Lovis Corinth, Franz Heinrich Corinth on his Sick Bed, 1888
By Lutheran pastor Al Rogness (1908-1992), Book of Comfort, Augsburg Publishing House, 1979, pages 32-35.
I had usually thanked God for health and prayed that he might keep me from being ill. One evening in 1962, while speaking in a church, I suddenly collapsed. For two weeks I rested in a hospital waiting for my duodenal ulcer to stop bleeding.
I don’t remember thinking that if I had stronger faith the bleeding would stop, or that someone with the gift of healing could lay hands on my head and make it stop. I relied on the skills that the Lord had given his servants, the doctors, and on the recuperative powers God had placed in my body. Of course I prayed for healing. Who doesn’t when ill? You may have forgotten to pray for almost anything, but you do look to God when illness strikes. Even people who have trouble taking God’s intervention seriously at all will pray in a crisis. From World War I came the line, “There are not atheists in foxholes.” There is an old Russian proverb– Kak travoga, tak do boga—“In dire extremity man remembers his God.”
I had no trouble thanking God for restoring my health, and I didn’t bother my mind about whether it was through the science of medicine (which is God’s) or through the healing powers of my body (which is God’s), or whether God intervened in some special way.
Most of us will not exclude God’s activity in medicine. It has always seemed to me that Christian Scientists limit God (by not going to doctors), denying part of the divine greatness and goodness.
God is on the side of life and health. If I understand Scripture right, God intended us for everlasting life, uninterrupted by death. God did not want us to be sick and die. Sin and sickness and death are intruders. I’ve never hesitated to urge the sick to pray for health. I think we’re on God’s side when we do everything possible to guard the gift of life and health.
God’s plan is that sin and illness and death will at last be destroyed. Until that moment comes, God allows death to be the gateway through which we pass to inherit a life that is unending. We have no guarantee that we will outmaneuver death and live forever on this side, no matter how many healers we employ. Even Jesus, who brought back from the dead Lazarus, the widow’s son at Nain, and Jairus’ daughter, did not give them eternal tenure on this side. Eventually they did have to die.
Think of the comfort of healing God has given us in the last century through the spectacular advances in medical science. Many of the old killers— smallpox, diphtheria, peritonitis, pneumonia— are virtually gone.
Most doctors will say that they only remove or correct obstructions that keep the body from doing its own healing work. But often we don’t cooperate with God in allowing the recuperative powers of our own bodies to take effect. We overeat. We drink damaging beverages. We fail to exercise.
In 1962 I took stock of my neglects. I had plunged ahead in my work, been neglectful of rest and sleep, and in other ways ignored the rights of my body. How could expect God to keep me well if I defied his laws?
How about God’s direct intervention through extraordinary means? Are there “divine healers”? The New Testament seems to indicate that God does give the gift of healing to certain people. And many people are sure that the Lord has, through these people, intervened in ways beyond the reach of science or the normal recuperative powers of the body.
When one of my friends was ill with a puzzling disease, people urged his wife to summon Oral Roberts or some person with a reputation for healing. She hesitated to summon anyone. Hundreds, even thousands of people were already pleading with God for his healing. She asked herself, “What kind of a God would ignore the prayers of thousands and sit unmoved in his heavens, withholding healing till some “assigned” person came?” She said, “I’d have to change my whole idea of a merciful God if I were to think that he would let my husband die unless a special person prayed.”
On the other hand, there is the testimony of many people who believe firmly that God has used some person (not the doctor) for special healing. Perhaps this is one of the mysteries we’ll have to live with.
Much as we desire healing and life, we must try to keep illness in the right perspective. We know that life on this side is uncertain. We know too that the excellence of a life is not measured by its length, any more than the excellence of a painting depends on the size of the canvas. We live in the anticipation of life everlasting on the other side, which a gracious God in love and forgiveness has promised us in Christ Jesus.
To be sick puts you on trial. To be on your back in the hospital, in pain and perhaps with scant hope of recovery, is one of the hardest assignments life can give you. If you are able to exercise patience, love, cheerfulness, a sense of humor, faith, and hope in such an hour, you may have given your family and friends the most treasured memories they will ever have; and your own measure of comfort will be great.
Psalm 119:71 — It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
Psalm 10:17 — You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.
Psalm 41:3 — The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.
A PRAYER FOR HEALING:
Lord, bless all the means that are used for my recovery, and restore me to my health in good time; but if you have appointed that it should be otherwise, may your blessed will be done. Draw me away from an affection for things below, and fill me with an ardent desire for heaven. Lord, make me fit for yourself, and then, when it pleases you, call me to those eternal joys that you have promised. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
–Thomas Ken (1637-1711)