Some years ago, I read a book that had a chapter specifically devoted to pain. I don’t recall the chapter heading, but if I had to guess, it would be something like, “The Blessing of Pain”. The premise was essentially that pain was a good thing, because without it the body wouldn’t know that there was a problem, or that there was something that it shouldn’t be doing.
In that chapter, there were a few pages that addressed leprosy, because as it turns out, leprosy is an excellent illustration of why pain can be a blessing. The disease’s physical ramifications were discussed, along with experiences from leper colonies (yes, they still exist, although they’re a foreign concept to us “first-worlders”) and observations from those in the medical field who have devoted their lives to pursuing a cure.
The observations about this disease frankly left me staring open-mouthed at the book while I mentally connected the physical with the spiritual. I began to gain an understanding of why the issue of leprosy was addressed in scripture, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Leprosy is a topic that really isn’t on our radar screens. For the most part, it doesn’t impact any of us. We all know someone—close to us or not—with a serious disease: cancer, diabetes, cardiac problems, dementia, etc. Because of this, we have a sense of the seriousness and impact these have one people’s day-to-day lives.
I don’t personally know anyone with the physical disease of leprosy. Not one person. And I doubt that most people do. That’s why the topic is not on our radar—it isn’t visible in our lives. But scripture actually gives this disease a fair amount of attention. In the Bible, we can find the word leprosy in the bible upwards of 40 times, depending on which translation you’re using. Leviticus 13 and 14 is a major section that deals with this disease, a part of the “cleanliness” laws. These chapters are somewhat technical and tedious, and because of that are not my favorite section of the Bible to read. What they essentially cover are the identification of the disease, when to quarantine, and the remediation of the person/clothing/house.
So what are we to get from this? In recent years I feel that I’m getting a glimmer of why this subject is covered so heavily in God’s word.
“…Written for our example…”
Although Paul made the statement in 1 Corinthians 10 specifically about the exodus from Egypt, we can be sure that this concept of scriptures being “written for our example” applies to the rest of the Old Testament scrolls. Paul also described the purpose of the Old Testament scrolls, saying, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
So what can we learn about leprosy, and especially how it can apply to us in a spiritual sense? Well, here’s what I have learned…
The physical impact of leprosy
Let’s start with some of the characteristics of the physical disease. As we go through these, you’re free to get out ahead and start thinking of the spiritual implications and analogies for what we consider the ecclesia of Christ:
- Leprosy has a long incubation period. It can take years, even a decade or two, for symptoms to definitively show up.
- It’s actually not easily contagious. It takes close and repeated contact with someone who has untreated leprosy. Children are more susceptible than adults.
- Leprosy primarily attacks the nerve endings. Left unchecked, this will lead to loss of feeling and muscle weakness, leading to atrophy and deterioration.