¶ Poor health could be a leash used by God as the only way of restraining us from a foolish move.
¶ It could be the product of an ungodly lifestyle. I’m sure you could denounce drunkenness, drugs, smokes and promiscuity as eloquently as me. Most of us are also alert to the health-destroying sins of anger, envy and bitterness. But I draw attention to lack of faith, manifesting itself in worry, frantic activity and a refusal to delegate. More subtle still is the pressure to be over-zealous, slaving dangerously long hours ‘for the Lord’.
¶ We have noted that frail health could be a Satanic obstruction against which we should call down fire from heaven. On the other extreme, however, Scripture is emphatic that illness could be divine punishment.a (We need go no further than Job’s counselors to see how this truth can be horribly abused.)
¶ Arthritis might be a cross to bear – if it resulted from languishing in a damp cell while awaiting trial for one’s faith. We saw earlier that, as Jesus used the term, a ‘cross’ is suffering voluntarily embraced in order to follow Christ. Paul’s wounds and Epaphroditus’ illness fit this narrow slot.b Looking down from heaven, earth’s events are seen upside down: Paul’s marks of shame, for instance, become medals of honor. Causes of pain can be reasons for joy.
¶ Could a heavenly experience make you ill? It happened in the Bible and a refusal to lower God’s Word from the status of God’s book for today to spiritual ancient history compels the conclusion that it could happen to you. Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord damaged his eyes.c On Patmos John fell down as if dead.d ‘No one can see my face and live,’ the Lord warned Moses who had to settle for a lesser revelation.e After a vision ‘Daniel fainted and was sick’ for days. Another vision physically overwhelmed him and temporarily left him dumb.f For Ezekiel and John the Baptist’s father, their loss of speech lasted much longer.g It is difficult to gauge how serious such afflictions would have been had the Lord not intervened with healing. I would like to argue that in such circumstances God would always heal. However, many scholars believe that Jacob’s heavenly wrestler left both Jacob and my argument permanently lame.h Such mysteries highlight my ignorance, bolstering my suspicion that there are causes of sickness I have not even identified. Certainly in the realm of rare events one might find almost anything. For Bruce Olson, lone missionary in the jungles of South America, life-threatening illness was the only thing keeping him alive. The savage he loved wanted to kill him but superstition forbade the murder of anyone critically ill. Chronic hepatitis not only saved Bruce’s life, it played a key role in winning over an enemy and proved a significant factor in Bruce’s eventual success.164
God’s leash, Satan’s hammer, rod of correction,a black velvet, red herring, pruning hook, sin’s fruit, mental trick, badge of honor, springboard to service, glory aftermath, sealed mystery – who knows the true character of your disability? God. And with those who press him, he shares his secrets – on a need-to-know basis. (Sorry about that last phrase, yet even that is comforting. Seek, however. Your need to know may be greater than you think.)
Before abandoning you with this seething brew of possibilities, I offer a suggested vantage-point from which to view the cauldron.
We should not exalt infirmity, nor bow to it. Even if through divine genius sickness often ends up more a surge than a scourge, all affliction, like death, can be tracked back to Adam’s sin.b If God ever uses sickness, it displays his terrifying power: he can even compel evil to perfect his holy purposes.
Regardless of whether Paul’s ‘thorn’ was sickness, it has much to teach us. Christ deflected the Devil’s dart with such precision that it punctured only that part of Paul that was in danger of bloating with pride. Though hurled in Satanic wrath, it past through the scarred hands of Jesus and entered Paul as a manifestation of divine love and wisdom. Nonetheless, we can so focus on the good God squeezed out of this that we overlook the key elements. Paul’s discomfort originated with the Evil One and became necessary because the sin of pride lurked dangerously near.c
Poor health is not God’s first choice – Adam and Eve were created whole. Neither is it his final solution – sickness has no place in the world to come.d
Aeneas was bedridden ‘eight years, and was sick of the palsy’.e ‘After eight years, I’d be sick of the palsy, too,’ cracks some clown. Not necessarily. Remember Fanny Crosby. Remember the British spinster in bed forty years with ‘the ‘flu’. ‘Wilt thou be made whole?’ queried Jesus.f For the long-term patient, full health often means an unnerving disruption of lifestyle. Even when infirmity is spiritually beneficial, we can dwell too long in that state. If we need a pride pricker, we obviously have a problem with pride. If we need the pruning power of sickness, it suggests inadequate self-restraint, insensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, or some other spiritual deficiency. We should seek to overcome the deficiency so we no longer need our sickness.
If you lie awake worrying about how they’ll fit all your medical conditions on your death certificate – even if you are so near death you look like your passport photo – I believe you have a right, almost a duty, to pray for healing. And unbelieving prayer is wasted prayer.
Never give up your quest for healing. Remember the cripple who habitually begged at the temple gate. Innumerable times, possibly every year since his childhood, the Son of God must have walked past this man. After more than forty years of disability, even after the Messiah had left the planet, God healed him.g
One final reassurance: agonizing health problems can never thwart the Almighty’s love. It was somewhere in the midst of the apostle Paul’s amazing catalogue of trials that he made the triumphant discovery that nothing – not deprivation, starvation, torture, or lingering death – can remove us from the love of God.a Job’s ailment was not allowed to be lethal and his reward was great.b Willie Burton’s fever limited his ministry but not God’s work. I’m told a friend went in his place and a Mission Station was established, though beyond that, my source is silent. The intricacies are kept from me. I’m used to that. But I know enough about God to know it worked out perfectly.