A. Sin and Sickness
In a sense, sickness and even death are direct consequences of people’s sinful acts and sinful nature. All persons sin and therefore suffer sin’s legacy of sickness and death. Do you know anyone whose nature is free from sin, sickness and death?
Yet every person’s sin need not result in sickness; nor can one conclude that disciples of Jesus the Messiah suffer no sickness because their lives are free from sin. Thus Jesus clearly stated that the blindness of the man whom He healed at Jerusalem was not a direct consequence of sin, either of the man himself or of his parents (John 9:1-3). Likewise Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, died after a brief illness. His sickness, too, was not attributed to any sinful act (John 11:4). In both instances Jesus claimed that these individuals suffered not because of any personal sin but because through their suffering God was glorified.
And do you remember the suffering of Job (Ayyub)? Job’s friends assumed he was afflicted because of his personal sin. Their assumption turned out to be wrong.
The Bible records two cases where Jesus linked sickness with sin. In the case of the paralytic his sin was first forgiven (Matthew 9:2). In the case of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda Jesus healed him even before he confessed his sin. (John 5:1-15)
Whenever Jesus attributed sickness to sin, He forgave the sinner and asked him to sin no more. Yet in no case did He identify any sin as the cause of the illness. Indeed, to attribute a specific sickness or suffering to a particular sin may even be contrary to the teaching of Jesus. Good is not invariably rewarded with prosperity and freedom from pain; nor is evil always punished with sorrow and sickness. On the contrary, as already noted, God makes His sun shine on good and bad people alike and sends rain both on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). So to attribute a particular suffering to a particular sin and the intensity of the suffering in proportion to the greatness of the sin may be dangerous. In fact, as the Bible clearly states: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Great saints, too, have suffered violence, disease and premature death.
In Christian understanding, God does not initiate or cause sickness, suffering or anything else that is evil. At most, He may permit evil to work in us for a while, simultaneously overruling it and using it to build up our character, strengthen our faith, increase our knowledge about Him and bring us closer to Him; or at times even to chasten us as a good father chastens his child.
Still, Scriptures remind us of “... the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6,7)
This verse expresses the fundamental Biblical truth that by no means does God leave the guilty unpunished. His punishment for sin may be sickness and with it suffering and death.
Whenever a believer encounters sickness or suffering, he should reflect upon his life and recollect any possible unconfessed sin. When he is sure no consciously unconfessed sin remains in his life, he should pray for healing, recognising that God would grant only that which glorifies Him and benefits the suppliant. Then he can confidently leave the matter entirely to the will of God.
Let us reflect upon two statements from the Bible:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
“... If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:15,16)
These verses suggest that although all sickness may not be the direct consequence of personal sin, yet where sin is involved, it must be confessed before God forgives it. Confession involves repentance and repentance means a change of heart (cf. Psalm 32:3-5, 11 for David’s confession). Through our confession and repentance and God’s forgiveness, God our Heavenly Father restores fellowship between Himself and us. As Scriptures further tell us:
“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
“If I had cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened; But God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. Praise be to God who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me.” (Psalm 66:18-20)
Unconfessed sin hinders our fellowship with one another (1 John 1:6,7). Although Scriptures advocate confession of sins to one another, this does not necessarily mean public confession of personal and intimate sins (James 5:16). The word “confession” means “to admit” or “to agree to”. It will be better, therefore, to let the character and the implication of the sin determine how public the confession should be.
If the sin is against an individual, there may be no need to confess it in public or in the congregation. As a private sin it may be confessed privately. (cf. Matthew 5:23,24)
If the sin is committed against a group, it may be confessed before the group.
If the sin is against neither an individual nor a group but against God alone, then it may be confessed to God alone. Though, ultimately, all sin is against God (Psalm 51:1-4), here the distinction is made between sinning against God alone and sinning against others as well as God.
Confession of sin is a salutary, though not necessarily an easy task. It can serve as a powerful deterrent against further sin. Moreover, of course, it may provide cleansing and great relief, as though a great burden had fallen from the shoulders.
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
On the other hand, unconfessed sin often brings depression of soul, which can lead to bodily illness. Body and soul are so intricately related that unburdening the troubled soul may lead to physical relief. Thus experiencing forgiveness and the peace of a clear conscience may facilitate the healing process of the whole human organism.