Pain, Sickness, Spirits, & the Bible (a response to a comment)


[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.

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10 thoughts on “Pain, Sickness, Spirits, & the Bible (a response to a comment)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Pain, Sickness, Spirits, & the Bible (a response to a comment) | the long way home -- Topsy.com

  2. Good post, Paul. Interesting timing, too, as I’ve just been reading Jonathan Edwards essay “Heaven: A World of Love,” and it has me pondering similar questions about the tension between the world we are destined for – free of pain, sorrow, sickness, and death – and the world He has us in now. We are called to love Him and love others in both worlds… and what I’m struck with by Edwards essay is that this love seems sort of different between the worlds because in heaven/the new earth all things will be lovely and perfect. Whereas here on earth there is so much unloveliness. And Christ calls us to love the unlovely just as He loved us.

    I’m having trouble directly tying this into what you and Steve are in disagreement about except to say that I think there is a tension there. Our pastor is always talking about the tensions in the Christian walk/faith, and I think it makes sense. In our attempts to get a grasp on how life works and how God has orchestrated everything, we can tend to find ourselves swaying back and forth on pendulums when the truth is usually found precariously somewhere in between – not as a compromise but as a wondrous both/and of sorts that befuddles our expectations. But Steve is right to point us back to Scripture, and I enjoyed watching all of the different parts of that wonderful book you pulled together to move us just that much closer to the truth.

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  3. Greetings Paul, (typed in your box sorry no spell check)
    Wow, that was quite a long response to such a short comment! Ha Ha I guess you also are quite passionate about the subject at hand. I appreciate your last paragraph, and will treat you as a brother in Christ. I don’t want to attack anyone personally, but feel impressed to speak against false doctrine and religious traditions of man that have a damaging effect on the body (the church). I can see by your response that we don’t have the same beliefs in a few areas, but I want to focus on sickness and healing. Don’t confuse persecutions with sickness. We can’t escape the one, but can the other. I answer Paul’s thorn in my post:Stupid Free Will. Timothy was told to drink a little wine because the water in that area was making him sick, and he was being legalistic for not drinking a little for his stomache’s sake. 2 Tim 3:16 says that the Word of God makes us complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work- sickness is not a teaching tool of our loving Father.

    I honestly believe most of your points are answered in my post Healed: a Fresh Prospective, but it is a 4- pager, so I will try and condense my response. The whole point for my comment was to (1) Identify the source of all sickness and disease as NOT from God, but rather Satanic in origin, or at the least, a product of this fallen world. Isaiah 5:20 says “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil…” It is simply not true to think that God would lead you into the wilderness of sickness to teach you a lesson. Granted, this was the practice under the old covenant. We, however, are living under the New Covenant of Grace. I hope you understand that many of the old Testament examples you used do not apply to a new Testament saint – a born-again believer. God placed all of the sins of mankind on His Son Jesus, and He bore the totality of His wrath toward sin.

    God is no longer imputing man’s sins against him (2 Cor 5:18-19). Even David said , “blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” I believe we are completely righteous before God because of our faith in His Son.”Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law(Rom 3:28). “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ(Rom 5:1). “Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him(Rom 5:9). You must believe God doesn’t cause or send sickness to a person. The O.T. way of do good get good, and do bad get cursed has been done away with.

    Sickness and disease a described as curses under the O.T. law. Deuteronomy chapter 28 is quite clear on what God considers a curse, and what He considers a blessing. Now for the good news- the Gospel. Gal 3:13-14 “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree, that the BLESSINGS of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” In other words, we get all of the blessings, and none of the curses because of our faith in Jesus! Which is why Eph 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who HAS blessed us with EVERY spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” We then use faith to appropriate (make manifest in the physical realm) what God has already freely given to us by His grace.

    Sickness and disease have no place in your body, and you have the authority to use the name of Jesus to enforce God’s Word concearning your healing. Have you not read that by His stripes we WERE healed? Healing was provided for in the atonement just as much as forgiveness of sins. That’s why we take the bread and the wine. His body was broken so that ours wouldn’t have to be. His blood was shed for the forgiveness of all our sins, and representative of this new covenant of grace we live in.

    I never said all sickness was caused by a spirit of infirmity, but viruses and especially cancer are kept alive by that spirit. I would really recommend reading my post titled:Spirit of Infirmity? Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I have watched all kinds of sicknesses, diseases, and cancers bow before the mighty name of Jesus. God wishes above all things that we prosper and be in good health – any other teaching is actually anti-Christ in that it denies the finished work of Jesus.

    There is so much more to be said, but I don’t have time today. Have you received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? With the baptism comes power my brother. We can argue doctrine till we are blue in the face, but as Paul puts it, “I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.”(1Cor 4:19-20) If I were ministering to you in person (and you were still sick) I would lay hands on you and My God would confirm the word I have given you with power! Anything less is just words, and you can get those anywhere =). Not trying to plug my book, but I think you would find it refreshing. Sorry for not using spell check. Peace

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  4. Pingback: Pain, Sickness, Spirits & the Bible (the reply) [Guest Post] | the long way home

  5. Pingback: Pain, Sickness, Spirits & the Bible (my final reply) | the long way home

  6. Pingback: Pain, Sickness, Spirits & the Bible (Steve’s final reply) [Guest Post] | the long way home

  7. Pingback: Pain, Suffering, & the Story of God | the long way home

  8. Pingback: Pain, Sickness, & the Goodness of God (by Jen Justice) [Guest Post] | the long way home

  9. Pingback: New Testament & History: Christians can be confident [a retort] | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

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