When Sickness Strikes

C. S. Lewis called pain “God’s megaphone.” As he put it in The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.” Among the many sources and types of pain, it’s physical pain in our bodies that shouts more loudly than perhaps anything else. I’ve been reminded of that more this week than usual—not so much in my own case, but in the lives of many of our ailing church members.

Sickness and mortality are topics the Scriptures address head-on. Several Psalms discuss it (for example, Psalms 6, 38, 39, 41, 71, 90, 102). In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul describes in depth the decline and loss of aging, using picturesque words like “perishable,” “dishonor,” “weakness,” and “dust.” In Romans 8, he explains why even Christians groan as they go through this experience.

But the biblical perspective on illness is quite different from the world’s. In God’s view, living with a healthy awareness of our own mortality is actually freeing, not morbid. It forces us to embrace our own inevitable death, and thus, to embrace reality. The more we embrace our own mortality, the more deeply we learn to value the things that matter—life, relationships, creativity & beauty, creation itself. We can embrace them instead of trying to escape into them. And, best of all, we learn to embrace God as our ultimate treasure and hope, one of the few things that illness and death can never steal away from us.

That, according to the Bible, is one of the greatest lessons God means to teach us through our pain—that we can endure anything as long as God stays with us through it. Illness reminds us that the main prize in life is to get God, not get healthy. There’s nothing like a prolonged illness or the inexorable decline of old age to help us realize we actually need God more than we need to feel better.

It’s a lesson we learn most clearly in the cross. Jesus died, not so that you would never suffer, never get sick, or never die. Jesus died so that your death would simply set you in God’s presence forever. The only kind of suffering that can really destroy you would be to be cast away from God. Jesus died to make sure that would never happen.