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The Offence of Illness

I wrote the following 2 years ago as Emma was suffering from terrible gastro complaints.  Unfortunately her problems are as debilitating today as they were then.  And the lessons we were learning then we're having to reapply to our hearts every day.  Chronic illness remains an affront to the flesh.  Our natural desire is to control life through human effort.  But this means that illness is a great occasion to re-learn and re-apply the gospel to our hearts.

Emma says it much better herself with this post: Patience with patients.  But here's my older post...


In the last month Emma's been in and out of hospital 3 times (she's in at the moment) and I've consistently had man-flu.

It's struck me very forcibly how offensive illness is to our fleshly sensibilities.  Just speaking of my own meagre maladie, here's the sort of thing said to me on a daily basis:

[Shocked] Haven't you seen a doctor then?

[Tutting] Haven't you been taking your medication?

[Frowning] Haven't you been inhaling hot lemon and eucalyptus like I told you?

[Disappointed] Haven't you rubbed menthol on your chest and belched La Marseillaise?

[Appalled]  Elderflower, saffron and moose hair Glen - that's what I keep telling you.  How long will you choose frailty over my curse-proof stratagems??

Maybe I'm imagining it, but I often sense a note of anger in the advice of others regarding illness.  It doesn't fit our view of the world for people to just get sick.  We need to believe that there are practical reasons for the suffering and dependable remedies to fix it.

When our friends have an illness that doesn't budge, it actually becomes very threatening.  It forces a collision between two strong emotions.  On the one hand there's deep love and concern for your friend who's suffering.  But on the other is an un-named but powerful belief that life will work for us if we act smart, work hard, keep trusting God and never give up.  Of course this entails the belief that bad stuff is preventable if we're prepared, persistent and prayerful enough.  And so when our friend is sick, and stubbornly sick... well... you love 'em.  But deep down you know that somewhere, somehow they've done it to themselves.  ("Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?" John 9:1)

Of course the battle is there in the sufferer too.  We end up suffering double when we believe the lie that all bad stuff is preventable.  Not only do we face the illness, we face bitter self-flaggelation for succumbing in the first place.

Both sufferer and comforter should stop being surprised by the fiery trial (1 Pet 4:12).  We must ditch this ridiculous belief in our curse-proof stratagems.  Let's comfort one another as those who know we are east of Eden and the Suffering Servant is the only way back.


0 thoughts on “The Offence of Illness

  1. Bobby Grow

    Agreed, Glen. And there's always a tenuous balance to all of this as well. Or we would simply abandon the ideas of doctors, vitamins etc. But I totally see what you're saying, absolutely!

    "It has not only been granted to you to believe in His name, but to suffer for His sake!" Phillip. 1:29

  2. Si

    A loud 'Amen!' to this - we should stop thinking like it's bad karma or something avoidable.

    Illness, like death, is an enemy, and this is part of why it offends us - we think that our defences are poor, or what we've done to offend that brings about an attack - which is a bad way of looking at it indeed.

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