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19. Good News for the Sick

D. Our Attitude toward Sickness and Suffering

How then, in brief, should we respond to sickness and suffering? The possibilities are many and varied. Firstly, there is the possibility of rebellion against God, the protest of the individual against God, as if he contends with God as an equal to God. Then there are those who, understanding the fallacy of human pride which would rebel against God, meekly submit to God as if God ordained them to be sick and to suffer for no other reason than that He willed them to be sick and to suffer. Has not He determined from eternity our destiny? Are we not powerless to comprehend it and to change it? In any case, why should He care about us, more so since no one even on earth cares whether we are sick and suffer, whether we are dead or alive?

In fact, God does not want us to be sick and to suffer, because He loves us and cares for us. On the other hand, it is possible He allows us to be sick and to suffer, especially when our way of life begins to deviate from His perfect will and plan for each of us. In such cases He can even turn our sickness and suffering from catastrophe into blessing so that they become His gifts rather than His scourges. In any case, should not every person regularly examine himself, his heart and his life style, measuring them with the perfect measure of God’s perfect will? Where God’s discipline is appropriate, will he not thank God for it rather than rebel against God or simply submit to a fatalistic decree? To trust in God and surrender to God’s will, knowing that God disciplines us because He loves us: Therein lies the proper attitude of Jesus’ disciple in the face of sickness and suffering. And His assurance? The disciple knows that his Master, the Messiah, has already pioneered the way for him, and that He is God’s absolute assurance that God loves him and cares for him, whatever his condition may be.

Indeed, the endurance of suffering of all sorts is a blessing to ourselves and to all others who have experienced God’s love through His Holy Spirit. “… we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

The story of Job (Ayyub) in the Holy Bible teaches valuable lessons to all who suffer from any undeserved malady (James 5:10-12). We all remember how Job’s life went from the heights of prosperity to the depths of degradation. Throughout the acute suffering which he endured during his prolonged descent, he cried out to God in his distress, he persevered and he waited. In God’s time, God raised him from the depths of his spiritual gloom to new faith and insight. God restored his health, renewed his fortunes and granted him a greater knowledge of and intimacy with Himself. What wondrous endurance, faith and obedience to the will of God were operative in the life of Job!

How many of us will have had the same experience: our health and our circumstances restored, but only after a time of waiting and in a manner most appropriate and of maximum advantage to us! We are to trust the Lord and wait patiently for Him to provide His grace at a time that He deems expedient, both for us and for Him. True, we are so different and so are our situations. Yet, God understands each one of us and blesses each one of us in a different and personal way. In His mercy our sufferings are neither endless nor pointless.

In Job’s case God and Satan were both at work in the same set of circumstances. But they operated with different motives. Satan was trying to tempt Job to sin. But God wanted to test Job’s tolerance, perseverance and faith, and to prove his faithfulness to God.

God is untouched by evil and does not Himself tempt anyone. True, He may permit suffering, but only to a limited extent, as in the case of Job also. Temptation to sin comes from Satan, not from God.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:12-15)

Even under such circumstances God provides a way of escape: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

It comes through prayer: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

It may also come through self-judgement in the light of the Word: “... if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Even if God does not heal, His grace is sufficient: “He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10)

Once we accept suffering, have overcome it and strengthened our faith and character, we are in a better position to help others. For suffering sharpens faith, moral excellence, spiritual perception, patient endurance, kindliness and love that knows no bounds: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4)

Some of my non-Christians patients, mostly Muslims, who have endured suffering as intense as mine, were greatly comforted when they heard how God healed me. Others expressed doubt whether Jesus would ever answer their petitions for help and healing. I drew their attention to the Gospel narratives where it is recorded that Jesus healed not only Jews but also Gentiles and Samaritans who appealed to Him in faith. (cf. Mark 7:24-30; Luke 7:1-10; 17:11-19)

These Scripture events offer a powerful incentive for anyone, whose pain and suffering have become unbearable, to cry out to Jesus the Messiah for help in the hour of agony. There are those who can testify that He heard their cries and healed their bodily infirmities. Then He healed them in mind and spirit also. He saved them from their sins, redeemed them and reconciled them to the Heavenly Father. They tell how He turned their suffering into a blessing. They believed in the Lord and trusted in His mighty power and in His will to heal them. He amply rewarded their faith.

But how are all the sick and suffering people to know who Jesus is, that He is alive and present and what He can do for them? There are those who have read about Jesus in the Holy Bible, or have studied about Him in school. Some have been introduced to Him through cinema or video. Others have heard about Him through a Christian friend.

