It’s great to hear from you! We value reading as much as writing - whatever is helping you to thrive in your walk with Jesus.
I’m also encouraged that you’ve found a church that carefully investigates the meaning of each verse. I would rather accurately understand one verse than misunderstand an entire book of the Bible!
There are passages in the Bible that attribute demonic activity as affecting our health.
We see this idea in Job 2:
“Skin for skin!” Satan answered the LORD. “A man will give up everything he owns in exchange for his life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
"Very well,” the LORD told Satan, “he is in your power; only spare his life.” So Satan left the LORD’s presence and infected Job with terrible boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself while he sat among the ashes.
However, in this instance, Satan’s ability to harm Job required God’s permission.
As he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for over eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.
Mark 9:17ff: (See Matthew 17:14ff)
Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”
In Acts 10, Peter provides an eyewitness account of Jesus’ ministry:
He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. You know the events that took place throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil, because God was with him. We ourselves are witnesses of everything he did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, and yet they killed him by hanging him on a tree.
Based on these passages, I think there is Biblical support that Satan’s activity can harm our bodies, and that Jesus can heal us from his oppression.
I think your former pastor’s point might also have some support from Genesis 3:
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
There is dramatic tension throughout the storyline of the Bible: will the promised offspring come to save God’s people? And a component of this tension is: will God’s plans prevail? Because right now, it doesn’t look good. The devil seems to have the upper hand.
But as you and your wife noticed, in these particular passages, the opening/closing of the womb is clearly attributed directly to God.
Sarai said to Abram, “Since the LORD has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps through her I can build a family.
When the LORD saw that Leah was neglected, he opened her womb; but Rachel was unable to conceive
One interesting thing about Genesis 30:1-2:
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she envied her sister. “Give me sons, or I will die!” she said to Jacob.
Jacob became angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God? He has withheld offspring from you!”
In the story, Leah has been looking to God for deliverance. But Rachel goes to Jacob.
For all his faults, Jacob recognizes this is out of place. Rachel is asking him to do something only God can do.
What we see from this is that barrenness was not just a physical condition but carried significant social and theological implications. It could lead to social stigmatization and was often seen as a sign of divine disfavor.
To return to your question:
So my question is this. Generally speaking, can Satan affect a person’s physical health?
My suggestion is that if we asked Peter to answer this question, he might say yes, of course he can, but Jesus is Lord. And then he would ask to pray for us if we needed healing!
But it’s important to be nuanced. Giving Satan too much credit could inadvertently shift the focus away from God’s sovereignty and the complex theological and social factors at play in the biblical narrative.
It’s also important to recognize that what God wants for us is what we had in the Garden of Eden and what we will have in the new heavens and the new earth. Consider Revelation 21:3-4:
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.
Again, we see in the ministry of Jesus an earnest, passionate desire to heal people who physically suffered - whether or not the suffering can be attributed to Satanic activity. God has repeatedly shown that he does not want us to suffer physically - even to suffer death. His good and loving plan is for us to experience eternal life, with perfect physical wholeness. Yet our lives now are obviously disrupted by evil, sin, and the increasing limitations of our bodies.
Also, though the Biblical authors write from a point of view that assumes the supernatural is woven into the course of everyday life, they were conscious of other factors.
For instance, 1 Kings 14:4 reads:
Now Ahijah could not see, for his eyes were dim because of his age.
The bad eyesight isn’t attributed to demonic activity. It’s quite straightforward.
In Philippians 2:27, Paul writes,
Indeed, [Epaphroditus] was so sick that he nearly died.
It seems like an ordinary thing: people get sick, sometimes severely, sometimes fatally.
Finally, I think that it’s worth giving the pastor the benefit of the doubt. What he said while preaching should be carefully spoken and truthful. However, sometimes we say things when preaching or teaching that lack the nuance or care we have when we can read, write, or talk about it conversationally. Possibly, he really is in error, but there are other potential explanations worth considering.
That said, perhaps it’s worth an entirely different conversation to discuss “When and how should we approach pastors to offer them a correction”?
I look forward to learning from your response and what others have to contribute to the conversation!