“The Christian way to be ill”

I am reading various sources as I work on my book, “Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Biblical Theology of Suffering and Grace.” I came across a lecture at a PCA church on suffering that included this argument.

The Christian way to be ill is always to give glory to God and self-searching. “Is God telling me something?” is I think something that we ought always to do when we find ourselves ill. What is God teaching me? What can I learn from this particular sickness?

The lecture is heavily Calvinistic, as we might expect, but there are one or two points I agree with wholeheartedly (e.g., “all suffering including illness is a consequence of Adamic sin”). The trouble is a strong point like that is followed with “all circumstances in our Christian lives are ordered by God,” citing, of course, Romans 8. At the same time, the speaker does acknowledge the inadequacy and hurtfulness of what he calls a “‘by faith’ formula,” that is, all illness can be healed by faith. So he has a nuanced view of suffering, but he ultimately views all aspects of our lives as ordained by God.

My point in citing this quote is because it exemplifies the difficulty and importance of active agency. The first self-searching question, “Is God telling me something?” assumes (and this is clear in the larger context of his lecture) that God has sent this illness. He is active in causing it to come upon us. (Later he says, “Illness may have a prospective disciplinary sanctifying purpose without bearing any relation to past sins.” He has in mind Job and the point is God sends illness to us in order to discipline or sanctify us.) I largely disagree with this view, that God actively sends suffering upon us. See point number 1, we live in a broken world.

On the other hand, I do think the other self-searching questions are vital and what enable us to move through our difficult times of suffering and pain. While God is not the agent of our suffering, he is with us in our anguish. Seeking his presence, looking for lessons and insights in our time of grief, enable us to sanctify, if you will, what is otherwise simply the vicissitudes of violence of living in a broken world. In other words, it is grace.

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