Sickness and Suffering in Light of Christ
C.S. Lewis once wrote,“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world (1940).” The reality is that we will all experience suffering in some form; no human being is suffering proof. I can remember years back, as a 12 year old boy, hearing a conversation take place amongst my family. My cousin, who was born with muscular dystrophy, had been laying lifeless on life support. The conversation consisted of confusion, anger, sadness, and all sorts of emotions. I remember sitting in my grandparents living room asking the questions "Why now? Where is God?" When my cousin passed, I spent many years being angry at God and eventually rejecting Him all together. In my mind, if God existed He was cruel and a completely reckless, careless being. Little did I understand the significance of the Jesus story, which includes suffering and death, woven into it's very fabric (even writing about the passing of my cousin still brings a whole host of emotional sadness).
I suspect that many of you have had similar stories of sorrow, grief and pain. We read about suffering, we hear about it on the news, we see those commercials with kids living in poverty. The question that we naturally ask when suffering hits home is why? Is there a meaning to it all? These are some very tough and weighty questions. Jon Foreman in his song vice verses sings,
" I know that there's a meaning to it all
A little resurrection every time I fall
You got your babies, I got my hearses
Every blessing comes with a set of curses
I got my vices, I got my vice verses
I got my vice verses. "
Within the last four years I have been suffering from sickness, which consist of having stomach pain, joint pain, tiredness, throwing up, lower intestinal pain, ulcers on my mouth and other places, etc. (yes, I am gluten free and organic, thank you very much). My wife and family/friends have been with me through it all. There are days I can't eat because eating feels like swallowing knives (not that I am familiar with swallowing sharp objects). It is on these days that my faith can either travel down the road of "giving up and calling it quits," or the road of asking for God's grace in light of my own bodily weaknesses. Sometimes the best thing a sufferer needs is a friend to listen, giving their ear while hearing their pain. Lewis writes, “when pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all (1940).” It is through Suffering and pain that we grow as believers, sometimes God uses these trials to bring about a change that could only happen by him allowing/permitting suffering in our lives (See Romans 5:3-5).
Paul the apostle was a man who suffered tremendously, he writes in his second letter to the Corinthian church, "through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything."
One man I think about when I am suffering is Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon suffered from many bodily ailments and sicknesses, but even through all his suffering he penned powerful words that were born in the furnace of pain and sickness. Spurgeon once said,“Hope itself is like a star- not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity.” There are many lessons I have learned and am still learning in suffering: A) God is not angry with you just because you are sick or suffering, B) God is working despite what you may see, C) In the end it will all work out for the good of those who love God, but most importantly those loved by God. Paul wrote, "We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." We are fragile clay jars and all the while God has put us on display for the world to see. What is mysterious and beautiful is that somehow in our brokenness we are reflecting Jesus. We also learn that in weakness God's power is made known, which is completely contrary to our natural mentality.
In some popular western television sermons, these preachers will advocate healthy living along with wealthy living. I am always perplexed by these sermons, given the fact that I cannot find anyone in the NT getting rich off of God's gospel (Money is not evil, people are evil. Healthy living is good, but we all will die eventually). Jesus does not promise us a life free of pain or suffering, but he does promise us that he will be with us in our hurts, in our fears, in our weaknesses, in our sorrows, in our sicknesses, and in our tears. God has kept our tears in His bottle (Psalm 56:8). God has this faithful promise, it consists of Him bringing redemption and resurrection to the whole created order. He has started this through Jesus' faithful ministry and God will one day remove the sting of death. On this side of the curtain we see glimpses of hope, flashing lights in dark places. Hold on Christian, God has not forsaken you or simply forgotten about you and your pains and sorrows. That which is sown in weakness will be raised in power, that which has be sown in brokenness will be restored at the final Resurrection.
"So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal." ~ Saint Paul.
- Casey Dayton