From the Qur’an, our Muslim friends can learn at least that Jesus is a great prophet of God. He is the son of Mary, the sinless prophet, the Messiah, the Word of God and the Spirit of God – a revelation for humankind and a mercy from God (Sura Maryam 19:21). The Qur’an relates that Jesus the Messiah heals the leper, opens the eyes of the blind and raises the dead. Can the Qur’an, then, lead them to the Messiah’s door of mercy?

And let me add that when I was in the hospital, two Muslim ladies, my relatives, prayed over me.

Ponder also the poem of the fifteenth century Persian poet, Jami, in which he invites us all to seek the Messiah’s healing for our hearts’ diseases and for our hypocritical characters:

Qaleb-e to rumi-o del zangi ast
Rav keh nah in shiveh-ye yekrangi ast
Ba tan-e rumi del-e zangi keh cheh
Rang-e yeki gir dorangi keh cheh
Rang-e dorangi be dorangan gozar
Zankeh dorangi hamah ‘aib ast-o ‘ar
Beh keh shafa ju zeh Masiha shavi
Bu keh az in ‘aib mobarra shavi.
Your body is white and your heart is black,
Go away, for this is not the way of sincerity.
What relation has a white body to a black heart?
Choose one colour. Why two colours?
Leave the two colours to those who are of two colours,
For being of two colours is a shame and disgrace.
Better you seek healing from the Messiah,
That you be delivered from this sad state.
(cf. The Muslim World, April 1952, pp.108, 109)

True, the Qur’anic references to Jesus are relatively few and generally scattered throughout the Qur’an. They are, however, so highly unusual, even unique, within the Qur’an that they could easily arouse the curiosity of any Muslim for more information. How much more, then, their capacity to invite the prayers of suffering Muslims who remember Jesus the Messiah’s ministry of healing and recall that He remains alive, accessible and in no need, shall we say, of a fax, computer, or hearing aid! Who would not like to hear more about the Son of Mary, about His power to heal, His authority even to forgive sin, His mission to reconcile the world to God, to make peace between all of us and God, and peace among ourselves! Jesus, Immanuel, God with us and for us! The transition, from these Qur’anic references to Jesus, to the Holy Injil, the Book of Jesus and the basic source for all our knowledge of Jesus, is easy enough. The Injil itself is available to all and offers rewarding reading and opportunity for meditation and remembrance of God and His care for the sick and oppressed.

Thanks be to God for the ministry of healing which disciples of Jesus the Messiah, heeding the Messiah’s command, have established through hospitals and clinics in so many parts of the world in past and present! Perhaps this ministry especially has signalled the concern of God for the whole person, for body and mind as well as soul. At the same time, it has signalled God’s readiness to care for not only Christians but people of all faiths and no faith. (Again, does not God’s rain and sunshine fall on the fields of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim and Sikh, as well as the Christian?) Do you know of any similar world enterprise, which has been established with the intention of helping others, especially the poor and oppressed?

Centuries before Jesus, God reprimanded the leaders of Israel through His prophet Ezekiel: “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.” (Ezekiel 34:4)

In fact, visiting the sick, consoling and caring for them is a task which Jesus enjoins upon all His disciples, the humblest among them as well as the greatest, and serves as one measure by which we will be judged on the Day of Judgement. He understands such service to be service not simply to the neighbour but to Himself. Yes, by such service to your neighbour you can serve Jesus, your great Servant and Healer and Lord (Matthew 25:36)! Do we all avail ourselves of this opportunity, responsibility and privilege of visiting the sick in hospitals or in their homes?

It is well known that the sick, especially those severely handicapped and suffering agony, are vulnerable people. They are prone to accept the help and counselling of others, both bad and good counselling and help. As servants of God we will serve them for God’s sake and for their own welfare, gently leading them, when they are open, to repent of their sins and to taste the goodness of God’s forgiveness and new life. Yes, we will also protect them from the manipulation of others – and, yes, take care lest we ourselves manipulate or abuse in any way.

We will not waste these precious opportunities to serve Him, to serve Jesus who has served us.

There is no situation which God cannot control. And Jesus’ disciples will not lose hope. God has the power and the will to convert every adversity into something good for us. Jesus’ miracles of healing are testimony to our conviction that He can heal everyone who calls upon Him from every kind of sickness and disease. Above all, they testify that He wants to save every person who seeks Him through His redeeming love.

And what attitude of heart does God require from us? Simply that we trust Him and His power to heal, that we demonstrate our trust by obedience to Him, that we acknowledge that He offers His grace to all who are willing to receive it. Listen to the promises of the Lord to the needy and His challenge to test Him:

“I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
My soul will boast in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those
who fear him, and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

(Psalm 34:1-10)

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