I've been thinking a lot about the Old Testament of late, and just how does the version of faith and faithfulness we see there coincide with the faith that is presented in the New Testament by Jesus. I've been faced with this on a personal basis recently which has caused me to examine my own theology (never a bad thing to do) and has reaffirmed what I believe to be true about sickness and suffering.
For the past week I've been dealing with some incredible pain as I've broken out with some kind of infection on my side and back. I thought it was shingles; my doctor says it's not, although he's not quite sure what it is. Despite the penicillin and pain killers I'm on, the pain has been almost unbearable at times, making sleep especially hard to come by. The bumps, the rash, and the pain have made me think about Job and his response to the suffering in his life. I realize I haven't had my cattle stolen or had a building collapse on my offspring (I suppose I would need cattle and offspring for that to happen), but I can relate to the boils that covered him from head to foot. Why do these things happen and how should I/we respond to them?
While I believe that God occasionally does send affliction in order to mold us in some way, and while, just like Job, I'm sure Satan can be the direct source of our suffering at times, for the most part I'm a naturalist on the problem of pain and suffering. It's part of the human condition, one of the results of the fall. Sickness just is. I have some very good friends of the charismatic tradition who would likely disagree with me on this point. From their perspective everything from an upset stomach to cancer is a demonic attack and therefore, can be cast out in the name of Jesus. To be fair, and to avoid stereotypes, not all charismatic folks would believe this or may believe it to varying degrees, but far too often I have seen the flu attributed to the devil when it most likely should be attributed to the guy you shook hands with at church.
Now don't get me wrong, I've seen some miraculous healings in my time and I've laid hands on friends to pray for their recovery from more minor illnesses with an absolute assurance that they would be up on their feet in no time. In both cases however, I believe it was God who intervened into the circumstances of the present human condition for that healing to take place. There was no demon of stomach flu to be rebuked, but there was the very real presence of God who stepped in to repair that which was broken as a result of the fall.
Which brings me back to Job and my present illness. Whatever it is (and thankfully it seems to be getting a bit better this morning), I neither blame God nor do I think a demon has somehow afflicted me with painful red spots. I simply go back to what Job said after his oh-so-encouraging wife told him to curse God and die: "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” Be it God, Satan, or just the fallen human condition, in this life I don't think we can expect to avoid all illness or never to experience pain. When it does come along, pray for healing, but accept too that whatever you are suffering from, it just may have to take its natural course before you get better. And be encouraged by the promise that one day, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain." (Rev 21:4) Now that's something to look forward to.