I haven’t been posting for the past while because of a big move and some vacation time, but after coming across this piece of news on Facebook (also here), I felt I had to rush posting the sermon I preached this week. We’ve been going through the Gospel of Mark (I’ll post previous sermons soon) and asked the question: “Why do Christians get sick?” which goes right along with the very popular “If God is good and all powerful, then why do bad things happen?”
My short response when I re-posted the article on the AOTCN Facebook page was this:
“Truly demonic thinking that sounds logical from the average Canadian/US, secularist’s worldview. You just don’t get to hear it spoken very often. It’s the same thinking that makes amniocentesis a regular procedure to test for ‘abnormalities’ to see if the mother ‘needs an abortion’. Or pushes euthanasia for people who have no ‘quality of life’ or become a ‘burden’.”
The neighbour who wrote this letter thought that nothing good could come from having that special child in her area — she couldn’t have been more wrong. His presence is an act of grace and a gift from God.
Below is the sermon I wrote:
The Question of Sickness
Last week we looked at a couple of Jesus’ healing miracles from Mark 1 and His attitude towards the sick. We saw He was merciful towards the sick, felt their pain, and was willing to go against societal customs and conventions to show love to those who were suffering.
The question that we didn’t address was this: “Why do Christians get sick?” That’s a big one. It goes right along with the very popular… “If God is good and all powerful, then why do bad things happen?” I’m sure you’ve thought about this. Everyone has been touched by sickness.
Perhaps you’ve asked these questions:
- If Christians are saved, free from the curse, are blessed by God, are a member of His family, then why do we – His adopted children – get sick?
- Doesn’t God have the power to do something about the problems in this world?
- Why would God want us to suffer with pain, disease, or birth defects?
- If God can do something, then why doesn’t He?
That’s the question I want to look into today.
Sickness Is Everywhere
Everyone gets sick. There is no country you can go to where you can be free from it, no people that are not touched by it, no faith or creed that is excused from the ravages of sickness. No matter how rich you are, you will still be affected by it. Men, women, and children of every race, religion and social class get sick.
The 19th century Anglican Bishop JC Ryle, in a paper called “Sickness”), said this:
“From the crown of our head to the sole of our foot we are liable to disease. Our capacity of suffering is something fearful to contemplate. Who can count up the ailments by which our bodily frame may be assailed? Who ever visited a museum of morbid anatomy without a shudder? ‘Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long.’ It is not, to my mind, so wonderful that men should die so soon, as it is that they should live so long.”
No matter how much medical technology we create, and how amazing our doctors are, humans are still going to get sick and die. It’s universally prevalent. And every part of our body can get sick. From our brains to our feet, our scalp to our intestines, there is not one part of our body that is free from the potential effects of disease.
But why? Did God plan it this way? Most Baptists and conservative Christians will pray very sincerely for someone who is sick in hopes that they will get better, but inside the prayer, almost every time, is their little caveat – maybe you’ve heard this or prayed like this:
“Lord, if it be your will to heal, then please do… or, if it’s your will work through the doctors then do that… or, if it’s your will to have them be sick for longer then please give them patience to endure this until they get better… or if it’s your will that they pass away then be with them until they die and then bring them to heaven.”
Wow… that pretty much covers all the bases, doesn’t it? We pray as though we have no idea what God is doing, is going to do, or what possibly come of it. And in truth, we really don’t. Which is probably why we treat any kind of sickness a something that we are meant to endure, get through, get over, and avoid at all costs. Most people believe there is nothing good that could come from being sick. How could there be?
But let me introduce a difficult and radical thought – for some anyway.
Could it be that God actually designed sickness into our world on purpose and uses it as a way to produce something good in us? Could it be that there are times when being sick is a good thing?
We are in The Middle
Now, we can say with great certainty that at the beginning God’s original plan for humanity did not include any kind of sickness. There was no sickness, disease or death in the Garden of Eden. And it will be the same thing when we reach the New Heavens and New Earth. Revelation 21:4:
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
But when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit they brought death into the world. Not immediate death – they didn’t die the moment they took a bite – but first spiritual death and separation from God, and then physical death through the wearing down of our bodies and the presence of calamity and disease.
Jesus came to fix all of that and to restore things back to where they are supposed to be. Romans 5:12, 17:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…. because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
That’s the gospel. Jesus came to put right all the things that went wrong because of our sin.
But here we are in the middle. We are saved by the grace of Jesus, destined for eternal life with him, but not yet living in heaven. And so we are still dealing with the echo-effects of sin in this world as God brings His plan of salvation to completion. We’re in the middle.
Combating The Prosperity Gospel
But the question remains: Why do Christians get sick? We can maybe make a case for why non-believers get sick — they are still under sin and God’s judgment. But, why would saved, believing, Christians get sick? Aren’t we free from the curse? Doesn’t Jesus say that we have new lives, new souls, we are reborn, He gives us the “abundant life”? Sickness certainly isn’t part of the “abundant life”, is it?
