For me the occasion of being sick in a year when all anyone is talking about is being sick allowed time for reflection on a biblical theology of sickness. Maybe you’ve wondered if COVID is God’s judgment on the world. Maybe you’ve wondered where Jesus is in the midst of this crisis. Maybe you’ve just been miserable. God has clearly spoken about sickness in the Bible so that we would be prepared for the inevitable. Perhaps these truths are just the firm foundation we need in the midst of this storm.
1. All sickness is a consequence of sin and the brokenness of the universe. In general, viruses and infections are a consequence of sin entering the world (note Genesis 3:17-19). Whenever we are sick, we are feeling the effects of sin. Creation itself longs to be free of this burden, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:22,
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.”
2. Sometimes God sends plague or sickness as judgment against a specific sin to demonstrate his glory and bring people to repentance. Note the famous example of Abram in Egypt, “But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues because of Abram’s wife Sarai” (Genesis 12:17), or the Babylonian invasion of Judah, “This is what the LORD of Armies says: “I am about to send sword, famine, and plague against them…” (Jeremiah 29:17).
3. God is sovereign over every aspect of life, including sickness. This does not mean all sickness is judgment for a specific sin, and we should never claim to know the mind of the Lord in regards to a specific illness. We can, however, be certain that God works all things for good to the church (Romans 8:28) and that he designs trials, including physical trials, for our spiritual benefit,
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials…” (James 1:2).
The takeaway here is God is trustworthy in times of sickness and health. David affirms this in Psalm 30:9-10 as he asks God to heal him,
“What gain is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your truth? LORD, listen and be gracious to me; LORD, be my helper.”
When you get sick, trust the Lord with your illness. Consider how he might use it to grow your faith.
4. God will send plagues as judgment on the earth before the return of Christ. The apostle John saw a vision of God’s judgment in Revelation 15 that includes sickness, “Then I saw another great and awe-inspiring sign in heaven: seven angels with the seven last plagues; for with them God’s wrath will be completed” (Revelation 15:1). It would be foolish to think that a specific sickness is a sign of the end of the world, but we do know that sickness is one way God will judge the wicked at the end.
5. The gospel is the eternal cure for all sickness. Jesus’s healing ministry is a clear statement that his work is the beginning of the end for sickness. For example, in Luke 7:22-23 Jesus directly states that his healing work is in fulfillment of Isaiah 61,
“At that time Jesus healed many people of diseases, afflictions, and evil spirits, and he granted sight to many blind people. He replied to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news, and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.”
This healing ministry culminated in his resurrection where death, the endgame for sickness, was conquered for good. As Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 15:56-57, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
In Revelation 22 the apostle John saw trees of life running along both banks of the river of life in the New Jerusalem. He notes, “The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse” (Revelation 22:2, 3a). The healing of the nations is not merely a reference to peace, but also to the removal of all effects of the curse of sin including sickness (note also Revelation 21:4).
This means we have real hope in the midst of sickness, including severe illness and the circumstances surrounding our death. We will be healed forever because of Jesus’s death and resurrection. In this regard we should consider taking Jonathan Edwards’s advice,
“Resolved, To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.”
Why? To be ready to walk by faith on that last road.
2 thoughts on “A Short Biblical Theology of Sickness”
Thanks Ryan. My brother in law just went to be with Jesus after a short illness with leukemia. Sickness, suffering and death are results of the fall, and they hurt. My sister was able to walk with her husband to the gate. I did the same with Esther. Others are doing it too. This is where the church can help. One of my favorite stories about the church can help is this video from Saddleback Church’s global ministry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SUJOcRU-_w