Is ill health an evidence of God’s chastening?
The root cause of all suffering is sin not sins. For example, a baby that only lives a few hours or weeks does not die because it has sinned; the cause of that infant death goes back to the dawn of human history. Before sin invaded God’s creation there was no death, no sweat, no tears, no pain and no curse. One of the direct consequences of Adam’s sin is the effect it has had on the human body. In his state of innocence, Adam had a body that would never age or die, but from that moment of rebellion in Eden things changed. Amongst the saddest words recorded in the Bible were those spoken by the Lord God to Adam: ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return’, Gen. 3. 19.
But that verdict was not limited to Adam but extended beyond him to all who have inherited his fallen nature, so that Paul wrote, ‘as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned’, Rom. 5. 12. Not only has death passed upon all men but so too has sickness, for our bodies are not only mortal, but also corruptible. Therefore, the outcome of Adam’s sin is that we live on a planet spoiled by sin in bodies that are susceptible to all forms of disease and ill health.
Frailty, pain and death blight the whole human race, and such suffering is experienced by saved and unsaved alike. Writing to the church at Rome, Paul states, ‘For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body’, Rom. 8. 22-23. Thus, sickness is the common lot of mankind and, therefore, we must not think that every time we are ill that God is chastening us for some act of disobedience.
As we read through the scriptures, we discover that many godly people suffered ill health. Paul could write in very commendable terms to the Philippians about one of their company, Epaphroditus. He said that he is ‘my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants’, 2. 25. What an asset this man was to the work of the Lord and to the assembly in Philippi and yet we learn that he had been ‘sick nigh unto death’. Timothy was another person whose testimony was without blemish, he is one of the few people in the Bible who is called a man of God. He enjoyed a unique friendship with Paul and his affinity with the apostle was such that Paul could say of him that he had no man likeminded. Despite this commendation, however, Timothy was afflicted with frequent infirmity and suffered from some form of stomach complaint.
There are other examples that could be cited but these will suffice to prove that ill health is not, of itself, evidence that the sufferer is being chastened by God. However, we must not deduce from that summary that ill health is never a proof of divine displeasure, for sometimes it might be.
Early in the book of Acts, we read of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira; they were summarily dealt with because they had lied to the Holy Ghost. Another example of sickness being inflicted due to disorderliness relates to the church at Corinth. Their appalling behaviour towards each other at the Lord’s Supper invoked stern discipline from God: ‘For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep’, 1 Cor. 11. 29-30.
Sometimes, because of our waywardness, God has to deal with us in a punitive way. However, let me add one point of caution. Whilst God may choose to deal punitively with someone, neither you nor I have the right or spiritual discernment to assume that someone is being punished of God.
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