Where does sickness come from? Are we always to blame for our sicknesses? Does sickness mean we have a lack of faith? Some people would make that claim, or bring that accusation. But all that does is compound the pain and suffering of the afflicted.
The Source of Sickness
In Luke 13 a woman with, “a spirit of infirmity eighteen years” was healed by Jesus. I don’t know about you, but to that I say, “Praise the Lord!” But what about sickness and healing? Why isn’t everyone healed? This is an age-old question that many have pondered, struggled with, and even been run aground in their faith with. It needn’t be so. The account in Luke reads:
10 Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.
A “spirit of infirmity.” Now this is not necessarily just a bad case of osteoporosis. The scripture account states the woman was afflicted with a “spirit of infirmity.” Apparently, a malevolent spirit had a hand in this particular affliction, and that is all we can say.
Planetary and personal sin and sickness. We live in a fallen world infected with planetary sin. When our first parents sinned, it impacted creation with sin. Now, Satan of course sinned against God prior to the fall of Adam And Eve otherwise how could he have been the serpent and tempted them (cf. Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19). But Satan’s sin and its consequences were apparently limited to him and those who chose to follow him. I do not believe God created this world in sin. When He created as we see in Genesis 1 and 2, God created a sinless world and then said what He had created was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Holy God would not have pronounced a “very good” on something that was sinful or permeated with sin.
But when Adam and Eve chose to follow the serpent rather than the God who Created and loved them, sin entered in. That sinful influence was and remains planetary; it permeates the DNA of all creation. “For the creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20; cf. also Genesis 3:17-19). This is why there are destructive storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, and all the other natural destructive forces we have seen throughout history since the Fall. Our bodies having been built from “the dust of the ground,” (Genesis 2:7), are part of God’s creation. And because of that our bodies are fallen and under the influence of planetary sin. This is the cause of all ailments and sickness. This is why for instance, a man Like Pastor Chuck Smith, can live his entire life never having smoked a cigarette or abstained from alcohol and who took good care of his body, could die of lung cancer. Yes, we could include environmental factors, but those bring us to the other aspect of sin, personal sin.
Planetary sin’s influences are in effect regardless of personal decision to sin. In other words, you can get sick simply by virtue of being a part of God’s creation that is under the influence of planetary sin. Therefore, we can say that people are not necessarily blameworthy for their sicknesses. Sickness may simply be the effects of the objective planetary sinfulness of creation. But environmental factors that are linked to the cause of illness bring us to the personal aspect of sin.
Our personal sinful choices have consequences. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). There is a consequence for sinful choices. God in His sovereignty enforces such consequences. Our bodies are gifts from God; temples meant to house the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Before we are born again, these temples are dormant, empty. When we are born again, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us – “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). So, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our bodies.
Now, we should take a short moment to mention that this principle can be applied more broadly. For instance, a nation or continent, or world that forsakes God and indulges in sinful physical recklessness with the environment and with their bodies can expect a consequence. I’m not a proponent of Green Peace nor am I a tree hugger, but if we treat God’s creation sinfully, there will be consequences. And we see them in pollution and ruined or greatly diminished natural resources. Take a walk on the beach and observe the garbage that washes ashore. Go to a communist country where there are few of any environmental protections and take a deep breath of that fumes from cares, trucks, busses and factories. You’ll choke! I’m sure there are many such consequences that we could consider here. I only mention these to show the principle of consequence for mistreating God’s creation is not merely individual, but also corporate and even global.
God warns, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17). We should take good care of our bodies. This does not mean we should worship our bodies. That is what some do. They are so taken with their looks and body upkeep that they obsess over their bodies to the neglect of other more eternal priorities. Watch out for this. But we should take good care of our bodies; what we eat; exercise; how we use them. And if we don’t take good care of our bodies there is a consequence, “God will destroy him.”
We can expect a physical consequence when we mistreat our bodies. Smokers have a much higher probability to cancer than nonsmokers. That’s just a fact. Those who consume alcohol have a much higher probability of liver damage. Those who indulge in illicit or harmful drug use can expect brain damage and other ailments. There is often a physical consequence to personal sinful choices.
