Why Christians Get Sick, Part 2


We’ve been considering the complex question, Why do Christians get sick? Having discussed the cases of sickness unto death and sickness unto chastisement, we now focus another possibility.

3. Sickness unto the glory of God

The concept of God being glorified through our sickness may sound strange. How can something as negative as human illness magnify a good and holy God? Yet we shouldn’t dismiss this possibility without a closer look at Scripture. After all, God specializes in giving “beauty for ashes, and a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3).

There are two ways that God can bring glory to His name through human sickness. The first is by supernatural healing; the second is by giving sustaining grace.

In John chapter 9, the disciples voiced a common misconception of their day when they encountered a man born blind. They asked the Lord, “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him'” (John 9:2,3).

I recall a lady from a church I pastored who had several handicapped sons. People around her could scarcely hold back their whispers, assuming this woman had sin in her life that warranted these birth defects. She told me of her joy and relief when she read these verses from the Gospel of John: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned… ”

God is glorified through providing supernatural healing.

We learn so much of Christ’s character through His miracles of healing. The man trapped and isolated by incurable leprosy– Jesus touched him, ignoring the fear that kept lepers isolated from society; they had to always call out “unclean, unclean!” To the women who was bent over by the grip of an unclean spirit–Jesus publicly declared her freedom, straightening her posture so she could walk out of the place of worship, able to look others in the eye for the first time in eighteen long years: “And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” To the centurion’s servant–Jesus honored the soldier’s humility and faith and just spoke, healing the servant of his paralysis and suffering. To the one who was deaf and dumb, Jesus put his fingers in his impaired ears, spit and touched the man’s tongue, restoring his hearing and enabling him to speak freely. [1]

John’s Gospel features many healing miracles. Their purpose is mentioned early in the record: “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11). The word translated ‘miracle’ is semeion, literally meaning ‘sign’. These miracles not only demonstrated Christ’s power, they also were signs of His character and mission. Jesus came to restore spiritual sight; to heal the ‘leprosy’ of sin; to restore human dignity so we could walk uprightly; to release us from the paralysis of spiritual bondage; to enable us to hear the voice of God in our hearts; and to liberate our voices so we could declare the wonderful works of God.

How should we respond when a fellow believer is ill? James gives us instructions to pray for each other for physical healing. And for serious illness the afflicted one can avail themselves of the intercession of the church:

“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 sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:14-16).

God does glorify His name when we pray for and receive the gift of supernatural healing.

I have been encouraged by occasions when God sovereignly chose to answer prayer for healing. One of my co-workers has been healed of cancer; a young mother’s son was touched by God and didn’t need anticipated surgery; a sister in Christ had a mysterious growth on her neck and it was removed by God’s mercy without medical explanation or intervention.

Miraculous healing is possible, but not guaranteed.

Yet, in my experience, these kind of answers are rare. Perhaps some readers have special gifts in this area, but most people whom I have fellowshiped with over the years–from many denominations and cultures–would agree that although God can heal miraculously today, it is not His usual way of dealing with the believer’s sickness. Our charismatic friends may attribute this discrepancy to a lack of faith — sometimes, perhaps…

But an impartial look at the New Testament seems to indicate that, even in an era of frequent miracles, God did not guarantee perfect health for believers. Paul advised Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Tim. 5:23).[2] And later Paul noted that he had to leave his friend Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20; see Phil. 2:27)

Also, let us not forget that when health is restored through nutrition or medicine, God is still glorified. Who made the earth produce such a variety of foods, minerals, and herbs? Who gave mankind the potential to learn secrets of health care and technology? Who gave us our immune system? Although He frequently uses “second causes,” God is the ultimate source of whatever measure of health and strength we enjoy. As David said long ago: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:2-4).

God is glorified through providing sustaining grace.

The second way God can be glorified in the believer’s sickness is to give sustaining grace. Left up to us, we would chose supernatural healing, but for reasons known to Himself, God frequently chooses to glorify Himself through sustaining the believer through adversity.

This was the case where Paul testified,

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:7-10).

We are not told the exact identity of Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’; perhaps this is to teach us general lessons that relate to dealing with physical problems. [3] From Paul’s example we learn that:

1) sometimes God does not answer our prayer for physical healing;

2) this lack of healing is not necessarily due to inadequate prayer;

3) yet God is faithful to give sustaining grace;

4) this grace is sufficient for each believer’s affliction and can glorify God.

Perhaps if God always removed adversity from the path of His children, we would not learn “the fellowship of His suffering” and others might conclude that God should be followed merely for the temporal advantages He offered (Phil. 3:10; see Job 1:9). Instead, we are to embrace eternal, spiritual values: “while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

How many great men and women of God have glorified Him through their physical infirmities? While in Romania recently I met a lovely sister in Christ who has a debilitating illness. She is crippled and spends much time restricted to her wheel chair. Yet her soul is unrestricted! The joy of her salvation radiates from her heart. Truly God’s strength is being perfected in her weakness.[4]

Another example of sustaining grace was the hymn writer Fanny Crosby. She was blinded at the age of six weeks, yet was free from bitterness. A preacher once said to her, “I think it is a great pity that the master did not give you sight when He showered so many other gifts upon you.” Fanny replied, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind!” “Why?” asked the surprised minister. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face I that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.” Her 8000 gospel songs are enduring, joyful testimonies of God’s sustaining grace in her life. The LORD has been glorified through her illness!

As believers we look forward to the day of our final physical healing: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20,21).

In light of these Scriptures, let’s be wise in the stewardship of our health and sensitive in our dealings with fellow believers when they are sick.

Whatever your lot, may God teach you to say “it is well with my soul!”[4]


In this brief study we have considered three possible reasons why Christians sometimes get sick. These reasons may overlap and are by no means a complete explanation. Perhaps our concluding thought should echo that of the hymn writer:

“By and by, when the morning comes,
when the saints of God are gathered home,
we’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.” [5]

Part 2 of 2

[1] Matt 8:2; Luke 13:11; Matt 8:5; Mark 7:31

[2] Note that this was for medicinal use, and we are not told if it was fermented ‘oinos’– grape juice or wine.]

[3] ‘Flesh’ (Greek-‘sarx’) is frequently used of the physical body.

[4] Another encouraging testimony of sustaining grace during prolonged illness is given in this audio testimony by our friend Mary Louise MacDonald: gfiworld.sermon.net/main/main/20930628

A book that presents a balanced view of miraculous healing and also sustaining grace is Affliction: A Compassionate Christian Look at Understanding the Reality of Pain and Suffering in Our Lives, by Edith Schaeffer (1978).

[4] The final line in this article is an allusion to H. G. Spafford’s famous hymn, “It is Well With My Soul” www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHe_qmo3gX4

[5] Charles A. Tindley (1851-1933) hymnary.org/text/we_are_tossed_and_driven_on_the_restless

Copyright 2000 by John Woodward. 2nd edition. Permission is granted to copy for non-commercial use. Biblical quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

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