Perhaps one of the most painful and unhelpful things we can say to someone who is sick is to suggest that their sickness is directly caused by their sin. The whole of the book of Job is designed to show how unhelpful that approach is. In the end God rebukes Job’s friends for saying just this (see Job 42). The simple fact is, at some point in their life, sickness comes to every single person in this world, no matter whether they are a scandalous sinner or not.
Jesus was asked about the role of sin in causing sickness and he again strongly stated that, at least in the case of this blind man, a specific sin had not led to his sickness:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
In a similar vein, Jesus was also asked about the role of specific sins in natural disasters, and clearly rejected the idea that those who suffered in such a way were worse sinners than those who didn’t:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
So at this point we might think, that’s the end of the story. We might conclude our sin has no impact on our sickness, pat ourselves on the back reassuringly and continue with our day.
But if we did we would miss the crucial additional thing Jesus hints at here in his chilling warning, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish”
You see, whilst my specific sin is unlikely to have directly caused my sickness, SIN in general surely has. Jesus underlines that those who died, and those who didn’t were all likewise sinners. He infers that death is a just result of such sin, and that we should not conclude because we were spared that we are better off than someone who wasn’t spared. We should therefore take the opportunity that such suffering on display gives us to humbly repent.
Paul explains this in Romans 5:12:” Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”
So suffering and sickness ARE caused in a general sense by the sin of mankind as a whole. We live in a fallen world because our forefather Adam sinned, and in case we think that it is unfair that the consequences of his sin are visited upon us, we have all likewise sinned, and deserve nothing but the wrath of God.
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22-24)
So when we suffer, it is not an opportunity to beat ourselves over the head, or to feel that God may be specifically angry with us. But it is an opportunity to face the general frailty that we all share, and to recognise afresh that we have committed sins. With the fear of impending possible death (imagined or real), sickness can really focus the mind on doing business with God in repentance.
Perhaps this is why James in his audacious promise of healing for the sick seems at first glance to link sin and sickness. He urges the sick to call on the elders for prayer, and encourages confession of their sins:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15)
Notice, however, that James doesn’t actually link specific sins with causing specific sickness. He says ‘if‘ they have sinned not ‘if their sickness is caused by a sin.’ Instead he seems to be addressing the pastoral reality I outlined of how people who are sick often become more aware of the sins, and encourages us that, for the Christian, sin will ALWAYS be forgiven.
This is not to say, of course that sickness can never be caused by a specific sin. There are exceptions to the rule. Certain specific sins can cause sickness. For example the sin of alcoholicism leading to liver disease, or dare I say it gluttony leading to heart disease and other illnesses. Some argue that 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 describes such a link:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
It would seem from his passage that an arrogance about our relationship with God is the sin in question. A dismissal of the importance of Jesus’ body and blood in saving us, and a reluctance to examine ourselves. It does seem likely, however, that even here this was a community-based sin, and so those who were sinning most in this regard were not necessarily the ones who got sick.
Did my sin cause my specific sickness? Probably not. But am I part of a sinful people, contributing my own personal guilt to those of the rest of Mankind? Absolutely. And does SIN itself lie at the root of our fallen world? Most certainly. Would sickness exist if no one had ever sinned? No it wouldn’t. So I must use the opportunity of sin and suffering in myself or others to turn humbly again to God, confess my sins, but not judge myself or others too harshly if we are sick.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9)
More Posts from Adrian on how to suffer as a Christian
- GOD STRENGTHENS THOSE WITH WEAK FAITH
- TOP TEN TIPS FOR THOSE SEEKING HEALING
- AUDACIOUS PROMISES THAT GOD WILL HEAL YOU
- ALREADY AND NOT YET: EXPECTING GOD’S BLESSING
- GOD RESTORES THE BROKEN
- CHRISTIAN, YOU ARE NOT SUFFERING ALONE
- TRUSTING GOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STORM
- 45 PRACTICAL WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH AND WELLBEING
- HOW A MISINTERPRETED VERSE CAN MAKE US FEEL GUILTY WHEN WE GRIEVE
- SUICIDE PREVENTION: WHAT THE CHURCH CAN DO