There are some modern theologies that say suffering and sickness should not exist in the Church; they view sickness and suffering as indicators of a lack of God’s grace in one’s personal life. But does God’s word agree?
In this study, we are going to examine this topic to see what God’s word says.
A THORN IN THE FLESH
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me, lest I be exalted above measure. I asked the Lord three times that this thing might depart from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will boast in my weaknesses (KJV- infirmities), that the power of Christ may rest upon me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, in reproaches, in hardships, in persecutions, and in distresses for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
There was a purpose behind Paul’s suffering; God used this “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble so that he would not fall to the temptation of pride because of the greatness of God’s work accomplished through him.
Although some teach that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was not physical illness, Paul interprets this thorn in the flesh in verse 9 to be “infirmities” and in verse 10 expands the possibility to “reproaches, hardships, persecutions, and distresses”. The Greek used here is ἀσθένεια (astheneia), which means “want of strength, weakness, illness, suffering, calamity, or frailty.”; it’s translated as “ailments(1), diseases(1), ill(1), illness(1), infirmities(1), sickness(3), sicknesses(2), weak(1), weakness(9), weaknesses(4)” – and the Greek HELPS Word-Study comments that ἀσθένεια “refers to an ailment that deprives someone of enjoying or accomplishing what they would like to do. ἀσθένεια focuses on the handicaps that go with the weakness. It expresses the weakening influences of the illness or a particular problem.” The word ἀσθένεια is a word that describes physical
weakness that comes from illness.
Paul then demonstrates how God was glorified through this “thorn in the flesh” in verse 10, by the conclusion “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
A MESSENGER OF SATAN
Some will argue that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not illness, but was a “messenger of Satan”, some kind of demonic experience, but saying that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was a “messenger of Satan” in no way eliminates illness.
Job 2:7 “Therefore, the Adversary went out from the presence of the Lord, and he afflicted Job with severe sores from the sole of his foot to the top of his head.”
Illness is one of the vehicles through which the Adversary can strike us. In Job’s life, his terrible suffering was divinely permitted by God for the demonstration of God’s glory and future joy of Job and the kingdom of God to whom Job’s testimony has served as an example of perseverance down through the ages.
Numbers 12:10 “When the cloud went away from over the tabernacle, Miriam became leprous as snow, and Aaron turned toward Miriam and saw that she was leprous.”
God struck Miriam with leprosy for her rebelliousness, demonstrating that God uses illness to discipline His people!
Amos 3:6 “If there is disaster against a city, is it not the Lord who has done it?”
God brings calamity, both upon His own people for their correction and refining, and upon the unbelieving world to get their attention and punish them for sin. God uses suffering – which is a result of sin – to punish, correct, refine, purify, and
ILLNESS IN THE CHURCH
Illness is not a foreign concept to the Church.
In addition to Paul, consider the following passages: Acts 9:36-41; Philippians 2:25-27; 1st Timothy 5:20; 2nd Timothy 4:20. So long as we abide in these earthly tents we will experience the decay of this sin-ridden world. The modern theologies that say Christians should not suffer illness are not supported in Scripture, and they have been used to bring terrible dismay upon the children of God who are enduring the very illnesses that we are commanded to serve them with tender care and encouragement through (Matthew 25:36-40). Much the same way that Job’s friends heaped accusation upon accusation against him in his suffering, these modern theologies have been Satan’s instrument of accusation against faithful brethren, and the Church must learn its lesson from Job’s testimony.
The plain testimony of Scripture is that God works within suffering and sickness in the world for His glory (John 9:1-7); sometimes He heals, and is glorified accordingly, and other times He walks alongside the suffering saint and is highly glorified in the eyes of the world by the suffering saint’s faithfulness. To categorically say that God never afflicts, allows, or permits suffering and sickness is a dangerous heresy that has done significant damage in the Church to those who are, indeed, suffering and sick.
Discipline is purposed by God to make us “partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10); God uses an array of trials in our life to refine us as gold refined in the fire.
For an in-depth study on the Cross and Suffering , please follow the link to my lesson on the subject, which deals with the topics of suffering, the cross, and God’s wrath.