Posted by: baptistthinker | April 4, 2012

God’s Provision In Sickness and Suffering

For those who read this blog who don’t know me personally, you may be a little surprised to find out that at thirty years old I’ve been hospitalized close to a dozen times(number is probably higher than a dozen), had three major surgeries, a stroke, heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, and bleeding ulcers. I had my first surgery at age 3, my second at 16, and my third at age 25. My last surgery was open heart surgery, to replace my mitral valve. Since my valve replacement, I’ve been in the hospital on average once a year.

In August of last year, I went into the hospital because I was in superventriculartachycardia, brought on by atrial flutter. In October, I had an ablation, a medical procedure that cauterizes a small bit of tissue within the heart to stop atrial flutter. In early March, I went back into the hospital for the same problem. While in the hospital, one of the doctors thought I may have pnuemonia. So besides my heart doctor, I also had an infectious disease specialist looking at me, and a hematologist who gave me a blood workup to try to find the cause of all my illnesses. After leaving the hospital, I had an appointment set up with the hematologist at his clinic, a clinic that mostly specializes in cancer treatment. He discovered that I probably have(we need one more test in June to confirm the diagnosis) Lupus Anticoagulant, an autoimmune disorder that attacks my blood cells(among other things, and causes migraine headaches which is a frequent problem for me). This is probably the reason for all of my major surgeries. Also, I learned that I have something on one of my lungs, which we are going to be keeping an eye on for the next year or so. It’s possible that it’s a bit of scar tissue from an infection, but it’s entirely possible that it’s something else(cancer). It wasn’t on any CT scans last year, so, who knows what it is. If it grows, then we know we have a problem.

Today, I spent time with my cardiologist, and we decided to perform another ablation. My doctor doesn’t want me to stay on this drug I was put on in the hospital, a fairly powerful drug designed to keep my heart in a proper rhythm, but that is also worse for my liver than a daily shot of whiskey. And the drug is fairly expensive, about half a week’s paycheck for a month’s supply.
In any event, I expect to be a fairly poor man again this year. I just can’t seem to find a job that pays well in this economy, especially with a bum ticker as well as another job impediment. I owe more money to hospital stays than 99% of people owe on the vehicles owned by their family. The other 1% would be people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s really quite frustrating for me. I could deal with the once-a-decade major medical problems. Those were nothing to me. But over the past few years, I’ve been getting frustrated with all the expense of the hospital stays, and the medical problems I’ve been having. I can’t get insurance, really haven’t been able to get on any. Or the stuff I can get costs more than I make. I think to myself “Really God? Why can’t you pick on somebody else?! It’s not fair! Why do I always have to be the one who is in pain, who winds up in the hospital, who has to owe gobs of money, who hurts? Why me?”

A few weeks ago, I went on a mission trip with my college and career group at church to East TN. One night, we sat around talking about Acts 12. We spoke about how God allowed James to be killed, but broke Peter out of prison. As we sat there talking about it, I started thinking about the passage. I thought about how it’s not always God’s will to free us from our circumstances. God let James be killed, but released Peter. Why? Because God had a purpose in it. His plan for Peter’s ministry went on longer than His plans for James’ ministry. And as I thought on the passage, I discovered that I was identifying myself with James. I feel like God desires for me to remain in this place, rather than to release me by healing me here and now. As much as I would love to be released from my circumstances, like Peter was, it seems that God’s plan for me, at least for now, is to be James.

As I’ve spent more time thinking about the subject, it also occurred to me that God will heal me, that it’s always God’s plan to heal His children. Now, don’t get concerned that I’m going off on some “faith healer” tangent here. See, I believe that God heals in three ways. First, He can and does heal miraculously, through divine intervention.(See Acts 3, where God uses Peter and John to heal a lame man, to allow Peter and John to draw an audience in order to preach the Gospel). Second, God uses medicine to heal(see 1 Timothy 5 where Paul instructs Timothy to drink a little wine for medicinal purposes). Some people into the word of faith nonsense claim that God doesn’t heal through medicine. But see, I believe that medicine exists because of God, and that God sometimes wills to heal people through medicine. Third, God heals by taking His people home to be with Him. In Revelation 21:4, God promises that there will come a time where there is no more sorrow, no more pain.

God’s plan for His children, is that we will eventually be healed from all our diseases. Our sickness exists for a couple of reasons. Because of the Fall, we have sickness and death. Sickness will always exist here on this present earth. But our sickness also exists because God allows it. Look at the story of Job, and how God permitted Satan to attack Job. God knew what Satan would do. But God allowed Satan to attack Job, in order to eventually purge Job of pride, and to show Himself righteous and mighty. God allows sickness in the life of His children for specific purposes. It might be to purge us of sin. It might be so that we can better be witnesses of Christ, and so that we can tell of His goodness in our suffering. It might be so that we cherish Christ more. There are any variety of reasons why God might allow sickness and suffering in our lives.
My problem, is that while I intellectually know all this, I struggle really feeling this in my heart. Too often my emotions get in the way, and argue with me about the pain and suffering I’m going through. I struggle with seeing God’s hand, with knowing that God loves me. And I struggle with loving God through it all. I struggle with treasuring Christ above my health and well-being. But I thank God that my love for Him does not determine His love for me. He loves me even when I struggle with loving Him. He is faithful to me, even when I am faithless. Look at Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith, look at the names included. People who through faith conquered kingdoms, but who sometimes were faithless to God. Gideon, Samson, even David who committed adultery and murdered a woman’s husband. But God was still faithful. And even when I struggle with being faithful to God, God is still faithful to me.

God has continually provided for me in my sickness. I still have a job. I still have friends, family. I have a roof over my head, and food to eat. Maybe I can’t afford a better car that I’ll soon need yet. But mine still runs with over 200,000 miles on it. He has provided for me with a church family who willingly prays for me. I can still read, I can write. I can walk, I can run(sort of). And God may be allowing my sickness and pain, but He is a good Father, and this can only be good for me. I don’t know what He has in store, but it is for my benefit. So praise the Lord, O my soul, praise His name. For He is good, He is righteous, He is merciful, He is holy, He is just, He will provide. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for my Lord is with me. His rod and staff comfort me. Let Him purge that from my life which is hindering my relationship with Him. May my sickness draw me closer to my Lord. May I be more useful to my Lord because of what I am going through.

Some further material:
Don’t Waste Your Cancer

The Resurrection and The Life

The Revelation of God in Suffering
Death, Disease, and the Gospel
The Faithful Endurance of Suffering

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