I have been silent lately. My vocal cords are damaged (nodules), probably due in part to reflux (which is probably due in part to stress). Since I’m not supposed to talk, I have been blogging about my struggles. (At my last ENT appointment, the doctor said speaking softly (but not whispering) is probably OK, so I’m speaking a bit more these days, but I still recently canceled 5 speaking engagements for Oct.)
In part one of the series, I concluded by asking, “Does sin cause illness?” In part two, I concluded by asking, “What lessons does God teach us through sickness?”
In response to the Part 2 question, here are a few lessons that God is teaching me through this crisis.
1) One of the most difficult biblical commands is, “Be slow to speak” (James 1:19). James tells everyone to be slow to speak and quick to listen, but so much of who we are comes out as we speak. Not speaking has really been brutal (particularly as I’m trying to process everything going on), but it has helped me obey James. That’s good.
2) Sometimes Yes/No questions are good. In the past, I denigrated, insulted, even ridiculed Y/N questions (since they shut down conversation), but of late Y/N questions have been my friend. I can answer them without speaking. I now have a deeper appreciation for Y/N questions. That’s good.
3) People with disabilities have it hard. Yes, I know compassionate people have known this for a long time, but my experience of a very slight disability has given more appreciation for how difficult would be to have a serious disability. That’s good.
4) Words don’t need to be spoken. As I struggled to figure out how to communicate what’s going on, I thought about the apostle Paul as he was stuck in prison. He couldn’t visit churches, but he could still communicate with letters. Fortunately, we now have those letters in our Bible. Would we have been deprived of those letters had he not been “silenced” by his jail cell? Perhaps. So, now I write more emails to friends and family. That’s good. (Although, my emails probably won’t get added to the Bible.)
5) Prayer can happen without spoken words. Yes, I know this also is obvious, but speaking less to people, has pushed me to speak more to God. Even though I can’t talk to people, I can pray for them. That’s very good.
From my personal medical perspective and experience, while I think God can certainly bring/allow illness to afflict people, I think that connection, if present, is usually extremely circuitous and difficult to trace (unless someone could miraculously jump to the end of their life and look back over their lifeline and their family/nation/world/etc’s history and see the threads that connect events). Again, I do think there are some times when those connections are much more clear and traceable.
As someone who takes care of patients with critical illness and often near the end of their life, I see that illness strikes without rhyme or reason. In fact, physicians often mention the notion that the ‘good’ people nearly always have the worst illnesses (probably just a bias on our part because we feel bad for these wonderful people and their families). If I’ve learned anything since starting medicine, it is to enjoy each moment of life because each next hour/day could bring calamitous disaster. Esther takes care of kids with heart failure, including those who need heart transplantation within hours or days of birth. These patients always give us a renewed perspective on life and living.
It has also changed the way that I view healing prayer. While I know that God can heal, I see that death is a natural part of life–the expected endpoint of our current state. This is much too simplistic (and I don’t mean to offend anyone who is suffering with illness in themselves or loved ones), but would we expect miraculous and extraordinary restoration of our cars (I think back to that station wagon that all of us kids ruined in philly) when they are worn down from use and misuse? It is certainly not beyond God’s power to do this, but, more importantly, is it His will for every person? And, if he doesn’t provide miraculous restoration, can one infer that He has lost interest or compassion for them–that his eye has wandered? Of course, this does not mean that prayer is not powerful.
I think we can see God’s provision in life and health. We can also see his provision in sickness and death. It is just extremely difficult to maintain faith and find peace when the storm is raging and we think all is lost.
I will end there and pre-emptively apologize for anyone who thinks that I am careless and without compassion. I don’t mean to come across that way.
Very nicely said, Vinnie. You sound compassionate and thoughtful to me. It isn’t a piece of cake trying to hear from God in the midst of a trial, especially concerning the much-debated issue of healing. We want to have faith in God to restore our bodies to health (Jesus seemed to commend a lot of people for their faith) and it is difficult to know what to think if he doesn’t. It sounds like David has been listening and watching for God at work in his circumstances.
David, I can see that you are allowing God to change your outlook about certain things. This is so, so good. For some reason, it is comforting to hear that you have submitted yourself to God, allowing him to show you these things. Maybe it’s because we can hear echoes of Jesus’ own attitude in what you are sharing with us and it encourages us to “keep on keeping on”.
I like your approach here!
I esepcially like your thought on Paul – because it’s similar to the one I had! I blogged about it here on a friend’s website http://restoringmysoul.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/guest-post-paul-prison-and-paralympics/
– how our ‘second best’ can turn out to be the actual best. That sounds horribly cheesy, but I assure you the post isn’t. It is actually a genius insight. 🙂
This post was emailed to me by Marg Miller:
Who incited David? The difference in 2 Samuel 24:1, where the verse states that the Lord incited David to take a census of the fighting men in Israel and Judah, and the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21:1 (written later), which states that Satan incited David, is disconcerting. It is important, though, to note that, in both passages, Joab cautioned David about taking the census but the king went ahead with it anyhow. Afterward, in both passages, David was “conscience-stricken” and accepted the full guilt that he had “sinned greatly.” He did not blame God for his actions.
I do not believe God would direct David to do something wrong — and then punish David and the people. That does not ring true to God’s character. I think James 1:13 is important here: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed.” Job 1 and 2 are also important because it is clear God himself did not cause Job’s suffering; rather Satan, the Accuser, was the culprit. It is also clear, however, that God did not step in and stop Satan’s attacks on Job (as God does not intervene every time and stop all the evil and tragedy today). But God did allow these things to happen to Job. Interestingly, throughout the book of Job, Job and his friends took for granted that God was causing Job’s suffering. At that time, they could not see what was really happening in the spiritual realm until this was revealed somehow — and then the rest of the story was written in the book.
A similar thing may be going on here in the two accounts regarding David’s census. When the first account was written in 2 Samuel, the writer was thinking of Almighty God as the first cause of all things. Because God is sovereign and reigns over everyone and everything and nothing can happen without God allowing it (whether spiritual attacks or sinful human attacks or the consequences of sin or even accidents, etc.), the author simply states that God did it. The later Chronicles account states, as the book of Job does, what was really happening in a little more detail: God allowed David to do what he insisted on doing, prompted by Satan.
Perhaps the book of Job is in the Bible for this very reason: to show people, ancient and modern, that God is not the cause of such suffering and evil. There is much more going on than we can know — in the spiritual realm, in the sinful minds and actions of human beings, in the general consequences of sin on creation, in the entrance of disease and death into the lives of all humans, etc.