Have you ever asked the question, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?” As believers living through a global pandemic, this is both a natural and necessary question to ask. It is natural because suffering seems like the exact opposite thing a good God would want to happen. Additionally, it is necessary because a wrong view of suffering will have devastating consequences on your life. Take, for example, Andrew Wommack’s, book God Wants You Well. Even though the title seems theologically sound, he grossly misunderstands the Biblical view of sickness. In summary, Wommack believes it is God’s will for you to be healthy and any sickness is a sign of unrepented sin. In other words, God is not responsible for anyone becoming sick. Moreover, if you or a loved one remain sick, it is simply a lack of faith in God. Wommack’s answer to the question of suffering completely removes God’s sovereignty from the equation. This kind of health, wealth, and prosperity gospel has corrupted the theology of countless millions and consequently ruined their lives. Imagine the remorse of a loving parent taking her sick child to be healed, only to find out the child would remain sick because her faith was not strong enough. If we are going to guard our own hearts and effectively minister to the sick, we need to have a clear picture of God’s Word on this issue. What is the Biblical view of sickness? In order to address this issue, we will attempt to examine Scripture through the lenses of three questions: Why is there sickness? What are causes of sickness? What are God’s purposes for sickness?
Why is there sickness?
God crowned His creation with the jewel of mankind in order that man might rule and reign over it. He then said it was “very good” implying there was no suffering, sickness, or sorrow in God’s perfect paradise. Adam and Eve were in an elevated position, as it were, until they disobeyed the Word of God. This choice resulted in what we know as “the fall.” Man descends from a place of prominence, pleasure, and prosperity to a place of fear, frustration, and fatigue. Scripture unfolds this descent in two stages.
Action of the Fall
First, we see action of the fall in Genesis 3. God clearly gives the command, “You shall not eat” in Genesis 2:17, only to be disobeyed one chapter later (3:6). Through that one act, sin entered the world, and man was plunged into a life of death, disease, and decay. Sin is to life what rust is to metal. It eats away, tarnishes, devalues, and prevents you from fulfilling your purpose.
Join us as Jake Schnoor teaches on the Biblical view of sickness.
Effect of the Fall
Second, we see the effects of the fall in the book of Romans. One realm we see the fall affecting is human kind. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12). No human is born innocent. Every person is born a sinner. All mankind is effected by the fall. Another area we see the fall effecting is creation. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly...because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:20-21). All suffering we see, whether physical sickness or a natural disaster, is directly connected with the fall. We have sickness in the world as a result of sin.
What are the causes of sickness?
Scripture records numerous causes that bring about sickness in both the Old and New Testament. Theologian L. Berkhof notes a few of them as he writes, “The state of health was regarded as a great blessing; and sickness was viewed as the fruit of sin, particular diseases often being regarded as the result of some specific personal or parental sin...Besides this many ills were ascribed to the direct agency of Satan.” Obviously, not all of the following are in play whenever someone gets sick. However, Scripture very clearly lists these as agents God uses to bring about sickness.
First, sickness as a result of personal/parental sin: David expresses in Psalm 38: 3 and 107:17 that sickness came because they sinned. God is judging individuals for their sin by sending physical sickness on their personal bodies.
Micah 6:13 in no uncertain terms says, "So also I will make you sick…because of your sins [emphasis added].” God is judging individuals for their sin by sending physical sickness on their personal bodies. James 5:15-16 says, “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.” (See also Psalm 38:8, 107:17; John 5:14; 1 Corinthians 11:30.) This was the regular practice under the law and should not be seen as normative now. Having said that, we would be foolish to say God would never judge our sin this way today.
Second, sickness as a result of paranormal activity: Satan has tremendous power, and we only have a limited understanding as to the extent of it. Clearly, he has the ability to bring about sickness and affliction because of what we see in the life of Job. According to Job 1:12 and 2:6 everything that happened to Job was under the direct influence of Satan. God was in control but allowed Satan to exercise some of his power in an effort to turn Job from God. Ironically, God proved His point in regard to Job by allowing Satan to try and prove his point. Moreover, Paul refers to his “thorn in the flesh” as a messenger of Satan. While there is debate over what the thorn actually was, two things are clear: 1) It was a physical affliction (in the flesh) and 2) It was sent from Satan. Whether demonic or directly Satanic, it has the ability to bring about sickness.
