What would you do if you became sick with a bacterial infection like tetanus, tuberculosis or strep throat? Today, a doctor would prescribe a course of antibiotics—but what if there were no “miracle drug” available? Would there be anything else to treat you? This was the situation up until 75 years ago, when the first antibiotic, penicillin, began to be mass-produced.
Since then, the impact of penicillin has been almost incalculable, and the drug is credited with saving an estimated two hundred million lives. Named after the fungal mould penicillium notatum, from which it is derived, penicillin acts by destroying the cell walls of bacteria, making it a formidable antibiotic in addressing infection. However, with antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria making the arsenal of such drugs increasingly ineffective, we now face a return to the pre-penicillin era, with few viable “medical” defenses at all. Will science discover some new “superdrug” in the fight against disease? Or might there be an even more powerful means of preventing and addressing diseases, one that has been overlooked?
The British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming is said to have discovered the antibiotic qualities of penicillin by accident in 1928. Apparently, Fleming left a petri dish smeared with staphylococci (or simply “staph”) bacteria in his laboratory while he was away on a two-week holiday, and the petri dish grew a fungus that killed the staph bacteria around it.
Fleming soon identified and isolated the effective component, but he had difficulty extracting significant quantities of penicillin beyond his experimental needs. It wasn’t until 1939 that scientist Howard Florey and biochemist Ernst Chain furthered Fleming’s research and produced penicillin in much larger quantities. In 1942, penicillin was first used successfully on a patient with septicaemia, successfully treating the infection and saving her life.
The Second World War provided essential motivation and financial support for the mass production of penicillin. By 1944, the Allies possessed sufficient penicillin to treat soldiers with infected battlefield injuries and return them to the front line.
In 1945, Fleming, Florey and Chain were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of penicillin and its effectiveness in treating various infectious diseases. That same year, Fleming issued an insightful warning about the future use of antibiotics. “Man may easily underdose himself,” he cautioned, “and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.”
The last 75 years have shown Fleming’s prediction to be true. Today, antibiotics are becoming less effective, as superbugs become more prevalent. The overuse of these medicines and the failure of patients to finish their prescribed courses of antibiotics have resulted in the exact scenario Fleming predicted. Antibiotics have also been applied extensively in agriculture, on both plants and animals, contributing to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. According to a report by The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, 700,000 people die every year because of drug resistance, and by 2050 this number is expected to rise to 10 million.
In the 2016 Tomorrow’s World article “Superbugs! The End of the Antibiotic Era,” author John Meakin highlighted a sobering observation from Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. In a speech in October 2015 to the World Health Summit, she said, “Antimicrobial resistance has become a major health and medical crisis. If current trends continue, this will mean the end of modern medicine as we know it.” Here in the U.K., Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, recently warned that the world is facing an “apocalyptic scenario” as we are fast running out of effective antibiotics.
Penicillin, identified in Alexander Fleming’s petri dish, originated from a fungus that grew from spores in the air. In their search today for new antibiotics, scientists are testing microbes from sources as diverse as the soil, cave deposits, the Arctic seabed, leaf-cutter ants from the Amazon and even Komodo dragon blood. Malacidins found in soil have been tested successfully on several bacterial diseases that have become resistant to most existing antibiotics, including the superbug MRSA. Scientists have also developed some synthetic antibiotics, but most are semi-synthetic, meaning they are modifications of various natural compounds. Even if new antibiotics are found, development and clinical testing take many years before a product reaches the market. Also, pharmaceutical companies know that antibiotics are not a high-profit item and may only be effective for five to ten years before resistant strains of diseases develop.
What God Makes Available
All the potential new sources of antibiotics have one thing in common with Fleming’s discovery: They are derived from the physical world around us. Yet, as the Bible explains, that world has a Creator! Ultimately God is the creator of everything. Alexander Fleming recognised and researched the attributes of something present in God’s creation, but why do we not think one step further: Why not look to God Himself? God is far more powerful than any and all diseases—and any and all antibiotics. The Bible proclaims a benefit available to those who seek God: He is our healer (Psalms 103:2–3). He can “make us whole” again, in all senses of the word.
It is in God’s power to heal. When the ancient Israelites left Egypt to become God’s nation, He promised to spare them from the Egyptian diseases of the day, provided they obeyed Him (Exodus 15:26). As long as they kept God in the picture, He promised to be a source of healing for them (Exodus 23:35).
Today, it is no different. What should you do if you get sick? Does it make sense to look only to man’s “wonder drugs,” when we can have access to our Creator? Shouldn’t we involve God in our health and healing if He is at the centre of our lives? Here is what He tells us today: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:14–16).
The future looks dire when it comes to our battle against disease if we rely solely on the ingenuity of man (Matthew 24:7–8), but God can provide healing for those who seek Him in faith as their first priority (Matthew 9:27–30).
Mankind has benefitted greatly from being able to kill many pathogens that otherwise would kill us. But that ability has its limits. Yet we must remember that God has authority over all diseases! He is willing to play a role in our health and fitness if we seek to know Him and please Him in all aspects of our lives. If you would like to learn more about the vital subject of God’s healing, read our free booklet Does God Heal Today? You can request it or read it online at TomorrowsWorld.org.