Is sickness more prevalent among us today than before…? It seems that in the communities of which I am part, there are just so many who struggle with illness.
Ponder with me on the reality of illness. It is more than the pain. It brings hardships and problems. It affects not only the patient but fellow family members as well, and ultimately the wider communities of which he/she is a part.
The Bible refers to sickness in various places. It is mentioned 56 times in the Old Testament, and 57 times in the New. The nature and the causes are rarely mentioned. (Unusual is the reference to King Asa of Judah who suffered from sore feet, not uncommon among us — I Kings 15:24).
Healing is from God. Moses lifted his staff for the healing of the people of Israel. In Psalm 103:3 we read that the Lord “heals our diseases.” In Isaiah 53:5 it says, “… by his stripes we are healed.” Sometimes God uses means to heal (as in Jesus healing the deaf mute man, Mark 7:33, 34), sometimes not (as in the case of the leper, Luke 5:13). Sometimes the Savior involved the faith of fellow believers (as the father in the healing of his son in Matthew 9:14-17). In Luke 5:12-15 Jesus connected the willingness of a leper with his healing. James stresses the need for prayer, praise, patience, and forgiveness in healing. And he bids elders to lay on hands and anoint with oil (James 5: 13). Hebrews 11 is one joyous song of faith and miraculous rescue; but it tells of some believers who were tortured and flogged without relief (but were commended for their faith). Paul had a thorn in the flesh that was not removed even though Paul prayed repeatedly (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Paul advised Timothy to drink a little wine for relief of his sore stomach (1Tim. 5:23). And he mentioned that he had left Trophimus sick in Melitus (2 Tim. 4:19). The Apostle James was jailed and put to death by Herod, but Peter was freed by angels from the same jail (Acts 12).
It is not unusual that some stricken persons wonder if they suffer because God is penalizing them for their past behaviors. Many pastors have heard a phrase, like "What did I do to deserve this?" Not infrequently, that same lament is expressed when a loved one, like a child, is desperately ill. The same question was asked of Jesus about a man born blind, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answer is instructive for our day. "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind that God's works might be revealed in him." (John 9:1-3) The great privilege of the care-giver is to remind the stricken person that God is not against him or her but in Jesus Christ God's healing love is reliable. In these sensitive situations, many pastors turn to the incomparable Psalm 145: "The Lord is gracious and merciful…abounding in steadfast love…The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down…The Lord is near to all who call on him…he also hears their cry, and saves them."
We must conclude that the biblical record covers a large variety of healing situations.
Perhaps this may lead to a conversation on the part of our readers.
Five themes deserve emphasis:
- All healing is from God, through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But God will not always grant healing. It is his sovereign determination.
- Our prayers for the sick need a deeper dimension: we must ask God for his gracious presence in the plight of the sick and their caregivers. God will hear those prayers. He will strengthen and comfort.
- The sick need the support of fellow believers. Sick visiting is a very important ministry. Sickness often brings along loneliness.
- A word about sick visiting: focus your remarks on the wellbeing of the patient. Talk little about yourself. Avoid the mundane.
- Normally stay no longer than one half hour. Keep it shorter if there are more visitors.