Does God Send Sickness And Disease?
Essentials and Incidentals
Christ was a man of power, and is. This is His distinctive characteristic. It was power under the driving control of love, and is. The religion of Christ is a religion of power. This is its outstanding feature. It was through this that it won its way in the beginning, in the bitter competition with old entrenched religions. It was this that blazed its pioneer way into every nation and civilization where it has gone. It is a power clearly above any power men were accustomed to. It is distinctly more and greater than men had known. It rose above power working commonly through familiar natural channels. And so it is called supernatural power. It was plainly claimed to be the power of Christ Himself, and of God back of and through Christ, at work through natural channels. And always it came into play to help men. The help was sorely needed. Men were powerless to do what was needed. This more-than-natural power of Christ, and of the religion of Christ, met men’s sore need, and met it with a strange glad fulness. It was this distinctive trait that opened the doors and hearts and lives where the power was felt and seen. Christianity is not a code of ethics, simply. It is that, plainly. It leaves all other codes trailing behind. Indeed there is pretty clear evidence that all these other codes sprang out of the mother roots of Christianity. But, by comparison, this is merely a by-product, a blessed by-product. The distinctive thing is that Christianity is a religion of supernatural power. It is not merely a system of culture. Very clearly it is that. The Holy Spirit’s sway in a life brings the rarest culture of character and conduct. It leads to the truest culture of mind and personality and life. And this multiplied in many individual lives makes a rarely cultured community. Its culture is the real thing, culture of heart and motive and behaviour and outreach to others. It clean out-cultures all other cultures, familiar to man. Its culture, at root, planted and fertilized all real culture wherever and whenever found. The evidence regarding this is abundant and clear. But, in comparison with this other trait common to true Christianity, its culture is an incidental, a winsome wondrous incidental. The essential trait goes deeper in, and reaches farther out. Its power to transform personal life stands first and alone. Christianity is not a teaching and a philosophy only. It surely is a teaching. It is a tremendous, a pervasive and satisfying philosophy. All men, and all philosophers, and all nations, that know it gladly burn their incense at the altars of its teaching and its philosophy, the incense of words, and the greater incense of imitation. There is the best of evidence for believing that the directly untraceable tendrils of all other philosophies and teachings run back to the Hebraic roots whence Christianity grew. And this is still true, regardless of the strange unhallowed admixtures in these other systems. By common consent the teaching and philosophy of Christianity clear overtops all others. Yet, be it keenly marked, again this is not the chief thing in Christianity. There is something greater back of this. It is so much greater as to have no second. It’s in a class by itself. Christianity is a thing of more-than-natural, more-than-human, power. It reveals God’s own power in action through natural human channels. There is even a stronger word to add here. Christianity is not a humanitarianism, a scheme for bettering world conditions, simply. It is that, clear beyond what can be told. A simple quick run back in history to pre Christian times, and a quick run out to non Christian civilizations to-day, makes a startling contrast between nations that have come in any degree under Christian influence, near or remote, and the others. Humanitarianism in all its blessed forms, and the unselfish bettering of outer conditions, stand out so big under Christian touch as to seem almost absent elsewhere. Yet the distinct though faint traces elsewhere, even though untraceable directly, bear every mark of springing from the same old Eden Hebrew-Christian rootage. Christ’s humanitarianism is the root actually of all this sort of thing. Yet, a moment’s clear, sharp thinking makes quite plain that these blessed things that have meant so much, and do beyond all calculation, are still — yes, again the word comes — incidentals. They are the sweet, refreshing fragrance of the rose. The rose itself, creating fragrance, and lavishingly breathing it out into the sweetened air, this is quite another thing. The rose is always immeasurably greater than the fragrance it gives unselfishly out to all comers.
Power, the Distinctive Trait
Christianity itself, in its one outstanding characteristic, is immeasurably more than the humanitarianism it initiates and keeps going. Its singular outstanding trait is its supernatural power, found nowhere else. It does what no other does or can do. It stands solitary and alone in this. And, and, are you listening with your inner ears? And, if and when, it loses this, in our understanding and our teaching of it, the essence is gone. The fragrance is here; the rose is gone. What fragrance there is, is what lingers from past contact with the real thing. :How long will it linger with its source cut off? If and when our Christianity becomes a code of ethics merely, a culture and only that, a teaching and philosophy and nothing more, a blessed humanitarianism and bettering of outer conditions of life, and that simply, the distinctive trait has gone. The rose is severed from the fragrance. The life has gone out of the body, even with some colour in the cheek, and some muscular movements in the limbs. The tendrils are severed from the life-giving roots. The Christian religion has been dragged down to the level of mere man-made religion, so far as the leaders can do that. All these other things, so blessed in themselves, are mere by-products of Christianity, incidentals. One had almost said, trifling incidentals, by comparison, though so invaluable in themselves. Christianity is distinctively, idiomatically, a thing of power, supernatural power, God’s own direct touch through human natural channels. The lustful man is made pure. The slave of evil habit is set free. The thief becomes honest. The trifler becomes earnest, in the hard grip of a noble purpose. The drunkard is sobered, and stays sober. The demon-tortured man knows sweet peace. The diseased is made perfectly whole. Where there had been a man in the house, now there’s a loving husband, and a thoughtful father, in a home. And the shop or store, the neighbourhood, the community, the nation, each knows a radical difference, a new personality, strong, gentle, pervasive, insistent. The religion of the solitary God-Man who died, and then revealed unprecedented and unparalleled power, uncopyable by others, in emptying that new-hewn tomb of rock, it is a religion of supernatural power. It is a power unexplainable except by taking God into account. It makes changes in man. It changes things at the core. Then all becomes changed. All history and all observation and all experience make clear enough that those changes can’t be made by any other than Christ Himself. But Christ does. He only can. Christianity is distinctively a religion of supernatural power. The one purpose of foreign missionary activity is to carry this message of the Christ, to our racial kinsmen across the sea who haven’t heard. It is distinctively the message of a Christ who died as none other did, nor could, nor can, and then lived again through supernatural power, and still lives, with that same supernatural power available to-day to purify the heart, transform the life, and meet every common need. This was the one burning passion and purpose of the early missionary activity, and still is, where the Christ spirit sways. It burns so hotly and grips so strongly that all else seems the merest incidental. There is an “else.” There are incidentals. There are humanitarian activities immeasurably valuable and sorely needed. There are some things worked out by Western science that will alleviate living conditions over yonder. And that sort of thing is surely sorely needed. Yet there needs to be discrimination. And wise discrimination sometimes seems scarce. It is no part of the Christian missionary scheme to transplant Western civilization into Oriental lands. The Orient has a culture of its own, that even some of us Occidentals think fully equal to the best true Western culture, at least, and in some things distinctly superior. If our missionary activity become a mere transplanting of certain features of the Western hemisphere to Eastern and sub-equatorial lands, it at once loses its distinctive historical Christian characteristic. The essence has gone. If the door opened with such sacrifice by the early heroic missionaries becomes an entrance for some common features of our Western civilization, if it become a means of spreading Western skepticism and doubt under Christian phraseology, it is surely the Devil using that door. Such use makes the door a distinct curse, so far. The motive for such sacrifice as the true Christian missionary gladly makes, though it takes his life’s blood slowly given out, that motive is quite gone. The true Christian message lived and taught on foreign-mission soil, in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, will work out certain results. Out of it will grow naturally the true Christian culture. And out of that will grow the mental regeneration that will affect daily life and conditions. And our racial brothers yonder will be distinctly better off with none other, except some products of Western science already alluded to. Nowhere is the distinctively supernatural power of Christ revealed more than in this, that men’s bodies are healed. It was so in Christ’s day on earth. It was so in the early Church days. It is so to-day. Christ is still and ever the same. Of course, there is opposition to such a Christ, and to such a religion. It was marked in Christ’s day. It was bitter, incorrigible, malicious, and at last murderous.
A False Common Impression
That opposition hasn’t ceased. It has merely changed its outer form. It has grown more cultured on the outside, but the inside is the same. One phase of this opposition is the teaching that God sends sickness and disease. The bald statement gives an ugly impression of God that stings and stays. It hurts and it lasts. There comes a dread, an inner deep dread of a God of resistless power who actually does such a thing. This is so even among saintly Christians, far more than is suspected. Its practical effect has been to act as a check to the working in men’s lives of that supernatural power of Christ. The hand doesn’t reach out to take what the Pierced Hand is eagerly reaching down to give. There is a deep-seated impression that we cannot ask for healing. We must settle down and make the best of a bad thing. And meanwhile pray to be patient and resigned. Psychologically this becomes an unconscious incalculable influence in actually tightening the hold of disease on one’s body. Practically it makes a hindrance in the working of God’s rare supernatural power in our bodies, and in our lives. “Well, it was her time to go, and so God sent her pneumonia.” The words were spoken quietly, in a matter-of-fact way, and in a tone of finality. They were the answer to my sympathetic question about an earnest Christian woman in the prime of life who had died quite unexpectedly. I wondered if my startled ears heard aright. But my wife verified their accuracy. The woman who spoke the words was an earnest Christian, of much more than average culture. Several of her family circle were college-bred, and the home had an unusual supply of high class modern books of various sorts. In later conversation a neighbour of hers, who did not share her belief in this regard, remarked that such was quite a common thought in all the countryside thereabouts. And in varying degree one finds such impression deep-seated everywhere. And, there are statements in the Scriptures that can be distorted, and disconnected, to give such an impression. That is, I mean, with no intention of distorting, the Scriptures are read in a haphazard, disjointed way, and are quoted without regard to connection. And so such impressions gotten by hearsay are deepened.
The Teaching of the Book
Let us take a brief look at the Book on this point. There’s a long list of passages that, taken by themselves, at first-flush, do give that impression. But as one reads them in connection with the whole teaching he feels ashamed so to have misunderstood God’s word, and really maligned, though unintentionally, God’s character. When Abraham and Sarah went into Egypt it says plainly, “Jehovah plagued Pharaoh and his household with great plagues because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife” (Genesis 12:10-20). The word “plagues” here plainly means certain contagious diseases common in Egypt. The whole story tells plainly why. God’s plan for the new nation hinged on Abraham, and even more on his wife, and on the family stock being kept pure. It was really an emergency in the human plan being worked out. And the broader story tells the process which reverses the whole impression. Still the impression is there, to the unthinking. There’s God’s dealings with Pharaoh in delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery. One cannot go here into this whole story of judgment on the Egyptians for their conduct toward God, and toward these Hebrews. That’s another story, much misquoted, and often not thoughtfully read, and full of fascinating interest. It reveals in a notable way the natural process God follows in visiting judgment on wrong-doing. But it plainly says that it was through “the hand of the Lord” in direct action that the Egyptian cattle were fatally diseased, and the Hebrews’ cattle immune; the ulcerous boils upon the Egyptians themselves, and so on, through all the plagues that follow (Exodus 9:1-12). One notes, of course, that this is all a distinctly exceptional action, of judgment, in a crisis. It is not the normal run of things. Still the impression spoken of may remain if one doesn’t think the thing out as plainly taught. And so there is a string of similar passages. (Exodus 15:25-26, 32:35, Leviticus 10:1-2, Numbers 11:1, 33, 12:I5, 14:12, 36, 37, Deuteronomy 28:21, 22, 27, 35, 60, 61, and others.)It slowed him up, and became a constant reminder that he had been walking the wrong way. And now, though his walking is slower, it is in God’s way, the only right way, and is so wholly because of that strange midnight touch. There is no wasted motion now. It stands out as an exception, at the extreme point of waiting by God, after all other means had failed. Jacob was an unusually stubborn man. It was for service’ sake, and was in an emergency in God’s world plan, of which this man was the human center.
The Protected Zone
Now, there are two things to note sharply here in order to keep the poise, to get things straight and clear. And they are two common things, well understood and emphasized in the pages of this book. The first, and less thing is this, that any break with God takes one away from the protection of His presence, and so automatically exposes him to whatever conditions surround him. The natural thing is keeping in touch with God. His mere presence, in unbroken touch, is a continual protection from ills that surround us. His touch upon us, it is this that keeps our bodies strong, and functioning naturally and vigorously. This teaching is like an ever-present undertone through the older pages of the Book. It was true from Eden on before the main story of the Book was lived out and written down. It is true to-day. This is the continual background of all the Old Testament teaching about bodily conditions. One simple illustration may help. But it is merely one bit from a flood of passages. It is given because it is a picture, pictured teaching. It is an open window into the whole house of the Book. It is the graphically told story of the unnamed prophet in the First Book of Kings (chapter 13). He had been sent to King Jeroboam, in a very critical time, with a message, and with detailed instructions as to his own conduct. Clearly his own conduct in the particulars named was to be an acted-out bit of the message. Another prophet, clearly merely a professional prophet, jealously deceived the man with God’s message, who accordingly disobeyed God’s explicit instructions. Then the unnamed prophet returning home, by the way he was distinctly bidden by God not to take, is slain by a lion. The whole story is dramatically told in much detail of an intensely interesting sort. And is evidently told fully for the teaching it contains. For the whole nation knew the story by the universal grape-vine means of communication, and discussed it from door to door. And the bit of teaching that belongs in just now is simply this: this unnamed prophet, in disobeying God’s implicit directions, had gone out of the protected zone. In touch with God he was in the protected zone. No evil could befall him in the simple path of obedience. He was protected. When he went out of that path he was exposed to the dangers always there. The true natural human life is meant to be lived in simple touch of heart and life with God. Anything else is abnormal, unnatural. When in touch one is constantly protected and preserved and strengthened, in body and circumstance and life. Break with God, either partial or full, exposes one to whatever there is of evil, and to the Evil One. And, it is an unhappy common place that so many Christians, confessedly, do not live in that full simple intelligent touch with Christ in all their affairs. This is one bit of teaching. It is the background of all teaching in the Old Testament especially. Unhappily it is missed so much in the haphazard, unconnected, choppy reading of the old Book, so common in pew and pulpit, home and study. It is a striking thing that the Bible, taken as a whole, is always self-explanatory Any question raised at any place in it as to the meaning is always answered somewhere else in the Book. And every thoughtful, serious question has an answer here