16 Nov Is God in Control of My Sickness?
Published November 16, 2021
By Peter Goeman, PhD
Nobody enjoys sickness or infirmity. Whether it is a significant disease or a minor sickness, infirmities often are a source of consternation and complaint. Regardless of whether it is our own sickness, or the sickness of a loved one, Christians are constantly driven to questions about God’s relationship to sickness and suffering. Does God have control over sickness?
Sickness and God’s Glory
One of my favorite passages which addresses the issue of sickness or infirmity and God’s control is John 9. As Jesus and His disciples traveled in Jerusalem, they pass by a man who was blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
The assumption behind the disciples’ question is that sin and sickness are connected. The disciples supposed that it was either the blind man’s sin, or his parents’ sin that brought about the blindness now endured by this man. In other words, the disciples saw a theological connection between sickness and sin.
Jesus responded to the disciples by correcting their thinking. Jesus noted that it was not sin at all which caused this blindness, but rather, “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). This remarkable statement is headed by what is known as a purpose clause in Greek (ἵνα). In other words, Jesus is specifically stating that the purpose of this sickness or infirmity (i.e., the lifelong blindness) was so that God’s glory might be put on display in him. God was the one who had designed this situation from the start. It was not a specific sin by this man or his parents that caused this sickness or suffering, God was in control of this sickness.
This is a similar reminder to what we read in Exodus 4 where God tells Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exod 4:11). Nowhere does Scripture paint the picture that God is frantically trying to respond to situations that are outside of His control. Rather, He is in complete control, even over our sicknesses and sufferings. Whether it is a chronic infirmity, such as blindness, deafness, muscular atrophy; or something more temporary, like the cold, flu, or COVID-19—all of sicknesses are under God’s sovereign control.
Benefits to Trials We Go Through
Going through trials and difficulties is a sure thing for everyone. It is not a matter of if you are going to experience trials, but rather when you experience them. Coming to Jesus initially requires acknowledging the high cost of following Him, but even a Christian’s daily life requires us to recognize trials and difficulties will be a part of our earthly existence. Knowing this, it is of the utmost importance to think about a theology of trials ahead of time.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
It is difficult to think properly in the heat of the moment, but it is easier if we have established a foundation for how to think ahead of time. In other words, when the fire of trial comes, we need to be forearmed with the knowledge that our trials are refining our character and deepening our dependence on God. It is with this goal, that I want to list some practical benefits as to how trials benefit us as Christians.
1. Trials promote humility.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. (2 Cor 12:7)
This perhaps is axiomatic, but it is absolutely biblical as well. When we are in the midst of trials, it is impossible to think that we have life by the horns. Everyone person, whether high born or lowly is shown their inability when tragedy or sickness strike. Christians who are suffering recognize they are truly a needy people.
2. Trials bring dependence on God.
Continuing the theme from 2 Corinthians 12: 7, Paul goes on to explain that it is in his weakness that Christ’s power is made perfect (2 Cor 12:9-10). When we are at the end of the rope, that is when we fully depend on Christ. In the words of Paul, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
3. Trials cause us to long for God.
The psalmist often cries out to God when in trouble. Sometimes we get too caught up with this world – it is easy. When life becomes painful, we long for heaven and its peace. More specifically, we long for the One who is in heaven, the Lord.
Psalm 42 is a good example of that. We know the words well, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps 42:2). Obviously the psalmist is going through difficulty (Ps 42:3-4), but that difficulty drives him to God. For the believer, when trials come, the response is to long for God.
4. Trials cause us to examine ourselves and eliminate sin.
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.” (Ps 119:67)
One of the greatest things about trials is that they purge sin from within us. It is cleansing to go through the fire, and emerge on the other side intent on eliminating sin. As believers we understand that direct sin may not be the immediate cause of much of our suffering. But, we still acknowledge the principle of Hebrews 12:5-6, that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves.” Christians who go through trials examine themselves, and ask the Holy Spirit to “see if there be any grievous way in me” (Ps 139:24).
5. Trials cause us to learn from the Word of God things which we could not learn otherwise.
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Ps 119:71)
There is a strange beauty to trials in the way that they simplify life and strip away the distractions. When trials and suffering are present, our minds become razor sharp and tuned to the lessons the Lord would have for us. I am reminded of two quotes by the Prince of Preachers himself on this issue.
“Most of the grand truths of God have to be learned by trouble; they must be burned into us with the hot iron of affliction, otherwise we shall not truly receive them.” (Charles Spurgeon)
“Read a truth in tranquility, read it in peace, read it in prosperity, and you will not make anything of it. Be put inside the furnace… and you will then be able to spell all hard words, and understand more than you could without it.” (Charles Spurgeon)
6. Trials cause us forego the world and its pleasures.
It is a simple truth that when the sweetness of this world is lost because of suffering, we realize what is important. It is much easier to turn our backs on the world and its pleasures. We are able to pursue the things of God with our whole heart instead of letting our affections being seduced by worldly delights.
7. Trials give us heavenly reward.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18)
It is good for the Christian to periodically meditate on the fact that we are living for the future and not for the here and now. One of the motivating factors which encourages us in the midst of trials is the fact that we are promised eternal reward for how we live here on this earth. Let us not lose heart!
8. Trials give us the experience to comfort our brothers and sisters.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:3-4)
Experience is a great teacher, and it helps us be sympathetic to others who go through the same things. God uses our own suffering to help comfort others who are suffering (cf. Lk 22:32).
9. Trials give us assurance that our faith is genuine.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt 1:6-7)
This is a beautiful benefit of trials which should not be undervalued. Although God already knows whether our faith is genuine or not, it is a simple matter of fact that we do not know. Thus, going through trials is a tremendous benefit to us, because when we pass through the fire of suffering and we emerge with a greater confidence in our relationship with God. Having past through the darkness when God seemed distant, we clung to Him rather than turning our back on Him. At the end of such a process, we give thanks to God for showing us grace and mercy certainly; but, we also have a knowledge that our faith is genuine because it did not break.
Nobody really seeks out trials. Why would they? Trials are difficult, painful, and often frightening. But, if we understand the biblical teaching about the benefits of trials, we ought not to fear the trial itself. We can follow the command of James 1:2 and consider it joy when we go through trials, knowing there are tremendous benefits to our faith.
Dr. Peter Goeman is professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at Shepherds Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of The Master’s University and The Master’s Seminary (Ph.D) and is actively involved in a regular teaching ministry at an Adult Bible Fellowship of The Shepherd’s Church. He blogs regularly at his website, petergoeman.com, which is where this article originally appeared.