You will experience sickness at some point in your life. You might have a bad cold, fever, incurable disease, chronic ailment, or terminal illness like cancer. And since sickness is a part of our existence, understanding it properly is of great importance. Therefore, in this post we will examine what the Bible teaches about illness.
1. Sickness is a consequence of original sin; and in this sense, sickness is a punishment from God for sin.
In Genesis 2:17 God commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that he eats of it he shall surely die. Adam disobeyed God. And the moment he sinned, his body started dying. His body became subject to illness. God punished Adam for his sin. If Adam had not sinned, there would be no death, there would be no sickness.
Hence the presence of sickness shows the reality of sin in this world. Sickness exists because sin does. In the new heaven and new earth there will be no sickness because there will be no sin (Rev. 21:4). Sickness is a sad reminder of the fall of Adam, our federal representative. It is one of the effects of original sin.
2. Your sickness may be a consequence of your personal sin; and in this sense, your sickness is a chastisement from the Lord.
In James 5:14-15 the author asks, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Here it is possible that the person is sick because of particular sin in his life. Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul proclaims,
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (1 Cor. 11:27-30).
Notice the connection between sickness and sin here. Many members of the Corinthian church are sick because of their sin regarding the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
It is therefore possible that God has given you infirmity in order to chastise you (Heb. 12:6). Perhaps it is a consequence of your irresponsible care of your body (e.g. bad diet). Nevertheless, in this context, affliction comes to us from the loving hand of God. Affliction is like a rod that God uses to bring back his wandering sheep to the fold.
3. Your sickness may not be a consequence of your personal sin; and in this sense, your sickness is a test from the Lord.
The word “if” in James 5:15 also allows the possibility that the sick person has not committed sins and in this way his sickness is not a result of his personal sin. Job is an excellent example of this truth (Job 2:4-7).
Sickness became an instrument in the hand of God to mold Job into the person that God wanted him to be. Sickness became a blessing for Job, for it brought him closer to God. The wheelchair- bound Joni Eareckson Tada once declared, “Suffering provides the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.”
4. Sickness can be a consequence of the personal sin of another person.
2 Samuel 12:15 tells us that “the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.” David’s child died as a result of his sin concerning Bathsheba and Uriah. David committed adultery and murder. It is thus possible for a child to suffer the consequence of his parents’ sins. It is possible that your child is sick because of your sin.
5. Sickness can neither be a consequence of our personal sin, nor a consequence of the personal sin of another person. In this sense, sickness is simply a demonstration of God’s absolute sovereignty.
Remember the man born blind in John 9:1-3. In that passage the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” No one sinned. God is simply practicing his absolute prerogative to do whatever pleases him. And his purpose in doing this is to display His sovereignty—to remind us that we do not control our health. He does!
6. Sickness comes to us from God ultimately for His glory and for our good.
In John 11 when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Whatever kind of sickness you have, pray that through it God may be glorified.
While sickness is for God’s glory, it is also for our good. Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh…to keep me from becoming conceited.” In short, God has given Paul “a thorn in the flesh” in order to keep him from the sin of pride.
Maybe God has given you that illness that you have in order to keep you from pride. And God may not heal you in order that you may learn more to depend on his grace (2 Cor. 12:9). Once you have learned the lesson, you can sing with the psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).
Note: This post is based on my sermon entitled “Theology of Sickness.”
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