A healthy attitude toward sickness? That sounds like a bit of an oxymoron but I think that was exactly what Rich was helping us move toward in this Sunday’s message. Rich elaborated some of the unhealthy ways we respond to sickness — our own and others:
- As a punishment for something we’ve done wrong. We often look for something to “blame” an illness on when many times, these just “happen”. Perhaps that is what’s scary and we are looking for some “cause” that can help us avoid a similar fate.
- As a sign that we don’t have enough “faith” that God can heal us.
- As a cause for shame, particularly those illnesses we class as “mental”.
- That health is our privilege or right (which often comes with the capacity to “buy” health that may not be true for the less affluent).
The truth is, there is a lot of sickness around us. We share prayer concerns in our congregation each Sunday and I would bet that 90 percent of those concern sickness or health concerns in some form. In earlier years, I wondered whether this might be an overly “negative” practice that failed to focus on other, more “positive” things. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized much more that sickness is real in our community, that health is a gift and not a privilege, and that we both honor God and care for each other when we trust Him to restore our friends’ health or sustain them through illness.
Rich also named three kinds of sickness that are the lot of us all:
- Sickness unto healing. That’s what we expect until we encounter extraordinary illnesses where we’re not certain of healing. Then we pray (interesting that we trust docs, medicines, and our bodies for the “routine” things — and only pray when we’re not certain these will do the trick –what’s with that?).
- Sickness unto death. All of us will someday face an illness or other health concern that will lead to our deaths. Rich commented on the conflicts we face between grief and relief as we lose loved ones in many of these cases. This reflects something of our ‘sin-sick’ world. We are relieved that suffering is ended, but still grieve at the unnatural “interruption” of death.
- Sickness unto sickness. Sometimes we pray and neither are healed nor die (at least right away). Chronic illness puts us in a place of waiting on God, and to somehow redeem the pain and suffering we experience.
I’ve taken the time to summarize Rich’s message because I found his honesty about these realities so refreshing. What this helped me see is that we experience the reality of our hope in Christ not in an approach that suppresses the hard reality of sickness, but as we lean into that hope in the midst of sickness. It also seems very “healthy” to realize that sickness happens — that it is not a punishment, nor a sign of inadequate faith, nor a cause for shame. We should not be surprised by sickness in a fallen world, but rather grateful for the seasons of health we enjoy.
The truth is, Rich’s honesty about these things reflects the Bible’s honesty about sickness.Psalm 41, Rich’s text, is the “unvarnished” plea of David for help from God in the midst of his enemies false statements about his illness and his friends discomfort and abandonment. I prefer this to the illness- and death-denying strategies we so often encounter both inside and outside the church. All that seems to me to be just counterfeit hope–a kind of feel-good religion that works only until you don’t feel good. I’d rather have the Bible’s honest talk about sickness and death and where we really find hope. To me, that actually seems healthy.
Also posted on our church’s blog: Going Deeper.