Thursday, July 7, 2016

Christian Perspectives on Suffering

I have frequently been criticized for making too much of my health problems.  In the eyes of mainstream medicine, adrenal fatigue is not even a real disease and even if it is, it is treatable with little more than a cup of coffee or a can of Red Bull and its most problematic symptom is that you can’t run as fast as usual.  If you hold those views, I can see how I could be misunderstood.  Unless I am severely out of whack, I can still outrun the average untrained person off the street so how bad could it be?  If you read this blog with any regularity, you know my case is a LOT more serious than that.  The most frustrating part is having to take an exact cocktail of pills to feel decent and shoot at moving targets because the magic formula shifts frequently and without notice.  In addition to running slower, it affects my work, my relationships with others and yes, my ministry as well.  There’s no way to “rise above” and be happy in spite of it because it’s a chemical imbalance that exists independent of my attitude and external environment.  Will it kill me if left untreated?  No, not anytime soon at least but if I had to go several months without any pills or took the wrong dose, I believe I would be unable to work or live independently.  Sometimes, I think of people who are worse off than I am and my heart breaks for them.  I can’t imagine what they would give to be doing as well as I am.  However, it also serves as a reminder that my case could get worse as well.  I looked at some of my posts from 2 years ago.  I was very erratic and finished with a losing record overall but was still capable of a fast time when I got the pills in line.  Not so now.

How should my case be perceived by society?  I do NOT want a pity party over it but I do want others to acknowledge that I am facing a serious and life altering illness that will close certain doors to me.  Also, it should be noted that such a case must be closely monitored to the point of obsession in order to manage it as well as possible.  I should not be condemned or cut off for being negative at times.  As for Christian perspectives, there are 2 camps on this issue that are pretty much diametrically opposed.  The first group is known as the Quietness Camp.  Their view is that all suffering, including sickness and disease is simply “a cross that we have to bear.”  Some go as far as to claim that sickness is actually a blessing and that we should rejoice that we are “sharing in the suffering of Christ.”  God is sovereign and does not have to explain Himself simply because of who He is (Job 38:2) and even if He did, we wouldn’t understand it (Is 55:9).   The second group, known as the Confidence Camp which is mostly Pentecostal and Word of Faith, teaches that sickness is always a curse and of the devil.  This group maintains that Jesus not only paid for our sins on the cross but also took on our sickness and disease (Is 53:5, Ps 103:3).  The Confidence Camp strongly believes that it is always God’s will to heal and may reject the view that there can be redemptive value in suffering.  Evangelicals are largely divided between the 2 camps but you will find that some churches lean more towards one camp over the other in their teachings.  Based on personal observation, I have found those who have a close family member with a chronic illness tend to lean more towards the Quietness camp.  In my view, BOTH CAMPS HAVE SERIOUS FLAWS and can potentially cause damage to believers.  Like many issues in which there is disagreement, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Those in the Quietness camp may have a tendency to “settle for whatever happens” and accept it as God’s sovereign will, which can lead to pessimism and fatalism.  That’s not true authentic faith and it is written that without action, faith is useless (James 2:17).  If you go as far as to accept the pain of sickness and disease as God’s plan for your life, you may fall into the trap that God’s mind is already made up so there’s no point in prayer about anything.  There are numerous examples of answered prayers in the Bible and the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16).   I have also observed that those in this camp, in their eternal perspective, tend to downplay problems that are indeed quite serious.  This can cause some hurt feelings.  I attempted to have a dialogue with 2 people in this camp and cited Scriptures as evidence that Jesus also took on sickness and disease and my ideas were quickly shot down.   It is true that the forgiveness of sins is the most precious gift from the cross but so many people limp into the Kingdom of Heaven crushed in Spirit.  I don’t believe that’s good for the Kingdom.   If you read the “take up your cross” Scripture in context (Matt 16:24), it is clear that Jesus was speaking specifically about persecution and predicted the martyrdom of His disciples.  The verse has nothing to do with sickness and disease.  I’d wager that Jesus never experienced any type of chronic illness so you can’t share in His suffering by embracing it.  The Word is clear that Christians will NOT be protected against persecution, which may involve physical pain to the point of death.   This is especially true in the Muslim world.   

Some, not all, who fully embrace the Confidence Camp have a tendency to show arrogance and lack of compassion for those who are hurting.  Their view is that since it is always God’s will to heal you, your faith must be lacking if you do not receive it or it does not manifest itself within your time frame.  Some people might think that it is somebody’s sin that caused their illness.  While it is true that sinful choices can cause disease, I strongly reject the notion of karma as it relates to health.  Think about the children being treated at St. Jude for childhood cancer.  What grievous sin did they commit to deserve such a fate?  Regarding a man who was born blind, some people asked Jesus if it was his or his parent’s sin that caused the blindness.  Jesus clearly answered that it was neither (John 9:3).  Now, what about those in the Confidence Camp who must endure long-term sickness and disease themselves.  I can tell you for sure that they will be especially prone to anger at God for not bringing forth the healing, which they believe they are entitled to at any time.  They may suffer self-condemnation because they think it’s their lack of faith that is holding them back.  Especially troubling is when they see others receive healing yet they are denied their own.  I’ve been there myself and it’s a dangerous position. 

So what do I believe?  I lean towards the position that it IS God’s will to heal you especially when it comes to chemical imbalances but it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY to happen within your time frame.  The first devotional that I wrote was on that very subject and it was easier to write it at age 26 versus 35.  Bob Sorge’s book entitledThe Fire of Delayed Answers provides a balanced viewpoint though I did not agree with all of his points, specifically that Jesus did not take pleasure in healing.  While I maintain that no good can come out of it if I am never healed, there is redemptive value in temporary suffering so that the glory of the Lord will be revealed.  I have most definitely become more compassionate towards others and have acquired knowledge of defective enzymes and genetic mutations, which would not have happened if the healing was completed in 2012 as I was led to believe.  The number 37 sticks in my head for some reason and perhaps that’s the age when it will all come together for me.  If that’s true, I’ll be well past my prime and it will have a greater impact.    What about people of faith whose illness ends in premature death?  It’s troubling to me and I don’t have an answer for it.  I reject the notion that it was a lack of faith.  We are up against a powerful adversary who may win a few battles but not the war.   

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