But there is one more source of illness and that is spiritual. In our Luke 13 passage here, we are introduced to a “spirit of infirmity.” This tells us that some illness or physically hurtful conditions have a spiritual element as their cause. When we look at the book of Job, we see Satan’s involvement in the physical afflictions of that tortured man (cf. Job 2:1-8). And if Satan was involved in the physical afflictions of Job, it’s not a stretch to think that others were also attacked in such ways. And apparently, other spirits or demons follow the tactics of their boss Beelzebub.
“Infirmity” (Greek astheneias: noun of astheneia) means weakness, sickness, distress, lack of strength. That this was a “spirit of infirmity,” indicates her condition was spiritually connected in some way. Apparently, this “spirit of infirmity” was able to force this woman into a bent over state. It was as though this woman was forced into a position of submission by this spirit.
Not all ailments are caused by spirits. But some are as we see here. Whenever someone is sick it is wise to always pray and include in your prayers a request to God to expose and solve any spiritual element in the sickness.
Eighteen years! Here, the woman was in this condition for EIGHTEEN YEARS! That’s a horrible state. Imagine, hunched over and bent for eighteen years. For eighteen years finding it difficult to look anyone in the eye or carry on a normal upright living. Thank God Jesus came along to free this woman from her bounds. The timing of God is something that may befuddle us. But knowing God’s goodness and love and His grace, we trust that He has legitimate reasons, even for an eighteen-year wait.
12 But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” 13 And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
This is a moving account. Eighteen years! Eighteen years? Yes, eighteen years. That’s a long time. Think of the hopeless plight this woman was in. After five years, or ten years, its likely she had given up hope of healing. But after eighteen years, hope and even the thought of being healed had thoroughly evaporated. But with Jesus there is always hope. Nothing is impossible with Him.
Jesus sees our conditions and acts on our behalf. Now notice, it states Jesus “saw” (Greek idon – Aorist/Active/Participle of eidon) meaning Jesus was seeing, perceiving, looking after. Jesus saw her and perceived her plight. Jesus is the one who saw this woman. She did not have to ask or solicit Jesus for healing. Perhaps in her hunched over state, she didn’t even see Jesus was there!
Then it states Jesus said to the woman, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” “Loosed” (Greek apolelusai – Perfect/Middle/Indicative of appoluo) means freed, released, let go, sent away, dismissed, let die, divorced, depart. This is a word used to convey the idea of redeeming prisoners or slaves. It is used to convey the idea of releasing someone from their legal obligations. It is used to convey the idea of being given exemption from military service. And it is used to convey the idea of being acquitted of a crime.
We don’t know how this “spirit of infirmity” entered this woman’s life. We aren’t given those circumstances. What we are told is that, no matter what led to this affliction from a spirit of infirmity, Jesus, with merely a word, “loosed” her from it. Jesus, with a word, freed and released this woman from a debilitating and humiliating ailment she had been afflicted by for eighteen years!
Sickness has a way of isolating the afflicted. When you’re sick, you feel alone, maybe even abandoned by God. But here we see that as soon as Jesus saw this hunched over woman, He sprang into healing action. Now this raises the question, “If that’s the case, has Jesus seen me and if He’s seen me, why hasn’t He healed me?” Well, to such a heartfelt question I would answer, I believe Jesus does see us when we are sick or suffering. The Bible says, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9a; cf. also Zechariah 4:10). And Jesus Himself promised, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is there (Matthew 18:20). Jesus told Paul when he feared and felt forsaken in Corinth, “for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you” (Acts 18:10; cf. also Acts 23:10). So, there is ample evidence that God is with us during trails, hardships, and yes, sickness.
“But if Jesus is with me, and sees my pain, why doesn’t He heal me?” This is a more complex question that we don’t always have the answer to. Paul prayed to Jesus three times to have his “thorn in the flesh” removed. But Jesus’ answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). There is no indication that Paul felt abandoned by Jesus while suffering this affliction. Quite the contrary. Paul responded to Jesus’ “No” about healing him, with the words, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10). There are lessons to be learned in sickness and suffering that are more profound and eternally valuable than our healing. Learning the sufficiency of God’s grace is one of them.
