Why Christians Get Sick

Do you ever wonder why people get sick? And in particular, Why do Christians get sick? Although spiritually healed by Christ’s stripes of crucifixion, believers get sick in ways that almost parallel nonbelievers (1 Pet. 2:24).

I say the ways almost parallel non believers. In his book, None of These Diseases, Dr. S.I. McMillen gives convincing evidence that many modern health problems can be avoided if we live according to biblical principles. For example, STD’s are avoided when God’s standards are followed, reserving sex exclusively for the marriage relationship; many chronic health problems are related to substance abuse, etc.

I think you would agree that even Spirit-filled believers are not exempt from physical illnesses. What are the reasons for health problems in the life of the Christian? For the believer, sickness falls into one of three categories: it could be a sickness unto death, a sickness unto chastisement, or a sickness unto the glory of God. [1] Let’s unpack these categories.

1. Sickness unto Death

Each person who dies from “natural causes” has been affected by a type of sickness/ infirmity. There is always something unnatural about the death of a person who was made in the image of God. This sorrow is explained when understood in the context of Genesis chapters 1-3. God created everything “good”. In the Garden of Eden there was no sickness, no deteriorating aging, no death (and no wardrobe!). The cause of disease, aging, and physical death is due to the disobedience of our original parents at the dawn of history. God then pronounced His ominous verdict to Adam:

“Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: Cursed is the ground for your sake … In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19).

Illness should remind us of the consequences of choosing independence from God. Although we are redeemed when we receive Christ as Savior, we are not transported from this sin-cursed world. Our mortal bodies groan, anticipating our future glorified state (Rom. 3:24-26; 8:23).

When the time for Elisha’s home-going drew near, he suffered from a fatal illness–a sickness unto death. This was not an indication of the Lord’s disfavor, nor of the prophet’s inability to work miracles (2 Kings 13:14,20-21).

We tend to panic at the thought of death, because we do not want to leave our loved ones behind; the life to come seems unreal to our senses. Yet Paul demonstrated the power and assurance that eternal life gives the Christian:

“… Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil 1:20-23).

Fatal illness can serve as a warning to slow down, realize one’s spiritual needs, and to prepare to meet God. I recall a friend who was a North American champion body builder. Tory didn’t have much time for God until he was diagnosed with cancer. Then he started to attend the church where I served in Montreal, and was led to saving faith in Christ. The Lord did not chose to heal him physically, but Tory had peace in his heart until the time he was called home. His confidence and hope was a blessing to all who fellowshiped with him.

In the Bible death sometimes is called “sleep” because it is like waking up–in heaven! (1 Thess. 4:14). The Bible, however, does not teach “soul sleep”. When believers in Christ die physically, they are “absent from the body and present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So, death has lost its sting for us! (1 Cor. 15:55-57).

2. Sickness unto Chastisement

Illness may indicate that God is chastening His child. This cause may seem strange when we observe that Christ took all the punishment for our sins on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). But discipline through trials is for our correction and development, not to punish us. This kind of chastisement is motivated by divine love, not judicial anger (see Heb 12:4-11). We need to keep eternal values in mind to perceive how good can come from–or arise in spite of–such trials (Rom. 8:28,29).

The Corinthian church gives us an example of God’s discipline. They were misusing the Lord’s table and hogging the food at their agape feasts! The apostle rebuked them and then warned,

“For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep [have died prematurely]. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor 11:30-32, emphasis added).

These symptoms were intended to prompt the Corinthians to repent and treat one another–and the Lord’s table–with respect

We do well to use the occasion of illness to draw near to God and ask Him to search our hearts (Psalm 139:23,24). A word of caution, however: only God (and perhaps the one who is ill) knows if a sickness is due to chastisement. We shouldn’t presume that the illness is due to disobedience. This was the logic of Job’s “comforters.” They assumed his devastating losses–including the loss of his health–were due to his evil behavior. Yet God knew differently: “Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?'” (Job 1:8).

Another aspect of chastisement is the role of health problems in signaling unresolved, inner conflicts in the believer’s life. If we try to live out of our fleshly identity, the accumulated pain of rejection in life inevitably causes turbulence in the soul (mind, will, and emotions). Although some minimize this conflict through their coping mechanisms, usually inferiority, inadequacy, guilt, worry, doubts, and fears stir inside.

It is not uncommon for these inner conflicts to also cause psychosomatic effects, such as tension or migraine headaches, nervous stomach, peptic ulcers, hives, skin rashes, allergies, asthma, spastic colon, heart palpitations, fatigue, insomnia etc.[2] Although not necessarily caused by psychological stress, these conditions may show the mysterious inter-working of our material and immaterial dimensions. We should value inner peace for its health benefits too!

God’s answer is that we see the indwelling Christ as the only adequate resource to handle the stress of life (John 15:1-5). Christ’s gracious invitation applies to the converted as well as the unconverted:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30; see Gal. 2:20).

One further scenario regarding sickness unto chastisement are the health problems resulting from violating natural health principles. We may have overlooked the biblical principles of health, such as good nutritious food, exercise, rest, and sanitation. “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap,” applies to health issues also. We tend to assume that illness is unrelated to diet and lifestyle factors; on the contrary, sometimes the only one responsible for health problems is the person in the mirror! Many researchers are drawing this conclusion. Consider these (dated) dismal statistics from the U.S.: 700,000 die annually of heart attacks, 520,000 die of cancer, and 162,000 die of strokes. Yet Dr.John McDougall speaks for many physicians and researchers when he concludes that “Diet and lifestyle are the causes of most of the deaths and disabilities that people suffer in the United States today.” [3] What stunning implications this would have!

Many can testify of the importance of good nutrition. Rev. George Malkmus recovered from cancer through detoxifying his body and eating an 80% raw foods diet. Over a million people are following his ministry’s recommended eating plan, and many have experienced amazing health improvements. [4]

These observations do not imply that drugs and surgery are not important in health care. We are blessed when medications or surgery can assist the body’s immune system’s fight against disease (Luke 5:31).

In part 2 we cover the third category of illness–sickness unto the glory of God.

The apostle John wrote to his friend Gaius, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2). This article is presented with the same prayer for you.

Part 1 of 2

[1] This classification is used in the Institute of Basic Life Principles. http://www.iblp.org They also offer Basic Care Bulletins from the Medical Training Institute of America.

[2] Charles Solomon, Handbook to Happiness, (Tyndale House) p.31.

[3] Come to think of it, our modern cooked, processed, packaged, vitamin and mineral-depleted, sugar-laden meals do not have much in common with those of Bible times….

See David and Anne Frahm, Reclaim Your Health, (Pinion), p.18. Health Quarters Ministries

See also the research and testimony of Lorraine Day M.D. at www.DrDay.com

[4] George Malkmus’ educational center, “Hallelujah Acres”, is in North Carolina: www.MyHDiet.com

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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