with all the systems of our body, God gave us a dynamic and complex defense with multiple layers, many subsystems, and a multiplicity of ways to communicate. Yet viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites still challenge us daily, across territory throughout our body, from our skin to our brain, from our sinuses to our gastrointestinal tract. God knew our need and provided a wonderful, complex system of which we’re still finding new facets every year.

You, as the steward of your body, can augment your defenses and direct them toward success. Furthermore, your understanding, discernment, wisdom, and experience can help others overcome the paralyzing fear which such a disease can engender.

In order to be a good steward of your body, you need to understand how God designed your immune system. You need to understand how God designed the microbial world and how it affects you. You need to understand how it helps or hinders your immune system’s effectiveness. You must begin to understand how to apply this knowledge and wisdom to protect yourself and others.

Begin by looking at God’s gift of an immune system. This system was designed to defend against the effects of the Fall and restore us when our bodies are affected. The parts and processes, including a number of specialized cells, work together to keep microbial enemies out, to limit their spread if they do get in, and to heal our body both during the struggle and after an infection is overcome. Knowing the basics of how the parts and processes of your immune system operate will equip and empower you to equip and empower your immune system while overcoming fear.

Knowing more about the immune system that God has given us should encourage us as we realize that God has provided a strong defense against the danger of these microbes. We were designed with specialized immune cells which answer different threats with different countermeasures, and that activate in different ways under different circumstances.

How the immune system is designed

The immune system can be divided into two major subsystems: the innate and the adaptive systems. The innate system is the first responder in a microbial invasion, identifying microbes by chemical patterns on their surfaces and responding to foreign bodies with speed. The innate system is quick to act, but lacks precision, and comprises a wide variety of cell types including dendritic cells and natural killer cells. These cells patrol the borders between the body and the environment, identifying and responding to invaders and alerting the rest of the immune system if necessary.

The adaptive arm of the immune system is a bit slower to respond but much more precise and works to finish the battle when the innate system is insufficient. T and B cells make up the majority of this system’s arsenal. B cells originate in the bone marrow and generally live in the vascular system and lymph nodes, making proteins called antibodies. These proteins target specific invaders to either damage them or mark them out for destruction. When they are stimulated by other immune cells, the B cells step up production of that microbe’s correspondent antibody. T cells likewise originate in bone marrow but pass through the thymus gland in the chest as they mature, thus getting their name. The two main variants of the T cells are T Helper cells, which focus the defenses of the local cells on a specific microbial enemy, and Killer T cells, which attack invaders directly. After the infection is defeated, both types of cells remain, in reduced quantities, providing a faster, more effective response against any second invasion by the same type of microbe.

These two parts of the immune system coordinate through both direct interaction and a complex messaging system. This communication system allows our immune system to activate each part only when it is needed, to finetune the location and timing of its attack, and to stand down while remaining ready for future attacks. All this occurs through messengers and receptors. Messengers, a variety of proteins and other chemicals, are produced by immune cells and released into its surroundings. Once released by one immune cell, these chemicals connect with receptors on other immune cells, triggering a response in the receiving cell, which responds to the original cell to coordinate the defense. Sometimes these messages cause cells to migrate toward the infection; sometimes they cause cells to produce more immune messengers to amplify the response. Regardless, this communication produces a dynamic, effective, proportional response to each infection.

Knowing even the rudiments of the system that God provided should provoke us to an emotional and spiritual response. We can have confidence in God’s daily bread, including an immune system designed to protect us from the effects of the Fall. Some would counter this joy by arguing that a virus is killing people. Where does our responsibility lie in these circumstances? We must be aware and prepared. We must, therefore, acknowledge that we live in a fallen world and take the talent God has given in order to nurture and steward our immune system. Discern the state of your defenses and apply wisdom to strengthen them; be proactive, not passive. 

Dr. Eric Potter, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, founder of Sanctuary Functional Medicine DBA, offers functional medicine care to patients and the public in his Franklin, Tennessee, office and online with SFMEmpower.com.