Human frailty, weakness, and physical pain—what we call illness is one of the hardest journeys to endure in this life. Seasonal or chronic, sudden or expected, we find pain and weakness in the body especially difficult. Illness impairs one’s mood, distracts the mind, limits activity, and often whispers hopeless thoughts to the soul. Well-aware of our limitations, we wonder about the One who is in control—does he know, does he understand, how involved is he in our suffering, and will he intervene?
The Bible speaks to those kinds of questions. We want to help you see who God is amidst your pain and suffering, for we believe that true comfort comes from seeing him as he is.
There are a few truths that are central to understanding who God is. First, God is a God of compassion (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 116:5). It may be hard to see when pain persists. Dark goes our thoughts of God when the light of health fails. Pain incites us to blame someone for what we perceive as cruelty from an unseen hand. But we are misled.
When God told us his name, he said that before anything else it means compassionate (Exodus 34:6), as if to say, don’t ever think I am indifferent to what hurts you. This word comes from a root word indicating tenderness.
I know it’s hard to believe, but please do believe—God’s concern for your distress surpasses the kindest nurse or friend you have encountered. The sort of God we find when we open the Bible is one who is tender, merciful, kind.
We can be sure of this truth because we know our God to be familiar with pain himself. God is the first person to ever grieve in the Bible (Genesis 6:6). He is not ignorant of human frailty. In fact, he left his throne, clothed himself in humanity (John 1:14) and endured the pain of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). God knows what it is to hurt in the body, and he is compassionate. So compassionate, that he did something about it.
The Bible tells us the story of how the Lord Jesus, God in the flesh, suffered excruciating physical pain and unfathomable spiritual pain to deliver us from the source of pain: sin. Suffering is not always the direct result of sin, but suffering would not exist if humanity had never sinned (Genesis 3).
Let’s not think that God fell victim to our wickedness or Satan’s craft, and that we wrecked his world and plan. All things happen according to the will of the Lord. Though he never authors sin (Psalm 92:15), he is its governor, allowing only what will serve the ultimate good of his children to take place (Isaiah 45:7; Romans 8:28). Sorrow and suffering must bow to King Jesus; they are his servants.
And often this is what stings for us. Why would he then cause me so much pain? Why me? Why this? Perhaps the great preacher Charles Spurgeon counsels us best when these questions surface. He reminds us that,
God is too good to be unkind and he is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace his hand, we must trust his heart.
We must trust God when we cannot understand. We are not promised healing from all physical ailments—some illness may stay for God’s good purposes to be accomplished in our lives (2 Corinthians 12:9). But we are encouraged to honestly, continually, and with faith ask the Lord for the healing we desire, knowing he has compassion for us (James 5:14-18).
So, when Sickness knocks, we are to flee to our loving Savior with all our fears (Psalm 34:4). He will take our hand and walk us to the door. He may lead Sickness out or invite him to stay. Though we do not understand our Savior’s ways, we can trust him.
We know he thought it better for us to be acquainted with pain than to be entirely innocent of it. And we know that for all the pain he allowed into the world, he has borne its worst:
[He] Planted the tree where He would die
Put thorns down the vine, and then He wore them,
Love is the blood red stain, the beauty that the pain exposes
Maybe that’s why God made roses.
(Andrew Ripp, Roses)
Would you believe God has compassion for you, that he understands the burden of your physical suffering, and that his plans for you are wise and good?
Finally, would you believe that God wants more for you than you may want for yourself?
No one likes to hurt. And I bet hurt is just too shallow a word for your experience. The term illness feels like a cheap label for countless priceless losses in your life on the road of suffering. But perhaps God loves us enough to not allow us to escape the pain that would heal us from our deeper wounds.
May I ask what has your illness done to your soul?
For all those who belong to God through Jesus, he gives us a precious promise to use all things in our lives to restore the health of our souls (Romans 8:28). Some taste sweet like nourishing food, others taste bitter like medicine, but we know that all his means work for our good.
For every day illness stays, for every day you entrust your life to Jesus, God will be working to conform you to the image of his Son, who endured the suffering of the cross for your sake, so that you might know his love, compassion, mercy, and kindness. Will you trust him and take his hand as you walk on this journey through pain and suffering?