Suffering and the Christian

Does sickness serve any good purpose, or is it an evil, and only evil? When we are sick are we to ask God for healing, or are we to endure affliction and thank God for it? Does Satan cause sickness, or does God?


These questions have been discussed for ages, but no unanimous agreement has been reached. They are of sufficient importance, however, to warrant our giving attention to them.


Does sickness serve any good purpose? That depends entirely on the reaction of the sick one. In God’s plan, sickness serves a purpose, and an important one. It is one of God’s instruments to help us develop an improved character.


God is not the author of sickness any more than He is of sin. He does “not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.” Lamentations 3:33. Had sin not come into the world, there would have been no sickness. Nor will there be any in the world to come. In that good land “the inhabitants shall not say, I am sick.” However, the reason for this is stated in the next sentence, “The people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.” Isaiah 53:6.


God often uses sickness to accomplish His purpose, though it is rarely that God takes an active part in inducing it. Ordinarily sickness is a result of sin, transgression of the laws of nature, and man is simply reaping that which he has sown.  The word “ordinarily” should be noted. For while it is true that sin is generally the cause of sickness, it is not always the cause.


The Jews firmly believed that sickness was always caused by sin. Accordingly, on a certain occasion, when the disciples found a man who was blind, they asked Jesus, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. John 9:2,3.  We believe that there are similar cases today.


The Purpose of Sickness

Theologians hold that God is the efficient cause of sickness; that is, He is the source of all things and hence of illness. Sin is the meritorious cause; that is, Satan is the one that brings it on. The enemy of man does this sometimes directly, as in the case of Job. At other times, he uses transgressions of the law of health, excesses, drunkenness, misuse of drugs, incontinence, and a thousand other things to lead men astray. In God’s intent, the purpose of sickness is to develop in the saints the sweet graces of patience and constancy in suffering, to enlarge their capacity for understanding and sympathy with those who endure affliction, and to mellow their spirit, getting them ready for the kingdom.

The man who is well and boasts that he has never been sick or had a real pain, does not know or appreciate what a migraine headache means to the sufferer and consequently fails to make allowance for him. He finds it hard to sympathize with a sick wife who has barely enough strength to drag herself around. He is well himself; why, then, should anyone else be sick? He is a “driver,” and drives himself and all others. He is full of vitality, and if others are not, they ought to be.


For such a person sickness might be a definite help and blessing. When a man lies on the sickbed, he learns lessons not otherwise obtainable. Afterward he will be a little more understanding, a little kinder, a little more sympathetic. Up till now, he has developed the more robust virtues of aggression, zeal, courage, and unflagging determination to push ahead. Now he gets lessons in the acquirement of some of the gentler virtues of patience, mercy, love, helpfulness, and understanding. In addition, God knows how to bring this about.


I knew a surgeon once who had never known severe pain by personal experience, and who had little sympathy for those under his care who suffered, who dreaded pain. He was working on the wrist of a patient once and gave it a sudden twist that made the patient scream in pain. The surgeon looked at her in disgust: “Why, that doesn’t hurt you!”


“No,” answered the patient, “it doesn’t hurt you.” Had the surgeon not been especially competent, I doubt that he would have had many patients. He was too unsympathetic.


I discussed this with him one day; and while he admitted that perhaps he was rather unfeeling, he felt that most patients deserve little sympathy. They would complain before he had ever touched them; and if he catered to their fears, he would wear himself out completely. “A surgeon needs to steel himself, and not let a little pain disturb him.” He was doubtless more right than I thought; but, nevertheless, I expressed the hope that he would some time have a little taste of his own medicine. I told him that it would do him a great deal of good to be sick, really sick. He laughed and passed it off.


Some time later, he called me to the hospital, as he wanted to have a talk with me. I found him lying on the bed with one leg in a cast. He asked me if I remembered what I had told him in regard to the matter of his being sick and the blessing it might be to him. I told him I did.


“Well, he said, “I am not really sick, and I have no special pain. I had a condition that made it necessary for me to have the leg broken and reset, and now I am in a cast and will have to remain for some time. I have been dong some thinking. There are times when the leg itches most annoyingly, and there is nothing I can do about it. I would give a good deal if I could only scratch it, but because of the cast, I cannot. Then the nurse will laugh at me and say that I will not die of itching. No, I will not die; but I tell you, at times, I am miserable. I think that when I get up again I will be a little more understanding with my patients.” He was.


Time for Reflection

We can think of other doctors who need the same kind of treatment. And we can think of some preachers and teachers and officials and husbands and wife’s who would greatly profit by a few weeks on their backs with enough pain to keep them awake and thinking. Thinking on the sickbed is good for both body and soul. It may be that the reader as well as the writer could also benefit.


Sickness is an excellent time for reflection. The world is too much with us. We need time for taking an inventory of ourselves; but in the busy days of activity we have little time for this, or rather, we do not take the time for it.


Men that never before gave serious thought to their relationship to God may on the sickbed find the time they need for introspection. Pain is thought-provoking.


This consideration leads us to the conviction that sickness may serve some good purpose and is not always only evil. May a man have found God through pain.


