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Finding Courage in Afflictions...

Courage in Sickness

Dealing with pain, loss, and illness

by John J. Parsons

I wrote the following while experiencing a fever recently... It is not meant to be condemnatory or to impugn the motives of anyone.  I simply wanted to suggest that there are sometimes reasons for suffering in the life of a believer of which we sometimes forget...

There are some well-meaning souls who seem to think that the life of faith in Yeshua should be relatively pain-free and without the normal sorts of infirmities that affect all people.  These people seem to reason that since Yeshua died on the cross as a ransom for our sins, being bruised for our iniquities, we should therefore be set free from pain and sickness of every kind (based on their reading of Isa. 53:5, and in particular the Hebrew phrase וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ, "by his wounds we are healed").  This implies that if a Christian gets sick or experiences loss in their life, then he/she must somehow be deficient either in their understanding of the power of the atonement or in the exercise of their faith... Such a viewpoint seems to suggest that followers of Messiah are supposed to lead lives of (American-style) "prosperity," with papier-mâché smiles and an undying "can do" attitude -- even in the face of the most heart-rending adversity, injustice and pain in the world.

Find the out of place pictureThis one!BonhoefferImprisoned for ChristPersecutionPassion of JesusSuffering for Christ

Now while it is gloriously true that Yeshua died to reverse the curse of Adam and to restore us to God, it is puerile to think that because of this we are thereby immediately set free from any form of pain, discomfort or suffering in our lives (or worse, that we therefore gain access to the heavenly "cookie jar" and understand God as our personal genie). Isaiah 53:4 indeed says that Messiah carried (נשׂא) our sicknesses and bore (סבל) our sorrows, but it begs some questions about what these terms mean, especially in light of the experience of His followers in this world... Could such "carrying and bearing" refer to His intercessionary love for us as we experience a semblance of His own afflictions? (see 2 Cor. 1:5-7, Phil. 3:10, and especially Col. 1:24)

Just think of the various people who are NOW languishing in prisons around the world for the sake of the gospel, or Christians who share the distress of areas affected by drought, disease, economic hardship, or natural disaster.


Think about those with various terminal illnesses who have come to faith, or those who were born disabled, or enslaved; or think about those who have been injured in accidents or been victims of crimes; or those who have experienced the brutality and displacement caused by unjust wars, or those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, and so on and on.

Most of Yeshua's own talmidim (disciples) died kiddush HaShem (via martyrdom). Recall the unjust imprisonment of John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul; or consider how Peter died... Think of the persecutions faced by the earliest Messianic believers, or the early church.  Indeed, think of the various prophets such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Noah, or Job, or David, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah (there is a nice list of many of these heroes of faith found in Hebrews Chapter 11). But think especially of Yeshua Himself who called us to take up our Cross and follow Him in a life of sacrificial service to others. His church has been built upon the blood of God's martyrs....

There is mystery to our suffering, chaverim.  Certainly we believe that God could -- right now -- wipe away every tear from all the eyes of those who suffer, yet He doesn't.  Does this mean He is unable to help those who are afflicted? In no way. Yet it is through the fires of affliction that we are able to better apprehend something of His consolation and even comfort.  Some things are never known until we live them out through our own inner struggle....

I read a quote by Henri Nouwen today that helps me align the ubiquitous fight against evil (both external and internal) with my heart's deepest hope:

    You are still afraid to die. Maybe that fear is connected with some deep unspoken worry that God will not accept you as his. The question "Why do I have to die?" is connected to this fear. You asked it as a little child, and you are still asking it… God called you from the moment you were knitted together in your mother's womb.  It is your vocation to receive that love, and to give it back. From the very beginning you have, like every human being, experienced the forces of death. Whether physically (through aging and illness) or inwardly (through temptation, sin, etc.), these forces have attacked you--through all your years of growing up--and they will continue to attack you. But even though you have often felt overwhelmed, you have been faithful. Hang on to that. Know that the dark forces will have no final power over you.

    Death does not have the last word...

    (H. J. Nouwen, "The inner voice of love," Doubleday, 1998).

Amen.  Adonai Yireh - God sees - and understands our struggle, chaverim. We are living in a world set on fire....surrounded by the dust of death and destruction.  Yet the fight of our faith is of greater spiritual interest than our immediate comforts.

And here's another quote in this connection that I find helpful:

    The courage to die for their beliefs is given only to those who have had the courage to live for them. The final victory over their terror of pain and physical death is the last of a thousand victories and defeats in the war which is fought daily and hourly in the human mind and soul: the war in the overcoming of self. Dissected and examined in detail this is a most unglamorous battle and to the outsider seems absurd; but it is the constant denying of the natural human urge to stay in bed longer than necessary, to eat or drink more than is justifiable, to be intolerant of the stupid, and to accumulate more than a fair share of this world's goods, that makes possible the gradual freeing of the human spirit. (Sheila Cassidy, "Audacity to Believe," William Collins Publications)

May God strengthen us as we continue to hold fast to Him...  Shalom.

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