There are times when God’s will and plans involve purposes beyond our mere physical healing. Peter would go so far as to say, “he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). That doesn’t mean that “suffering in the flesh” has some kind of expiatory value; or that our suffering adds in some way to the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is “finished” (see John 19:30). Jesus’ atoning cross work is totally sufficient. We should not and indeed cannot add to Jesus’ cross work. So, what does Peter mean? I believe Peter is alluding to the fact that sickness and the suffering that accompanies it provides an environment suited to get closer to God. And the closer we come to God, the more clearly we see our sin. And the closer to God the more power we have over our sin. When we are suffering in the flesh, we have a greater appreciation for eternity. And when we are suffering in the flesh, we are not in a position to be as tempted as we might normally be when healthy. Because of this, we can even say, when it comes to resisting temptation to sin, suffering in the flesh has its advantages. Suffering in the flesh can therefore be said to lead us to cease from sin. Therefore, it may be a part of God’s plan to allow people to suffer.
But another reason why God might allow suffering to continue is that it provides an opportunity not only for the sick to experience the sufficiency of His grace, but others to see such sufficient grace in real life. We look at the testimony of Paul and we see him welcome the opportunity to continue in his physical suffering if it means he will experience the sufficiency of God’s grace and Jesus’ strength made perfect in his weakness. How many have watched a beloved holy one, a fellow dear believer suffer physically only to be in awe of the sufficiency of God’s grace in their hour of need? I have. I have seen God’s sufficient grace in many a brother and sister in Christ. And I have seen the absence of comfort in such times in the lives of unbelievers. Both testify to me, and to others in the presence of the suffering, that God’s grace is sufficient. We needn’t fear or dread the end of life break down of our bodies. We needn’t fear sickness or suffering. Jesus will be there and whether He chooses to heal or not, His grace will be sufficient. That is a great part of God’s plans and purposes.
The one-time God will always heal. There is one time, one situation where we can always be healed. That time and situation is when a person, caught up in and convicted of their sinful plight, calls out to God to be saved from their sin. God calls the sinner to come to Him and He will wash away our sins (Isaiah 1:18). The LORD is so gracious and generous. The LORD calls and invites the sinner saying, “Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him shile He is near. Let eh wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7). And the reason God will do that is found in Jesus. Isaiah further explained, of Messiah Who is Jesus, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6). All of this was accomplished in Jesus. When it says, “By His stripes we are healed,” it is not merely referring to physical healing, it is talking about spiritual healing from the damnable effects of sin. And Jesus Himself said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). So this is available to whoever calls on the name of the LORD! Praise the LORD for providing a way to be healed from our curse of sin!
How can we be healed of our sin? How can we be saved from our sin? Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Simple. But profound. Healing. Praise. Earlier in the Gospel of Luke Jesus said, “unless you repent your will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3 and 5). Repentance means to confess your sins to God and forsake them. Jesus says later in Luke 13, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). Salvation and healing from sin is not something we do in our own strength. We “are not able.” That is why salvation form sin is a gift of God’s grace to be received by faith in Jesus. If you want to be saved and healed of your sinful condition, then confess to God that you have sinned against Him. Then purpose in your heart to forsake your sin and trust Jesus as your Savior. God can and does justly forgive the sinner who does this because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross (see Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 6:3). God put our unrighteousness on Jesus on the cross, and when we trust in Jesus as our Savior, God puts Jesus’ righteousness to our account (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). This is all provided by God to us freely as a gift of His grace (cf. Ephesians 2:1-9). You can be healed and forgiven your sins right now, today, no delay, everyone.
Now this doesn’t mean that when we are saved from our sins, we won’t experience any difficulty, trial, pain, sickness or suffering. What we saw with Paul and Peter testifies to this truth. What it does mean is that even if it is God’s will for us to suffer or remain sick, His grace is there for us, His sufficient comforting grace that will get us through. And we always have the hope of heaven; eternal life. Peter put it like this, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). What a wonderful provision God has given, by His grace.
The bottom line is that sometimes suffering and sickness are part of God’s plan. We might not always understand this. We probably won’t ever like it. But we must submit ourselves to God and His will and plan. Peter was inspired to conclude, “Therefore let those who surer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). Sometimes it is “the will of God” to suffer through sickness, even die. No matter the decision and plan and will of God, our only proper response is to follow other saints of old who obeyed Peter’s words to “commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” That should be our conclusion. And when we and those going through the suffering with us, will discover and experience firsthand, the sufficiency of God’s grace.