By: Cynthia Butler
Jesus rebuked a storm, cursed a tree, cast out demons and healed illness. He said that people of faith would do the same things He was doing. I know that we have authority from God to overcome the power of the enemy, but before I go rebuking stuff I’d like to be sure that what I’m rebuking came from Satan rather than God. So I’ve got to get to the bottom of this: Is sickness ever God’s will?
Now I’ve heard both extremes. Some people figure if they’re sick it must be God’s will. So they just try to grin and bear it. They’re more likely to pray for grace under pressure or wisdom for their doctors than healing. That’s the crowd I come from. But a lot less healing occurs than I would expect among the disciples of a career healer. That bothers me. And then there’s the other camp. . . the ones that rebuke every sniffle, twitch, and cramp. Some of them would say that God never causes illness. I’m not so sure about that either.
Actually, I’d like to believe it, but I can’t; not after reviewing a number of scriptures. What about all the plagues that He brought upon the enslaving Egyptians? What about the snakes He sent to bite the complaining Israelites (Numbers 21:6)? What about the scores of verses devoted to curses: “If you do not obey the Lord your God . . .” He will smite you with inflammation, boils, tumors, madness, blindness, plagues and miserable and chronic sicknesses (from Deuteronomy 28). No, sorry guys. We can’t say that God never causes illness. Or at least we can’t support that view biblically.
Yet we know that “God is Love.” (1 John 4:8) We know that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) We’re not talking about photons here; we’re talking about purity and goodness and glory. We’re talking about a being who is unpolluted by evil.
Sickness is not good or pure (and let’s not try to concoct some philosophy that says it is when we know it’s not). Let’s just go ahead and ask the obvious question: How can something so awful come from someone so good?
Here’s the thing about God: He sometimes allows things to happen that are not His will. Can we go one step further? God sometimes commands the very thing that grieves him. Let’s take a look at the story of David’s sinful census. King David decided to number the Israelite fighting men against the better judgment of his army commanders. But after the deed was done David was burdened by guilt. “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing,” he prayed (1 Chron. 21:8). So God gave David three options for punishment: three years of famine, three months of enemy attack, or three days of plague (“the sword of the Lord”). David replied, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” (1 Chron 21:13) So the Lord sent a plague on Israel and 70,000 men fell dead. “And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, ‘Enough! Withdraw your hand.’” (1 Chron 21:15) After David offered sacrifices to God “the Lord was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel.” (2 Samuel 24:25)
This story is told in both 1 Chronicles chapter 21 and 2 Samuel chapter 24. Interestingly, the writer of 2 Samuel tells us that the “anger of the Lord. . . incited David” to number the Israelites, whereas the writer of 1 Chronicles blames Satan. Could they have both been responsible? I have to be honest, I prefer to pin it on Satan. But how can I reconcile the two? I wonder if the story of Job can shed some light.
Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:1). But Satan accused him of honoring the Lord only because God had blessed him: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:9-11) So God took Satan’s challenge. He allowed the Devil to destroy all that Job had. And next he allowed him to strike his health. Though Job was crushed, he still praised God. “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” he reasoned (Job 2:10). But later he complained, “God will not turn back His anger; for He bruises me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause.” (Job 9:13, 17) “Your hands have fashioned and made me altogether, and would You destroy me?” (Job 10:8) All of Job’s accusations were directed toward God, the one he considered responsible for His suffering. While God did scold Job for attempting to correct Him, He never pointed a finger at Satan. Instead He reminded Job, “Everything under Heaven belongs to me.” Satan may have been the one who carried out the attack on Job, but God was the one who approved it. So, though it was not God’s idea, He was certainly accountable.
Lamentations 3:37-38 confirms this: “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it. Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” But the writer of Lamentations also offers comfort: “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.”
