February 17, 2010

To Live is Christ — accepting life’s limitations

Some say there is physical healing in the atonement. That is, that when Christ died for our sins we are given spiritual healing but also no longer have to be sick. Under this teaching, the reasons why Christians get sick get complicated. Mostly it boils down to a “lack of faith” or failure to claim their healing.

Those who believe this point to verses like the one featured in my devotional reading today. It says,

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16)
I’ve been taught to be wary of any teaching pulled from single verses and study the context. The surrounding verses say . . . 
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5:14–18)
Is this passage about healing? Or is it about the power of prayer? Is it about every Christian having the right to physical health? Or is it more about humility and faith?

A few years ago I heard a sermon titled, “Why does God allow sickness?” The pastor used Scripture to show that Christians can be sick and gave four reasons why. I don’t recall the order they were given, but here they are.

First, God wants believers to keep short accounts with Him. If we sin and refuse to confess our sin and then act as if there is nothing wrong, He may allow sickness or even death. 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 describes Christians participating in communion without any concern for their sin.

For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
The second reason is that God sometimes uses sickness to show His incredible sustaining power. The story of Job illustrates how Satan challenged God about this man. He said that Job would not have faith if his life wasn’t so rosy. God allowed Satan to strike Job’s family and his health. In the process, Job never stopped trusting God even in his suffering. I’ve met several people who are like Job. Their faith is much stronger than mine, but their bodies are afflicted.

The third reason for illness is that God can use it to reveal His power. When the disciples asked what sins a man or his parents had done that caused him to be born blind, Jesus told them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3). Then Jesus healed the blind man. I also know many people who have been healed without any explanation except that God did it.

Fourth, Christians sometimes get sick because this is the way God takes them home. Their time on earth is over and their bodies are worn out. They become ill and die. Otherwise, what are the options? Accidents? I’d rather have a stroke or a heart attack than be hit by a truck.

For me, there is one more reason to exclude this healing in the atonement idea. Jesus died to give me victory over sin, but I will fight sin all my life. If His death includes victory over physical ailments and that I should never be sick, why then isn’t my victory over sin also complete? If both are in the atonement, why is one an ongoing battle and the other supposedly no longer an issue?

There is lots more to say about this, some of which is in this post.   However, I’m going to leave it here and think more about other aspects of this verse. If God has a plan for me that includes sickness, I accept His choices. If not, I rejoice in Him also. He knows the way that I take, and how to get me there. When He is finished, regardless of what processes or means that He uses, I will be sinless and have a perfect body. Better yet, I will be like Jesus.

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