Wednesday, 28 September 2011
For any evangelical Christian, suffering a long-term illness often adds an extra burden of guilt and questioning. 'Why aren't I better? Don't I have enough faith? Do I have some hidden sin? Is God trying to tell me something? The questions go on and on and can leave you feeling a bit of failure as a Christian. For me, now, these are non-questions. I almost hear God saying to me, "Tim, what on earth are talking about? You're trying to find answers to questions that don't need asking. I am no less with you when you are ill that when you are well - what else do you need?"
We've got so obsessed with health and healing that there is an unsettling perfectionist, almost eugenic feeling to it. It's as though to be a proper Christian with real faith you must be in perfect health. Anything less than perfect implies a lack of faith, spiritual weakness or worse, sin. What message does that say to an amputee, someone suffering a mental illness, facial disfigurements, or any of the congenital illnesses that are often conveniently ignored by faith healers.
The trouble is, the health-prosperity gospel often turns a blind-eye to the realities of what it means to be a fallible human being, whereas I believe what the Gospel shows us is that God doesn't. I had three years of Charismatic evangelical teaching at a Bible college straight after becoming a Christian, but it's taken me all the years since then to learn what it means to be a vulnerable, imperfect human being in a relationship with a loving God who completely understands our frailty and flaws. It's taken me all that time to realise the simple truth that sickness does not necessarily equal sin or lack of faith. Sometimes people just get ill - one look at the number of faithful preachers and ministers who have died of cancer ought to tell you that.
I look at suffering and healing in a completely differently now. I understand it in the light of the Grace of God balanced with the need for humans to have free will and live in universe where free will is possible. I praise God for every miracle of healing that takes place and will continue to pray for and lay hands on the sick and suffering, but, for me, the difference being a Christian has made in my illness is the certain knowledge that God is with me THROUGH my illness. Knowing God is with me, every single moment, even when I can't pray, or think and all I can manage is watching day-time TV, is a genuine source of strength, peace and hope.
This is the miracle Jesus offers to every Christian, sick or healthy. It's the miracle that all you need to do to know the presence of God in your life is simply to trust that He is there for you, unqualified and without condition.