When I discovered this scripture it was a ray of light to me. I read it over and over again. This is the answer I’ve been looking for. Is sickness ever God’s will? No. “He does not willingly bring affliction.” He may allow it; He may in some extreme cases even cause it. But it is not His wish. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus spent so much of His time during His ministry curing people, people said to be “under the power of the devil” (Acts 10:38) Job was oppressed by Satan despite his righteousness. Others were stricken by God himself because of their own sinfulness. But deliverance came for all people, righteous or not, through Jesus. If we are oppressed by the enemy we need only “resist the devil, and he will flee” (James 4:7) since He who is in us is greater than “he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) If, on the other hand, our own sinfulness is the cause of our suffering, we may shed punishment when we repent and accept forgiveness since there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of Life set [us] free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:1) Even the symptoms of aging and all illness of natural origin are a result of the “law of sin and death”. But this brokenness and decay was not a part of God’s creation. Before Adam and Eve committed the first sin in the Garden of Eden they lived in immortal health. So the “law of sin and death” was established as a result of our failure, not because it was God’s original design. And that law was fulfilled when Jesus overcame death by His sacrifice and resurrection.
Why would any Christian ever be sick, then? I’ve been kind of confused about this. Is it a result of unrepentance or ongoing sin? There is scriptural evidence for this (John 5:14). Condemnation are not ours to bear, but God does discipline his children ( 1 Cor. 11:27-32). We ought to be careful, though, not to assume that an illness is the fault of the sufferer (John 9:2) or we will end up like Job’s friends: “miserable comforters” who are judgemental toward the ailing (Job 16:2; Job 42:7). And we also ought to be careful not to assume that God has given us an illness to teach us something. Did Jesus ever strike anyone with illness as long as He walked the earth? There is no record of it. As Christians we are redeemed to a life of peace with God. And to those under God’s covenant of peace the Lord says, “you will have nothing to fear. . . If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you.” (Isaiah 54:14-15). Under the new covenant, the Lord is our ally, never our attacker.
So why would a Christian be sick? At least we can eliminate the theory that it’s because God wants us to be sick. We know now that’s not the case. And it’s not because God’s power is limited either. That’s encouraging. That means that no illness is incurable. And God desires our restoration. One thing I do notice in the scriptures, though, is that God is a delegater. “All authority in Heaven and on Earth” (Matt. 28:18) belongs to Jesus, but He delegated some authority to us, too. We are officially equipped and commissioned “to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19). What if we do not do so, either because we are too passive or we are unaware of our God-given ability? Then some things we wish God would do will be left undone because we who were appointed to do them are neglecting them- healing included. That is not to say that we are to blame when something terrible happens. It is just to say that there is more power available to us than we have yet accessed. And the inner conflict we experience when someone is suffering- the feeling that “This is not the way it’s supposed to be”- is probably right.
Here is another thing I find in scripture, and of this I am increasingly sure: God supplies power to us, but without faith we cannot benefit from it. The people of Jesus’ hometown saw very few miracles even while Jesus walked among them; “He was amazed at their lack of faith”. (Mark 6:6) And the disciples failed to drive out a demon in a little boy because they had “so little faith” (Matt 17:20).
This very same lack of faith may be what exposes us to illness when we ought to be well. We are told to “take up the shield of faith with which [we] can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Eph. 6:16) We have access to a strong defense, but we must take it up in our hands in order to be protected. In this same passage, the word of God is described as the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17). In order to fight a spiritual battle we need more than casual familiarity with the scriptures. We need to be ready to wield them! But our confidence should not be based on our own spiritual knowledge or even our own faith, but on God’s faithfulness. I don’t know about you, but I have seen God answer many of my prayers, and not once do I remember praying with a perfect faith. I guess I just gave God what I had and He made up for what I lacked. He is faithful because He loves us, not because we perform well in prayer. All that is required of us is to seek Him, to remain in Him, and to learn from Him. “Have no fear. . . for the Lord will be your confidence” (Prov. 3:25-26)! And only with confidence in Him can we participate in the supernatural will of God.
As I have come to realize the power God is offering to his children for healing, the power that He is not withholding, it causes my spirit to embrace these promises in scripture. His words are my life-saver, not just for the afterlife, but for today. Isaiah teaches us that after Christ’s sacrifice, “the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10). The will of the Lord has always prospered in Heaven, a place where sickness and sorrow are foreign. And now Jesus has established the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. So, Heaven is not just something we wait for, it is something we can already be living out. And it is not just a faraway place, “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21). Now I know that when I call for healing, I am really praying “Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” And “this is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” (1 John 5:14-15)