The offence of illness

In the last month Emma’s been in and out of hospital 3 times (she’s in at the moment) and I’ve consistently had man-flu.  (Sorry to those who’ve sent messages and comments recently.  I’ll get to them in time).

It’s struck me very forcibly how offensive illness is to our fleshly sensibilities.  Just speaking of my own meagre maladie, here’s the sort of thing said to me on a daily basis:

[Shocked] Haven’t you seen a doctor then?

[Tutting] Haven’t you been taking your medication?

[Frowning] Haven’t you been inhaling hot lemon and eucalyptus like I told you?

[Disappointed] Haven’t you rubbed menthol on your chest and belched La Marseillaise

[Appalled]  Elderflower, saffron and moose hair Glen – that’s what I keep telling you.  How long will you choose frailty over my curse-proof stratagems??

Maybe I’m imagining it, but I often sense a note of anger in the advice of others regarding illness.  It doesn’t really fit our default world-view for people to just get sick.  We need to believe that there are practical reasons for the suffering and dependable remedies to fix it.  When our friends have an illness that doesn’t budge, it actually becomes very threatening.  It forces a collision between two strong emotions.  On the one hand there’s deep love and concern for your friend who’s suffering.  But on the other is an un-named but powerful belief that life will work for us if we act smart, work hard, keep trusting God and never give up.  Of course this entails the belief that bad stuff is preventable if we’re prepared, persistent and prayerful enough.  And so when our friend is sick, and stubbornly sick… well… you love ’em.  But deep down you know that somewhere, somehow they’ve done it to themselves.  (“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” John 9:1)

Of course the battle is there in the sufferer too.  We end up suffering double when we believe the lie that all bad stuff is preventable.  Not only do we face the illness, we face bitter self-flaggelation for succumbing in the first place.

Both sufferer and comforter should stop being surprised by the fiery trial (1 Pet 4:12).  We must ditch this ridiculous belief in our curse-proof stratagems.  Let’s comfort one another as those who know we are east of Eden and the Suffering Servant is the only way back.  

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Posted on by Glen in pastoral theology

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

7 Responses to The offence of illness

  1. Missy

    So… you’re saying stuff just happens?

    This is a tough one to wrap my mind around. My personal theology is self-titled, “Consequential Theology” or “Stuff happens because other stuff happened.”

    I guess John 9 takes me back to square one.

    Is it okay not to have a theology? ‘Cause I keep losing them once I think I’ve found one.

    Oh, and with illness, I find it helps to avoid people. ;)

    Seriously, though, I’m sorry to hear of the persistent offences. Poor Emma – and you, too! I will keep you both in my prayers – stamina and laughter.

  2. Gav

    I’ve always reckoned there are basically two responses to someone who is suffering.

    The first one is that we just blurt out something to fix it like you referred to, like take a tablet, I’ll pray for you or even just do something to try to make things seem better. Its the same thing when someone is upset at some loss… There is a big urge to do something to help.

    Then the second one is that we step into their loss and hurt or sickness and feel it with them and just give sympathy and be there.

    I’m not sure if one is more correct than the other, maybe we should do both.

    But last night at a counseling session I attended with a group of people that had been through some stuff and seen some stuff in the last couple of weeks, the advice to help cope was NOT to step into their world and live it with them. “Sure we are there to help, but we have our life and they have theirs.” Not sure this is right though cause in the bible we are told to cry or laugh with our brothers and sisters.(I’m far too lazy to look it up and quote it exactly)

    Now having said all of that…. I dont knowif people get offended or not about someone being crook, maybe they see their answer and dont understand why someone else would do it when they can. So maybe they just fit in the first response when the second response is what you really need??

    Having some one you love to be sick enough to be in hospital is terrible. I will continue to pray for you and your families health.

    Cheers Glen

  3. Dave K

    Very true. Especially clear with mental illness (I’ve felt those conflicting emotions).

  4. glenscriv

    Thanks guys.
    Interesting that today I read Proverbs 18:14:

    “A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?”

    Relevant huh?

  5. bobby grow

    Glen,

    I’m not supposed to be blogging right now, because I am and have been struggling with the flu myself (along with the rest of the fam) . . . and it is a lingering sickness (argh).

    Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I am praying for you and your daughter.

    I think one of the reasons people don’t like dealing with sickness (and its cause) is because it points to man’s inadequacy; and it reminds us all that we are all dieing (physically, if not spiritually for those unregenerated).

    Arthur McGill, in his book “Death and Life” has a really really good point on this; when I get better I will post on his remarks as well.

    Anyway, praying, brother!

  6. glenscriv

    Hi Bobby, I think that’s exactly it. Love to hear more from McGill. Btw – Emma’s my wife not daughter (no kids yet). The Lord knew what you were praying about! :D
    Best wishes to you and the family.
    Glen

  7. bobby grow

    Sorry, Glen (about the mix up with Emma); it is good to have a God who can see past our (my) confusion ;-). I’ll keep praying, and I thank you for yours (your situation sounds more serious, but I know the Lord is faithful with his provision, even and esp. in the midst of sickness).

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