[Update: the original commenter ended up responding to this post. I then gave my final response, and then he gave his. Lastly, a friend posted her thoughts on the discussion as well. Follow the links to get in on the rest of the discussion.]
Yesterday, Steve Wolf of Steve Wolf Ministries left a comment on a blog post I wrote a few weeks ago when I was super sick. Perusing his site, I could tell this is a topic he is particularly passionate about, so I really hope I don’t start some blog war, but rather some constructive “family discussions” between brothers and sisters. I wrote out my reply in the comment box of the post, and when it was done, it was long enough and had enough stuff in it to justify an entire post, so here it is. Here is his comment, where he quoted me and wrote out his reply:
“And so, in a lot of ways, to move past pain is to move past God. This God came down to taste pain, so that now pain, heartache, rejection, isolation, doubt, fear, and insecurity are now part of the divine experience. To know those things is to know God!”
WOW! Seriously? You speak a lot of God, so would you mind backing up any of these statements with the Word of God? Sickness and disease are curses not blessings. A cold virus is kept alive by a spirit of infirmity – you know, the very thing Jesus liked to cast out of people.
Steve, first off, I’d encourage you to read the discussion in the comments that went before yours. You’ll see that I don’t advocate seeking out pain. It’s just that we as a culture are so obsessed with comfort and ease, that our pendulum is too far to the other side. There is little danger of people taking this as some sort of call to masochism. I would also encourage you to read a recent, more poetic approach I took to many of these same themes I talked about in the post.
As far as your request for “backing up what I say with the Word of God”, I think the Bible is clear that our God is a God far more concerned with us knowing Him more and bringing New Creation into the present than making us comfortable. The story of the Bible is the repeated story of the people of God being brought into exile, wilderness, pain, and suffering, and not every time out of disobedience. But, regardless of the cause, God’s people always end up knowing Him better because of it.
Adam and Eve being placed in a garden with a serpent? Noah sent out on the waters? Abraham called away from his home? Joseph sent away by his brothers? The Israelites put into slavery? The Israelites taken into the wilderness? David hunted by Saul? Hosea called to marry a prostitute? Jeremiah continually rejected as a prophet? Paul in prison? Paul’s thorn? Peter’s martyrdom? Jesus in the desert? Jesus on the cross? (The list goes on and on.)
I think the proper way of looking at disease in specific occasions is not simplistically as curse, but simply as a reality. Yes, things are not what they will be, and we are still waiting for our full redemption, but not all sickness is some curse or punishment. Recall the story of the man born blind, Jesus said clearly that his sickness and infirmity was not because of anyone’s sin, but that God’s Glory might be shown.
And this was my point in the post: the pain, disease and suffering of this world are meant to acquaint us with the Glory of God and the sufferings of Christ. Recall in Hosea 2 where God draws and “allures” his people into the wilderness where God is and ends up drawing them near, speaking tenderly to them, and marrying them to himself in faithfulness and joy. Our God is one who draws us in and meets us in wilderness, isolation, and suffering, not away from it.
The Gospel shows us an example where the worst of all sins and sufferings (killing the Son of God) was the essential component for redemption. Why should we feel that that we are more worthy of escaping the same things than our God?
Further, in the garden and on the cross you have Jesus expressing doubt, anxiety, insecurity, and fear as he wrestles with this very reality. He sweats blood, cries out, writhes on the ground, and expresses wanting this cup to pass, seeming to have a different desire and will than his Father (“not my will but your will be done”), and asking his Father why he has forsaken him; are these not cries of doubt, fear, and angst?
Also, not every healing Jesus ever did was a “casting out”. Only on specific occasions was a healing done by “casting out”. The Gospels even have lists of what Jesus did in a certain crowd and they include “casting out evil spirits” as a separate category than “healing”. Jesus healed blinded eyes by spitting on mud and rubbing it on their eyes; he healed lame people by just telling them to walk; he healed skin diseases by telling people to wash themselves or just by touching them. Not every illness is some spirit or curse.
What do you do with 1 Timothy 5:23, where Paul tells Timothy “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” Whatever your views on alcohol, Paul does not encourage Timothy to see someone with the gift of exorcism to get over his “stomach and frequent illnesses”.
And lastly, I’ll just point out that outside the Gospels, where you get a lot of accounts of spirits being cast out (around 100, I think?), you get around five in Acts, and then you don’t hear about demons being cast out again anywhere in the entire Bible (maybe Saul’s evil spirit, but it’s unclear what that quite was and God sent that, not “Satan”). I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying it might be a bit unwise to build your whole theology of illness off of a very isolated, select, and unique few set of texts. I encourage you to read this blog post by a seminary professor in California about some of these issues.
Steve, you write on your site:
I believe there are so many Christians being corrupted with false doctrines and religious traditions of man. I believe it is time for the true Gospel to return to our churches. Let’s let the watered-down and twisted messages give way to the power of God unto salvation- the real Gospel. Empty words and useless traditions will look silly in the presence of the Holy Spirit and power. It is God’s good pleasure to confirm the preaching and teaching of His Word with signs and wonders following.
I couldn’t resonate more with what you have said. I absolutely believe that the Holy Spirit is still very active, the Bible is the first authoritative source for all life and doctrine, and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way that redemption is known and applied to anyone. And so, as a brother, I hope to encourage you in this call God has given you to love and serve his Church well. And so, I hope you receive these words with both grace and love, understanding that I myself am still very young and overconfident in much of what I believe and say.
I eagerly await any response you desire to give, either on your own blog, here on my site, or by email.