Spiritual placebos

wikipedia photo
wikipedia photo

Did you know that one of the original Snake Oil compounds was found to exclude anything related to a snake?  Thus the term “snake oil” claiming to be a cure-all has become synonymous with quackery of any kind.  Just another placebo in the world of false advertising, I suppose.

By contrast, a double blind drug trial is one in which neither the scientists nor the human “guinea pigs” know who is actually getting the medicine under investigation.  One group gets the real stuff, and the other gets the counterfeit.  It’s an important way to test legitimate new drugs, since even thinking I’m the one getting medicated can produce symptoms, even if all you’re getting is just the sugar pill.  (Psychosomatic, we used to call it, only these days it might have a more sophisticated name.)

Similarly, spiritual placebos abound, even in our so-called Christian society.   And to add to that is the “counterfeit faith” that makes those placebos even sweeter, at least at first.  This is what Paul warns his protégé, Timothy, about:

“They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!  They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires.  (Such women are forever following new teachings, but they are never able to understand the truth.)  These teachers oppose the truth… They have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith.” (1)

Ouch!  Paul gets pretty intense has he begins to unpack some of his very practical theology.  The guilt feelings are uncomfortable (for a reason) but rather than giving it the real cure (repentance and forgiveness), we choose the placebo of a compromised faith which has the outward appearance of sanctity, but is in fact horribly soiled underneath. 

 In other words, it stinks. 

Maybe not at first, but unhealthiness can’t be hidden for long.  And the spiritual compromise spawns additional demons:  muddled minds that “are never able to understand the truth.”   New teachings create a temporary false sense of security and assurance, like a placebo.  Only what they need is the real medication: Truth.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (2)

That’s in red, which is old school talk indicating that Jesus is speaking.  Truth isn’t like liver pills or snake oil, although sometimes it probably tastes as bad as some that old time folk medicine did.  Truth cuts to the chase and lays us bare before God, and ourselves.  Whether I like it or not, or believe it or not, or embrace it or not, it’s still painfully, well…true.

And thankfully we’re not human guinea pigs in the spiritual universe.  Jesus gives us the real thing.  Everytime.


  • 2 Tim 3: 5-8   Tyndale House Publishers Inc (2008-06-01). The One Year Bible NLT (One Year Bible: Nlt Book 2) (Kindle Locations 35512-35517). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  • John 8:32, Ibid.

Author: dawnlizjones

Tends toward TMI, so here's the short list: guitar and banjo (both of which have been much neglected as of late), bicycling (ibid), dogs, very black tea, and contemplating and commenting on deep philosophical thoughts about which I have had no academic or professional training. Oh, also reading, writing, but I shy away from arithmetic.

13 thoughts on “Spiritual placebos”

  1. Great word!
    I really like these:
    – “Only what they need is the real medication: Truth.”
    – “Jesus gives us the real thing. Everytime.”
    because *it’s only the truth that a person knows* that will set them free. Your knowledge of truth will not set me free [you cannot take medication for me] I must know the truth for myself.

    The Brilliant Awesomeness of God, I like to think of it as.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dawn, this is one of the best posts I’ve read today…or any recent day for that matter! I love the tie in with the placebos in medicine to false doctrine which may look like the real thing but is far from it!

    God’s word alone is truth and has the power to cut through bone, ligaments, marrow and muscle! It is just and righteous, a double edged sword!

    Great job!


    Liked by 1 person

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