While suffering recently through the most prolonged bout with the Epstein Barr virus I have experienced in years, I received two vastly different perspectives on sickness.
The first came from an old high school acquaintance. While I was ill she phoned me about our 40th high school reunion coming up in October. I explained that I couldn’t really talk with her because of my sickness. She asked, “What’s wrong.” “Long story,” I replied, hoping to evade going any deeper. Then she offered to pray for me. I gratefully accepted. Then she pressed. “Do you have the flu?” I think she asked. “No, I have a virus.” “What kind of virus?” I reluctantly explained, including some description of the debilitating fatigue that comes with the bug. Before launching into a very vigorous prayer, she added without the slightest trace of doubt, “God doesn’t want you sick.” You may well imagine what denominational tradition has shaped her theology of illness. I let it go.
Contrast that with the content of an email someone in OGC sent me. It’s a quote by J. C. Ryle.
Sickness helps to remind men of death. Most live as if they were never going to die. They follow business, or pleasure, or politics, or science, as if earth was their eternal home. They plan and scheme for the future, like the rich fool in the parable, as if they had a long lease of life, and were not, tenants at will. A heavy illness sometimes goes far to dispel these delusions. It awakens men from their day-dreams, and reminds them they have to die as well as to live. Now this I say emphatically is a mighty good (Practical Religion, “Sickness”, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1998], 360).
I rather think Job would have cast his vote for the second perspective given his reaction to trials that included boils on his body in Job 42:1-6. I suspect Paul would have done the same given his account of a divinely given thorn in the flesh (assuming it was some kind of physical malady, of course) that taught him the all-sufficiency of God’s grace for every extremity in 2 Cor. 12:1-10.
I’m certain my old high school friend meant well with her prayer ministry on my behalf. But I can’t help but believe along with Ryle that God pursues multiple redemptive purposes in our sicknesses and this emphatically is a mighty good.