One of the key theological questions is: “Is God on Our Side?” Many people see God as an enemy, out to get us, punishing us with illness or using illness as a way to teach us a lesson. Others see God as the arbitrary source of health and illness. Whatever happens is God’s will – whether it is cancer or good health, heart disease or AIDS. We just have to accept whatever comes, knowing that God has a plan behind everything, including our illness. As Rick Warren says, God plans all the important events of our lives without our consent. Everything that happens is “father-filtered,” as a test of our faith. But, too often, people fail at the test, living meaningless lives in this world and facing eternal alienation in the next.
The encounter of Jesus with a man with leprosy, a spiritually-contaminating skin disease, shows us another picture of God. (Mark 1: 40-43) In first century Judaism, persons with leprosy were “unclean,” living outside the boundaries of society, contaminating everything and everyone they touched. The man tentatively comes to Jesus, fully expecting a rebuff. “If you choose, you can make me clean.” No doubt he’s surprised at the vehemence of Jesus’ response. Jesus touches him, risking becoming unclean himself, and asserts: “I do choose. Be made clean.”
Nowhere in the gospels do we find Jesus doing the following things: 1) blaming the victim for her or his illness; 2) claiming illness is God’s punishment; or 3) asserting that illness is God’s will. In contrast, Jesus proclaims that he came that “I have come that you might have life in all its abundance.” (John 10:10)
God is on your side. God wants you to be well. Sickness is not God’s will. God does not want to punish you; God wants to heal you. This is good news whether you are healthy or sick.