Jesus’ Attitude Toward Sickness

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly makes clear that sickness is an enemy of God and His people. There is not a single incidence of Him adopting a stoical attitude towards illness. He never viewed sickness as something that people needed to endure without complaint or a request to God for healing. 

In Matthew 8:16-17, Jesus drove out the demonic spirits “with a word” and “healed all the sick”. Matthew then comments, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases’.”

Unlike some dreadful theologies today, we never catch Jesus saying something like, “Well, this sickness might be tough, but it’s doing wonders for your character, so the Father says leave it in place for a little while longer.” Likewise, He never responded to a request for healing by saying, “I wish I could help, but it’s not yet your time for healing. The Father wants you to stick it out for a few more months.”

Instead, Jesus always treated sickness as deeply and personally offensive, a violation of His good creation, and something He fiercely opposed. It is interesting that every person who came to Jesus seeking to be made well experienced a complete healing – He never turned anyone down or away. 

In Mark 1:41 we read, “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean’.” In the culture of the time, leprosy was viewed as something that made a person not just sick but also ritually unclean, and so lepers were excluded from the temple (the place of worship) and the village (the place of community). 

Jesus’ response is fascinating. He was completely indignant that anyone could for even one moment think that He was not willing to bring healing and cleansing! He didn’t need to go away and ponder the case, because healing was His default answer.

“Of course I want you whole!” is the repeated message in the Gospels. In this case, He therefore touched the man and said, “I am willing. Be clean.” Notice that by laying His hand on the leper, Jesus was not made unclean – instead, the unclean was made clean at His touch. Thus the man received not just his healing, but also a restoration into the places of worship and of community (which is why he was sent to visit the priest to have his cleansing confirmed). Such is the transformative power of Jesus!

All this leads us to conclude that health and healing are the ordinary response of a loving Father to His children, and Jesus went out of His way to reveal the fullness of this truth. We have a Father who loves each one of us so dearly and deeply, and thus it’s never a burden or frustration to Him when we request healing, whether for others or ourselves. 

 

Sickness Is Not from God

It is surprising how many believers assert that sickness comes from God. With all the disease and illness around us, it is easy to believe this error. However, sickness entered God’s perfect world through humanity’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. 

While pinning the source of sickness onto God might, at first glance, seem more pastorally flexible when healing does not take place, if we dig a little deeper we’ll realize that it creates more problems than it solves. By saying that God sends sickness, what sort of Father do we think God is? What kind of Savior would that make Jesus?

Following the death of his young adult daughter, theologian Ben Witherington was drawn afresh to Matthew 7:9-11. There Jesus teaches that if a human parent wouldn’t give their child something bad, only something good, how much more does our Father in heaven give only good things to us? He reflected upon this in a Christianity Today article titled “God Wants to Heal Us”, which carried the sub-heading, “Jesus is not the author of sickness and death – including my daughter’s”.

“That may seem obvious to some, but I was reassured in a new way that God didn’t give my daughter a pulmonary embolism. He is not some selfish deity that ‘needed another angel in heaven,’ as one person told me at the visitation before Christy’s funeral. God is working all things for the good of those who love him. But he is not the author of disease, decay, death, suffering, sin, and sorrow. He is love and the author of life – life abundant and he even promises everlasting life. His plans for us are for good and not for harm, Scripture teaches.” (Ben Witherington)

If Jesus’ ministry is defined by the breaking in of the Kingdom of God, and we know that in Genesis before the Fall and in our future eternity there is no sickness, why do we ascribe sickness on earth to an act of God’s will? Jesus defeated death (and sickness) on the cross and through His resurrection, so why would He partner with those things on earth by sending them to individuals?

We must do better than this in our thinking and theology, and stop painting God as more akin to a Greek god who capriciously sends bad things into our lives. 

Of course, we must also not swing in the other direction and pretend that all sicknesses are no longer in existence (a model that some cults take on). Today we live in the tension of the ‘now’ and the ‘not-yet’ of the Kingdom, where sometimes we will see the sick healed, and other times we won’t see that occur.

 

Reflect

  1. On a scale of 1-5, how closely does your attitude to sickness mirror that of Jesus? What explains the similarities – and the differences?
  2. Do you truly believe that Jesus wants to make the sick whole and healthy? What holds back you (or those around you) from more fully embracing this?
  3. How do you respond to the story from Ben Witherington? 
  4. Are you more inclined to over-emphasize the ‘now’ of the Kingdom (e.g. seen in healings) or the ‘not-yet’ (e.g. when we experience loss and death)?
The above content is an excerpt from our new book, Healing the Sick: Biblical and Practical Wisdom for Healing the Sick in Naturally Supernatural Ways.
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