I woke up yesterday morning thinking it was going to be a normal day. “Normal” for our family includes various struggles with chronic illness, but I wasn’t expecting anything beyond that. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, sickness decided to pay us a visit in the form of a vomiting 6-year-old. No one who is sick or suffering needs to be told that they should want it to stop. That is the simple part. We rest and we pray in the hope that it will soon depart.
How do we love Jesus in the waiting? Beyond the importance of asking for His healing power, how can we engage our heart with Jesus in the midst of the pain and discomfort when the answer doesn’t come immediately? How can we love Jesus and glorify Him when while the bone is still healing in the cast, or before our fever breaks, when the food still won’t stay down, or while everything inside our nose won’t stay up? A directly biblical way of asking these questions might be, “How can our inner man be strengthened and renewed in fellowship with Jesus while our outward man is decaying? (Eph 3:16, 2 Cor. 4:16)
Every experience of sickness or frailty can produce three main “reaches” of the heart (there are probably a number of other good ones). First,we can realize that health is a gift and not a right. Having a healthy body that works” normally” actually isn’t a norm that we are entitled to. It is, instead, a remarkable gift given to us by a Faithful Creator who upholds us every single day (Dan. 5:23, Is. 42:5, 1 Pet. 4:19, Heb. 1:3). This realization causes thanksgiving and praise instead of confusion and offense when our bodies are stricken with illness. We can genuinely find gratitude for every moment that we don’t feel as miserable as we do in the midst of sickness.
Secondly, when sickness comes to our house, we can remember that the day will come when we will all go to the house of mourning. Death is the end of all men, and those who are wise among the living take it to heart (Eccl. 7:2). This absolute certainty is founded upon the divine decree that men will return to the dust from which they came (Gen. 3:19, Ps. 90:3). There will be surely be an hour when we will contract a sickness that we will not recover from, an injury that will not heal, or an accident that will we will not survive. No one dies of “natural causes”. This is a cultural way of referring to someone who dies around the age when most people die. To Adam, who lived to be 930-years-old (Gen. 5:5), there would be nothing “natural” at all about a man dying at 90. All men perish because sickness or diseases eventually overtakes them, or because something happens to them that is too much for their body to compensate for.
This is unstoppable and unavoidable, and according to Scripture it is simply disastrous to live as though this fate does not await us all. Organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, kefir, super foods, detoxing, and exercising are all great, but they can only delay and never evade. No one can escape God’s word to Adam and all after him: “Return, O children of men!”. It will hunt each one of us down and reduce our strength to nothing. Thus, while sickness and suffering are not our friends, they can be our tutors. While we remain in their grasp, we can be schooled by their witness and gain a heart of wisdom so that we might number our days aright (Ps. 90:12). Infirmity can teach us the difficult lesson that at our very best, we are but a vapor (Ps 39:5, Jas. 4:14). All flesh is grass, like a beautiful flower that appears for moment only to wither and be blown into forgetfulness (Ps. 103:15-16, Is. 40:6).
Finally, we can – and must – be drawn into hope. Jesus did not escape death, He defeated it. For those who are in Christ, just as surely as we will return to the dust, we will not stay there. It has been appointed to all men to die once, but we do not have to die twice (Heb 9:27, Rev 20:14-15). If we are conquered by the worth of Jesus and united to Him by faith, our bodies will be raised up in glory on the last Day – His Day. Sickness can help to subvert the misplacement of our hope on unreliable things and draw us into the centrality of the resurrection of our body in the New Testament hope. Paul was saved in this hope (Rom 8:23), the Holy Spirit is a down payment that guarantees this hope (Eph 1:13-14, 2 Cor 5:5), this hope is the anchor or of souls (Heb. 6:19), and we are to possess a living hope set entirely on the glorious Day when Jesus is revealed and our lowly bodies conformed to His glorious body (1 Pet 1:3, 1 Pet 1:13, Phil 3:20-21).
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”” (Rev. 21:3–5)
This morning I am very thankful that my son seems to be well once more. Yet I know that he will be sick again, and so will I. I pray that when that day comes my inner man would be renewed in the hope of another Day – a Day when all things will be made new and the house of mourning will be no more.