Moving Beyond Circumstances that Block Us

By Keith Miller | April 6, 2010

Over the years many serious, committed Christians have asked me questions about how to come to grips with such painful topics as sickness, handicaps, accidents leading to permanent injury or death, and other such matters.  Devastated parents, husbands, young adults, when faced with the loss of someone on whom they depend, and whom they love deeply, begin to wonder what part God has in it all.

“Why was our child born with birth defects?”

“Why did my wife get cancer at 34 with four young children to raise?”

“Why was my father killed in a head-on collision by a drunk driver?”

“How could God let these things happen?”

These questions from the drawn, haunted faces of grieving, frustrated Christians keep coming back to me in the quiet of my study.  Why indeed?

I have faced questions like these in my own life before and after trying to make a serious commitment of my life to Christ.  I have cried, prayed, read, asked, and thought about the meaning of sickness and death.

When I was eighteen, I walked through the grief of a war telegram announcing the death of my only brother in a plane crash and saw what this did to my parent’s lives.  I saw my mother have a nervous breakdown and then sat by her as she died of cancer in a few years.  My father had ulcers and then a heart condition which combined to kill him when I was twenty-three.  And in the midst of these sicknesses I broke my neck in a car wreck, and the doctor thought I might be paralyzed.

As each member of my family died I planned funerals and tried to console the ones who remained.  As each one “disappeared,” I spent a lot of time as a young man thinking about sickness and death.  I watched how they affected us all—the bad things and the good.  And I remember looking up at the stars late the night we heard of my brother’s death and crying out, “Why?”

Since I have become a Christian I have seen that this scream is a way of asking probably the deepest and most perplexing question that faces a person who believes in the God of Jesus Christ: “If God is all powerful and also good, why does he allow evil and pain to plague his people?”

This was one of the first questions my mind went to after my conversion.  Out of their uncertainty, people have come up with three basic notions about sickness—with dozens of variations.  Some say, “Sickness is God’s will; therefore we must bear it patiently.”  Others say, “Sickness is of Satan.  And if we pray and have faith, God will root it out and heal us.”  Still others believe that “out of sickness can come understanding, noble character and achievements which would never have been.”  But having studied the Scriptures and having read many books on sickness and the whole problem of “undeserved” evil, I have not found any theoretical solution which satisfies the pain of the human soul in its agony and tells us “why.”

How then do we Christians face sickness when it strikes us or the people we love, or deal with the death of someone we love?

In God’s Good News—expressed in the drama of the life choices and experiences of a Person (not a reasoned theory about those choices and experiences), Jesus gives us something which is more valuable than intellectual answers to the deepest problems of human life.  With his unique self-limiting love (he chose not to use his power to save himself or even to save his cause) he provides a paradoxical offer of freedom for all of us self-centered humans to transcend even our fear of death, to risk all of our lives in order to find the blessedness of God.   Since our imaginations can absorb and be transformed by a love of us that does not demand a price in return, God gives us a choice of whether we want His gift of life in our experience that allows us to transcend and even utilize the circumstances that have us blocked.  But to incorporate Jesus’ “answers” in our lives, we must move beyond the question of “why illness?” to “what can I learn from this illness?” and “How can I love others better in the midst of sickness and failure.

One person learns patience, understanding, and almost unimaginable compassion for others; another becomes an unbearable, complaining, hyper-sensitive and self-centered block to the healing power of love in the culture he or she inhabits.  The choice can be ours.  The question is, “will we choose to be wedded to Life and Love or to move into and be carriers of death’s darkness while still alive?”

But if the losses and tragedies of life can be valuable, then is sickness a good thing?  The Gospels and the Church answer a resounding, “No!”

Here we have another of the many paradoxes of life and faith. Although disease, accidents and undeserved tragedies can bring great transformation of character, including the Christ-like qualities of compassion and the love of seemingly unlovable enemies to some, these horrible experiences of unexpected illness and early death can also destroy all a person’s values.

Christian physicians are right, I think, in giving their lives trying to snatch people from sickness and death, as Jesus did.  For it certainly seems obvious that Jesus entirely rejected the idea that sickness was sent by God as a punishment.  And as Louis Cassels (in The Real Jesus, page 26) points out, Jesus did not encourage the belief that the sufferer ought to remain ill in order to acquire courage or learn patience.  In fact, the Gospels report nineteen specific instances, and allude to hundreds of others in which Jesus healed sick people by a word or gesture.

So Christ anticipated modern medical science by recognizing that all illness is to some degree psychosomatic—involving the mind as well as the body.  And his conversations with the sick always show a concern for the mind and the spirit as well as the body.

But Jesus did not give those being healed, or his disciples, rational closure or a theory of sickness.  He gave them a way to do what they could to help love those who were sick or lost.  And today, by surrendering our lives to the Father and walking with those in pain we can be part of the love God offers to those at the end of their own ropes so that they can be open to experience God’s love and a way of life that can transform their sickness and even death into renewing life with the Father and his family.

God, forgive me when I blame you for allowing evil and pain, sickness and death, into our lives.  Show me how to learn from suffering, and help me to let you show me a way through the suffering and pain, a way that leads me closer to you and toward becoming more like the loving person I now see that you always wanted me to become.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us.”

1 John 4:17

One comment | Add One

  1. Phil Willshaw - 04/6/2010 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks for this one JK–I’ve not been doubtingor perching on my pity-pot

    Thanks JK–this has been right on target for me.

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