Third, sickness as a result of personal irresponsibility: Man is foolish and irresponsible. God has called us to be stewards of our energy, resources, and bodies. Most of the sickness we see today comes about from poor health decisions (smoking, drinking, bad diet, poor hygiene, etc.). Consider what Paul wrote, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 13:31). Earlier in the same letter he exhorts us to “glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20), because “you are the temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16). At times the answer to why someone is sick is negligence to his well-being.
Fourth, sickness as a result of providential activity: God allows sickness of some forms to come about for His own providential purposes. The man born blind is a good example of this category. Jesus specifically denies that the affliction came because of anyone's sin. Also, there is no mention of Satanic activity. Christ informs the reader that this man was born blind “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). In other words, God allowed this man to have an affliction for no other reason than that the providential hand of God might be displayed. Two chapters later we see the infamous account of Lazarus dying from a sickness. As a word of encouragement and explanation in light of the death, Christ says in John 11:4, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” There are times when God allows sickness for the sole purpose of revealing an aspect of His goodness and grace toward us. To be sure, these causes are not “if-then” rules. “If” you are sick, “then” there must be sin or Satan involved. It can be difficult and, at times, impossible to know what the cause of sickness is. It is more important to look forward to what God might be doing through the sickness.
What are God’s purposes for sickness?
First: It reminds us of the power and effects of sin.
Our physical sickness is a picture of our spiritual reality apart from Christ. Without Christ, we are described as being dead (Ephesians 2:1-8) and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). We are to hate and fight our sin as much as we hate and fight our sickness.
When sickness comes, we are brought to our knees and reminded of our weakness. In those moments, God’s Word reveals He can “restore our health” (Jeremiah 30:17) for He is our Healer (Exodus 15:26). We are prone to forget these realities in seasons of health and security.
Third: It reiterates our role to care for the sick as God does.
We are exhorted to care for the hopeless and helpless around us (James 2:16), imitate Christ Who was motivated by compassion (Matthew 14:14), and trust God is using our actions “for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28). (See also Psalm 41:1-13; Matthew 25:34-40.) Are we taking this opportunity to meet the needs of those around us?
Fourth: It realigns the believer with the infinite worth of Christ.
John Piper makes this point in his book Coronavirus and Christ. It is illogical why our focus would ever stray from the preeminent Christ. Yet, when all is stripped away and we are left with only Christ, we will lack nothing.
Fifth: It reaffirms the future grace that will be revealed.
When we think of our current human sickness we should immediately think of our future Heavenly state. All suffering now is a “light momentary affliction” that cannot be compared to the glory that is to come. It would be like comparing a penny to a trillion dollars. God is going to mend what was torn, fix what was broken, and heal the sick (2 Corinthians 4:17). In the same sense that a mother forgets about the pain of childbirth when she sees her baby, so it will be for us when we see Christ face to face and we have “been made like Him.” G. R. Allison has keen insight in his article on this subject. One day we will forget about all the suffering, sickness and sorrow will be removed, and we will exist with God how He originally intended it. Let us pray for and press on toward that glorious day.
Allison, G. R. (2009). Toward A Theology of Human Embodiment. Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Volume 13, 13(2), 10.
Berkhof, L. (1915). Biblical Archaeology (p. 71). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.
Harrell, David A. God, Evil, and Suffering: Understanding God's Role in Tragedies and Atrocities (COMPACT EXPOSITORY PULPIT COMMENTARY SERIES) (p. 76). Great Writing Publications. Kindle Edition.
Nelson, Thomas. The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville:
Piper, John (2020). Coronavirus and Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Shoemaker, S. M. (1956). Faith the Foundation of Freedom. Christianity Today, 1(3), 8.
Wommack, Andrew. God Wants You Well: What the Bible Really Says about Walking in Divine Health. Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 2010.