For the Christian, sickness may be a precious experience. He knows that God loves him, and that is not to torment him that he is laid low, but that God has some purpose in permitting him to suffer. He knows that when the test is over he will be able to say with Job, “He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”  Job 23:10.


Let us sum up some of the ways in which a Christian may derive benefit from a period of enforced idleness.


  1. Time to think. For the first time in a long while he has time to think. He has felt the need of this repeatedly, but has been so busy with other people and their difficulties that he has neglected to think of himself and his needs. Now he has the time he has always wanted.


  1. Time to pray and meditate unhurriedly. He has felt the need of this, also, and promised himself that he would take time out for this. However, always something has come in the way. Now at last he can be alone with God. He feels the need of getting better acquainted with his Maker. Now is the opportunity.


  1. Sickness makes a Christian appreciate his friends more than ever. He never knew he had so many; but now even those whom he thought did not care whether he was sick or not, come to visit him, and some bring flowers and say kind words. The whole world seems a little better.


  1. He has always been independent and spurned help from others. Now he finds that he cannot help himself; that he must depend on others eve for a glass of water. He learns that he is not self-sufficient, but helpless as a babe. He is in a new role, and he profits from it.


  1. A mellow spirit. He thinks of the many times he has been impatient with the inefficiency of others; how he has used harsh and biting words and wounded sensitive souls, who probably did the best they were capable of. Now his spirit is being mellowed. He decides to be kinder, more understanding, and to show a true Christian spirit at all times. God is having him in school.


  1. He learns that he is not indispensable. He always imagined that he did more than his share of the work and that things would go to pieces if he were not there. It hurts his pride to discover that he is not as important as he thought he was and that men can get along without him. To learn this is good for the soul. Elijah was a good man and did a good work. However, he came to the point where he considered himself indispensable. He felt sorry for God as he thought he was the only man left to do the work. 1 Kings 19:10,14. God assured him, however, that this was not the case. He had yet seven thousand others who were faithful and could be used. Verse 18. It is good for a man who thinks he is unexpendable to be placed on the sidelines for a while. It gives him a better view of his own importance, or lack of it. If any man was ever indispensable, it was Paul. Yet, at the very time that it seemed impossible to continue the work without him, the Lord removed him, and Paul spent years in prison. Not that the Lord did not love him. He did. However, the church needed to learn to trust in God and not in man.


  1. A man’s sickness may be a blessing to others who thus get an opportunity to develop talents that have been largely unused. Unsuspected abilities are discovered, and men are given opportunity to grow. This may be a by-product of sickness, but it is an important one. When Paul was put into prison, he wrote about brethren who, “waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”  Philippians 1:14. With Paul out of active service, these men felt the responsibility of carrying on and perhaps experienced new freedom and boldness since their preaching would not now be compared with Paul’s.


  1. Sickness teaches a man to appreciate more than ever the many privileges that have been his, but are now denied him: meeting with others of like faith in Sabbath school and worship, in prayer meeting and social activities, at the Lord’s table and the ordinance of service, in camp meeting and other gatherings. He longs for a time when he can again be with them, and still more for the great meeting beyond.


  1. The greatest blessing that comes to a Christian on his sickbed is the conviction that God loves him and is preparing him to do a greater service, or, if He thinks best, to let him sleep in the grave until the Life-giver shall come. In either case, he is in the hand of God and prays that God’s will be done. In that conviction he can rest, assured that God knows best. Having come to this conclusion, he is content and ready to say from the heart, “Thy will be done.” That will may be rest from his labors, or it may be restoration to health and strength. We are assured that in many cases God is waiting for the sick one to come to the point where he has “faith to be healed.” (Acts 14:9), faith to realize that he is sick for no other reason that that “the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:3). Instead, therefore, of considering sickness an affliction, it may be life’s greatest opportunity to do what we have never had time to do before. Now we have the quietness and aloneness that is necessary for any great achievement. Sickness may be one of the greatest and more rewarding privileges of life. Let all therefore, take courage.


Is Sickness a “Privilege”?

It might be well if we could come to look on sickness and pain as a privilege, an opportunity, rather than something to be endured and dreaded. Paul considered suffering a privilege and even a cause for rejoicing. Hear him say to his converts: “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Philippians 1:29. “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10.


We doubt that Paul enjoyed suffering as such. However, when he thought of what it would do for him and others, he rejoiced in it. He needed patience. Moreover, he knew that tribulation would help develop it. So he did not complain. He rejoiced.


Paul learned that suffering was not necessarily an affliction, but one of God’s means of developing character. This viewpoint changes suffering from a calamity to an opportunity. We may then rest quietly, knowing that God is doing a work for us that needs to be done. Thus, sickness becomes one of God’s mean for our salvation, and if we co-operate with Him, it will not be wasted in bed, but precious seasons with God that will mean much to us on our way to the kingdom. So, do not fret because of sickness. Use it. Life will be richer ever after because of your enforced idleness. We may make greater strides toward the kingdom by lying on our back than in the busy activities of life.


Memory Verse:

“For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. Lamentations 3:33



1.   Has God ever spoken to your heart when you have been sick so you can meditate and reflect on a closer walk with Him? Explain.




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