Some preachers talk that way. It’s called the Prosperity Gospel. They say that all your sickness is because of your lack of faith and sin in your life. If you had more faith and were a better person, then you wouldn’t be sick (or poor). They teach that God needs to punish you by making you sick so that you will stop sinning and/or have greater faith. More faith = better health, more money, & a happier life. That’s not a scriptural truth.
Here’s the truth: No sickness is a punishment from God.
Remember that Jesus took the full punishment for all sin on the cross. If we believe in Jesus then there is nothing further that needs to be done to purchase our salvation. God already dealt with that sin, and already punished Jesus on our behalf. Jesus paid the penalty for that sin, and so God isn’t going to punish you for it. That would diminish what Jesus does and rob glory from Him. For all believers, their sin has been paid in full.
In the Bible God gives us many reasons why Christians, and everyone else, gets sick. These reasons have nothing to do with being punished by God and everything to do with receiving the grace of God. I want to go through some of those reasons with you. I’m going to use the word “sickness”, but you can replace it with “calamaty” or “troubles” too.
1. God Uses Sickness To Move Us From Sin to Repentance
1. Let’s start with the most difficult and controversial one, specifically for Christian believers. The Bible teaches that some Christians get sick as a direct result of unconfessed, unrepentant sin.
“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)
Here we see the results of what is happening to a church where people were not holding the Lord’s Supper as special, and not dealing with their relationship with other Christians in a right way. Starting in verse 17 Paul says to them:
“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”
So, as a result of their continued, unconfessed, unrepentant sin towards God and one another, God chose to use sickness and early death as way to drive them to repentance.
Paul says that the way they could get better would be to examine themselves, confess their sins, and take the Lord’s Supper in a worthy, humble manner. He says that God did this so that they would be driven back to Him and into a right relationship with one another. Read verse 32 again:
“…when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
What that means is that this wasn’t a punishment, but the discipline of a loving father that was forcing them to evaluate their motives and actions, and then ask forgiveness of God and their church, and then start treating the people around them with love and respect. This was done so they might be saved and their church would be healthier!
So sometimes, our sickness can be a direct result of our sin, intended to drive us to confession and repentance. I’m not sure how often this happens, but it is clear from scripture that it can. The good news is that God promises that if we do confess with sincerity, and then change our actions, that we will be forgiven:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
2. We Get Sick Because We Violate God’s Natural Laws
A second reason we get sick is the most obvious, but sometimes is lost on religious people. We get sick because we violate God’s natural laws. It’s not a judgment on our spiritual condition, but simply a repercussion of our own actions. God says in Galatians 6:7
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
That goes for a lot of things in this world.
If you go against how the body is meant to function, then it will have problems. If you eat poorly, you won’t feel well. If you fill your body with foreign chemicals and stimulants, you’re going to feel dependant on them or sick because of them. If you are pregnant and abuse your body, it will effect the child. If you don’t exercise enough, then you’re going to have physical problems. If you don’t wash your hands and then stick germs in your mouth, you’ll get sick. If you starve yourself, your body will eat itself and you will feel pain and you’re going to get sick because you need food. If you are surrounded by industrial pollutants, it is going to mess up how your body functions.
This is a non-spiritual concept and seems to be one that some religious people miss. Sometimes you’re not sick for any reason other than you are simply reaping what you’ve sown. It’s not a judgement from God, and it’s not a lesson from God other than: If you treat your body poorly, then you will feel poorly.
3. God’s Power is Made Perfect in Weakness
A third reason we get sick, or have illness, is because God wants to use that weakness or sickness for a purpose. It’s not because of sin, or because God is cruel, or because of our own doing… but because God wants to do something special, and He’s using an illness to do it. Read John 9. Here Jesus comes across a man with a congenital disorder.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”
We then read in the rest of the chapter that Jesus healed him, and he was able to stand before many people and be living proof of the power of God. He was able to testify before civic and religious authorities, was saved, and used by God to show the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
In the same way the Apostle Paul tells us that God allowed some really difficult things in His life, but for a good reason.
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
There are lots of differing ideas about this thorn in the flesh. Some people say it was clinical depression, continuous temptations, or spiritual or personal opponents. There are many who believe that the thorn was a physical sickness such as poor eyesight, malaria, or migraine headaches. And God allowed these to continue because it says if they didn’t Paul was in danger of becoming prideful, conceited, taking the glory from God, and losing the spiritual blessing of the power of Christ that rested upon him. When asked if he would make the trade to be healthy or continuously feel the presence and power of Jesus, there was no question which Paul would choose.
4. Sickness Reminds us of Our Mortality
Another reason for sickness (and I’m going to take the next few right out of JC Ryle’s excellent article) is that sickness helps remind us of our mortality. Most people live as though they’ll never die. They treat earth as their permanent home and their bodies as indestructable. A bout with a serious illness snaps a lot of people out of that. It helps them see that they really are human, that there is an end, and that they’d better start considering what they need to do before they die.
Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool who built bigger barns to hold all of his wealth and then settles down to an easy, hedonistic life, but didn’t realize that he was going to die the next day and be judged. Sickness can help us to realize that we are not going to live forever and that we need to get on with the important things of life.
5. Sickness Makes Us To Consider Our Place Before God
Sickness and calamity not only remind us of our own mortality, but also causes us to consider our place before God. Many people never give faith a second thought until they come face to face with a serious illness. Ryle says,
“a severe disease has sometimes a wonderful power of mustering and rallying these thoughts, and bringing them up before the eyes of a man’s soul.”
Consider what happened to the sailors who were transporting Jonah and were about to lose their life in the storm. What did they do? They called out to their gods and Jonah was able to tell them of the One, True, Creator God. Or how Naaman was humbled when he called on the prophet Elijah.
Serious illness almost forces us to do a theology check. If we haven’t asked big. theological questions before, then we might start while we’re flat on our back facing death.
6. Sickness Can Soften Our Heart and Teach us Wisdom
Up until we’re sick we can really, actually believe that the good things in this world are found in our money, stuff, and physical pleasures. As long as we and everyone around us is healthy, we can pleasure ourselves with cheap things and never have to go seeking things that bring real joy.
The man who is successful in life and has every toy anyone could want realizes when he’s sick that there’s no one around to care for him, he has false friends, he’s lonely, and that nothing he has can bring him true joy.
The woman whose whole life revolves around how she looks and what she wears is radically changed when physical illness steals that away from her and she is left to evaluate her inner beauty instead of her outer beauty.
The workaholic father is forced to stay home and the distracted mother learns about the hearts of her children.
A “normal” family, when faced with the challenge of a handicapped son or daughter, or the heartache of a terminally sick child, becomes supernaturally powerful, spiritually enlightened, and powerful agents of the gospel when they are forced to come to God day after day to find strength.
These experience God’s grace though their sickness and begin investing in things that really matter, soften their hearts, re-prioritize their lives, are more ready and liberal with forgiveness and peacemaking, and begin to build their treasures in heaven, because sickness has touched their lives.
7. Sickness Humbles Us
Another “benefit” – though I admit I need to use that word carefully – of sickness is that it levels out society and humbles everyone. There’s nothing like a 24 hour flu to make you feel humble. It’s hard to feel high and mighty, above everyone, untouchable by God’s law, when you spend the entire night with your face in a toilet bowl.
And when we look at celebrities, personalities, the rich and famous, the successful and powerful – who we think are so great, and who we wish we would be – who we say, “I wish I could be them.” – all it takes is a glimpse of them in the hospital undergoing some kind of treatment, on their death bed, or in a coffin, for us to say, “Wow, I’m glad I’m not them.”
8. Sickness Tests Our Beliefs
Most people have some kind of belief system, and many will argue with you if you question it. But most of them can’t stand up to sickness. The person who is one minute speaking about the wonders of their belief system, is suddenly in the throes of doubt when they get ill. All of their rituals, religion and mysticism goes out the window when they are faced with a physical problem that comes out of the blue and that they have no power to control.
Listen to how Ryle says it,
“Disease is sometimes most useful to a man in exposing the utter worthlessness of his soul’s foundation. It often shows him that he has nothing solid under his feet, and nothing firm under his hand. It makes him find out that, although he may have had a form of religion, he has been all his life worshipping ‘an unknown God.’ Many a creed looks well on the smooth waters of health, which turns out utterly unsound and useless on the rough waves of the sick bed. The storms of winter often bring out the defects in a man’s dwelling, and sickness often exposes the gracelessness of a man’s soul. Surely anything that makes us find out the real character of our faith is a good.”
How Will you Let God Grow you Though Your Illness?
Unfortunately, just because we get sick or are faced with calamity, doesn’t mean that we are automatically going to reap the benefits of that sickness. God has ordained physical suffering and pain to be used in amazing ways that draw us closer to Him and make us more like His Son Jesus Christ… but many don’t take that grace and use it. Most of us complain to God and beg Him to make us (or the person we’re praying for) better, not even considering that there might be a reason why this is happening, and that it would be much better for us (or them) to grow through this time, rather than skip it.
The neighbour who wrote that letter to the parents of the autistic boy thought that nothing good could come from having that special child in her area — she couldn’t have been more wrong. His presence is an act of grace and a gift from God.
So the question is simply this: How will you let God grow you through your illness? How will you react next time you are sick – or praying for someone that is sick? How will you view the handicaped, the ill, the broken and the physically and mentally challenged?
Ask God to help you get the most out of the illness, so you might become closer to Him and more like Jesus. Sickness is a tool God can use to shape you into a better believer, more like Christ. Let’s pray for each other that we might be able to embrace the good that God has ordained for us, even when that good comes though difficult times.
Here’s a great song called “Blessings” by Laura Story that talks about this: