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Don Stewart :: Does the Bible Make a Distinction between Sickness and Other Types of Suffering?

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Does the Bible Make a Distinction between Sickness and Other Types of Suffering?

Divine Healing – Question 18

There are some who contend that the Bible makes a distinction between sicknesses and the various types of suffering that Christians are told they will endure. They see the predicted suffering as referring to persecution and not to physical illness.

Therefore, the suffering believers are supposed to endure, do not come in the form of physical illnesses, but rather from persecution. Is this what the Bible says?

The Bible Says Believers in Jesus Christ Will Suffer

Scripture does make it clear that the believer will suffer in this life. Peter wrote the following words to the believers.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:6-8 NASB).

Troubles will indeed come in this life. There is no avoiding them. Each of us can testify that this is the experience of the Christian.

Suffering Can Present Us with Opportunities

James said that the troubles which come our way should be seen as an opportunity for us to be joyous. He wrote.

Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy (James 1:2 NLT).

We should view suffering as an opportunity to trust God and to watch Him work. Indeed, when all of our options seemingly run out we discover that God has infinite resources.

The writer to the Hebrews encouraged the believers in their various trials. In fact, he explained it as being God’s love toward us. He wrote the following.

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all (Hebrews 12:7, 8 NLT).

Our suffering, in many cases, is actually a demonstration of the love of God in our lives. Of course, this is hard to understand when we are experiencing times of suffering. This is where faith must come in. Indeed, we must always trust the fact that the Lord knows what is best.

From these passages we observe that believers in Jesus Christ will suffer various kinds of problems in this life.

Can Suffering Be Limited to Persecution?

While some people try to make the distinction between sicknesses and suffering from persecution there seems to be at least four major obstacles to doing this. They are as follows.

The Bible Does Not Distinguish between Physical Illness and Suffering

Nowhere is physical illness distinguished from other types of suffering. Whenever suffering is mentioned in Scripture it refers to everything human beings endure. We never find a biblical writer qualifying suffering by saying that it refers to everything but physical illnesses. If the Bible does not make this distinction between physical illness and other types of suffering then neither should we.

Scripture Speaks of Various Trials Believers Will Face

In addition, the biblical writers often speak of different kinds of trials that believer’s will face. It is difficult to imagine that they had in mind everything but physical suffering. Indeed, this is a common way in which believer’s suffer.

The Promises of Relief Would Not Apply

If there were a distinction between suffering and sickness, then the promises of comfort given to believers who are physically suffering would not apply. This is because believers are not supposed to suffer with sickness. But believers do suffer with sickness as well as physical infirmities. Are we to then suppose that Christians are not to claim promises of strength and hope from the Lord in the midst of their various illnesses? This does not seem possible, neither does it make sense.

In fact, Paul was specifically told that the Lord would be with him during his times of suffering for his “thorn in the flesh.” He gave this testimony.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:8-10 TNIV).

The Lord was with Paul in his physical weakness. In this particular instance, the Bible makes no distinction between physical suffering and other types of suffering. God is with the believer in all of our suffering. Period.

All Believers Are Suffering the Results of the Fall

In addition, believers are not exempt from the natural suffering which results from the fall of the human race. This includes the deterioration of our physical bodies. Paul recognized this when he wrote the following words to the Corinthians.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV).

Christians are not supernaturally delivered from the normal aging processes that will eventually result in death. On the contrary, this fact that we are all aging is the basis for the hope of a new body that will never deteriorate or perish.

Paul also wrote about this wonderful promise of a new body to the Corinthians. He explained it in this manner.

As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heaven (2 Corinthians 4:18; 5:1 ESV).

This “eternal house” is something which each of us who believes in Jesus Christ is fondly looking forward to.

Consequently, we find no basis for the idea that the biblical writers distinguished between suffering and sickness. Indeed, sickness is a part of our suffering here upon the earth. This is why we place our hope in the new body the Lord has promised for each of us.

Summary – Question 18
Does the Bible Make a Distinction between Sickness and Other Types of Suffering?

Some people have tried to make the distinction between our physical suffering and other types of suffering. They argue that sickness is not something God wants His people to endure. The suffering believers face comes from persecution – not God inflicting sickness upon them. Therefore, we should not equate our illnesses and infirmities with the suffering the Scripture speaks about. Is this what the Bible teaches?

It is not. Indeed, this does not fit what the Scripture has to say in at least four ways. We can sum them up as follows.

First, the Bible makes no distinction between physical suffering and other types of suffering which humans endure. None whatsoever. If Scripture does not make this particular distinction then neither should we.

Second, the writers of the Bible spoke of various types of suffering believers in Jesus Christ would face. In addition, they did not limit it to persecution. Indeed, there are many ways in which Christians suffer apart from being persecuted. One of these is physical illness as well as physical infirmity.

Third, there would be no promises of God’s help when believers became ill or infirmed if we make this distinction. This is incredible to believe! Are we to assume that the promises of God to be with us in every way in which we suffer concerns everything except our physical illness? This neither makes sense nor does it fit with Scripture. In fact, as the Lord told specifically Paul, He would be with him during his time of his physical suffering. This illustrates that we should not attempt to separate physical suffering with other types of suffering.

Finally, each of us is presently in the dying process as a result of the Fall of humanity that began in the Garden of Eden. We are born, we grow old, and we eventually die. This cannot be halted. Indeed, nothing can slow it down.

Yet there is some very good news! The fact that we are presently suffering in our bodies leads us to the hope of something better – a resurrected body. This is the wonderful promise of God to all who believe in Jesus Christ. Indeed, someday we will put off this perishing body in which we now reside and put on an eternal body which the Lord will provide for us.

In sum, Scripture makes no distinction between physical suffering and other types of suffering. God has promised to be with the Christian through all of our difficulties here on earth. We can certainly trust those promises.

Should a Person Who Is Sick Seek Supernatural Healing? ← Prior Section
Why Does James Tell Sick People to Be Anointed with Oil? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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