somewhere. If only we would read it, and read it intelligently as a whole, one connected book, it would flood us with its light at every turn. But the second thing stands out in plain open day before all eyes. It is the bigger thing of the two. It is the Book of Job. The story of Job deals directly with this question of sickness and disease, the source, and more the purpose. It stands at the front door of the Bible. It was first of all in its writing. It is put there in plain sight that we might understand at once this sorest of all questions, suffering, and why allowed. It tells plainly that the troubles that came to Job, including his ulcerous boils at the last, came directly from Satan (Job 1:12-19; 2:6-7). Though Job himself didn’t so understand, and ascribed them to God (Job 1:20-21; 2:10). They came distinctly by God’s permission. There were sharply defined limits to Satan’s activity, beyond which he could not, dare not, go (Job 1:12, middle clause; 2:6). There was a purpose of God in the permission He gave. It was distinctly a purpose of love. Then the healing came (see Job 33:15-25; 42:10-17). And the gracious flood of blessing that followed made the days of his earlier prosperity seem tame. That in a word, just now, is the Job story. But the teaching could not be clearer. It answers our present question. It answers it fully and plainly. And the teaching stands at the front door of God’s Book, that all who will simply read thoughtfully may understand. Of course, it must be confessed that reading the Book of God is just a bit scarce, and reading it thoughtfully just a bit scarcer.
The Source of Disease
Put in plain words here is the answer of the Book of God. God does not send disease and sickness. There are five things to be said about their source. They come through some open door of disobedience to the laws of the body, either a conscious or an unconscious disobedience Or, they may come directly from Satan, but always through some open door on the human side. Or, they may come through God’s restraint being withdrawn. Or, they may come through the general break of sin affecting the whole fabric of life. Or, there may be a blend of two or more of these. In each case there must be an open door of some sort on the human side. But, then, the open doors are certainly on every hand in great abundance. So far as the disciplinary side of bodily suffering is concerned, God has no need to send disease. There are plenty of doors of disobedience standing invitingly open to disease. There is no disobedience so common as disobedience of the common laws of health. This is so among the most earnest Christians, the saintliest folk. We seem not to think into the common fact that breaking a law of one’s body, though not against a moral law, yet takes on a distinctly moral quality. The laws of health are God’s laws for the body, as really as moral law’s are His for the life. God’s healing, it will be remembered, is three-fold. There is a protective restraint of which one may be quite unaware. One’s person is protected. There’s a distinct restraint on the disease just at hand threatening. There is the life-giving, health-giving touch upon one’s body, giving vigour and full functioning. And of this touch one is usually quite unaware. The very absence of bodily ills and weakness should be cause for praise. It reveals Christ’s direct touch, where the body is committed to His care. And, then, when sickness or disease actually comes, perhaps through some door left inadvertently open, or otherwise, there may be the positive supernatural healing touch. When one is led to meet some emergency that taxes or exposes the health unduly, special strength will be given. But one should be very clear of his leading here. Once that is quite clear one pushes confidently on, depending on our unfailing Christ for bodily strength, as for all else. But one should guard carefully his bodily doors, as all others. There is a spirit warfare on. And one needs to be constantly on guard. In a wholesome, sane, thoughtful way one should guard all the doorways of his life, of every sort. This is especially true of those wholly in Christian service. John Ruskin tells a simple incident of his childhood days, that illustrates in part what we are talking about. He was present one afternoon when tea was being served. The copper hot-water kettle was bright, and caught the child’s eye. He wanted to touch it, and reached out his hand. The nurse in attendance on the child told him not to. The boy persisted, and the nurse also persisted. By and by the mother said quietly, “Nurse, let him touch it.” He did, for a very brief moment. His curiosity was quickly satisfied. His attention was turned from the kettle to the finger. The child’s ignorant persistence in having his own way, regardless of the expressed wish of those in authority, was deliberately yielded to for a purpose. The restraint was withdrawn. The act of touching the kettle contained its own punishment in the pain that came. The child had learned something. His desire to touch shining copper kettles was satisfied ever after. But some of us haven’t as much sense in other similar things. We still want to touch the shiny kettle. God’s commands and laws are never arbitrary. He doesn’t simply want to be obeyed because He has the right to be. Though when you come to know Him, you recognize that this would be quite sufficient in itself. But there’s always a reason for our well-being involved. God would keep us from touching the hot kettle, because it will burn. This principle underlies every law and commandment of God to us. Let us keep in touch of heart and life with Christ, guard jealously all the doors, set our selves to keep in that protected zone of obedience, and, when the need comes, go at once to Christ. Christ is waiting now, at your side, with the touch of supernatural power, to meet every need of body and life.