Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our affliction
so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance,
so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
— II Corinthians 1:3-5
Why is always a big question, isn’t it? If I am exposed to a virus and it overcomes me and I become sick, the virus is the cause of my illness — it’s why I’m sick. Or, we could go further down the rabbit hole and try to figure out why, biochemically speaking, I was susceptible to the virus in the first place. Whether we start talking sleep deprivation, stress levels, microbiome, genetics, nutrition, or more, we’re discussing the possible and probable causes of or contributing factors to the illness. This is helpful, yes, but it’s a very limited explanation for those of us who believe that there is more to this world than its physical components.
The question that plagued me as I went off to college was way bigger than a desire for a diagnosis. I wanted to know why all of this had happened to me. But before we talk about that, we need to remember why sickness happens in the first place.
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Almost all of you know the old stories, but it’s good to be reminded. We are a forgetful people.
So it happened like this: God made man, followed shortly by woman, and placed them in a Garden. The Garden had one rule: don’t eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
A serpent came and he told lies and deceived the woman, and she ate. And then her husband ate, too.
This was the saddest day in human history.
The Garden, you see, had been so perfect. It was beautiful and good. In it, no one suffered. No one got sick. No one died.
But when sin entered, we were cursed and cast out.
Ever since, there has been struggle and pain. There has been toil and sweat. There have been tears and sickness.
And there has been death.
This is the reality that we live in, but sometimes we forget it. We start to believe that life is supposed to be all lollipops and awesomeness, and when it’s not, we think there’s something wrong. The truth is that there is something wrong, but it’s not our own lack of personal comfort and happiness — it’s the whole, big, messed up world.
Before we talk about practical things like how to get school done on really bad days, or how to try to get better, we have to face the facts: the world is a far from perfect place, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
The fallenness of the world is the first cause of disease. We get sick for the same reason that other things go wrong: because the world isn’t a perfect place anymore. We can’t choose how we experience the Fall, but we will experience it.
But we ought not stop there.
There is also something that Aristotle dubbed the “final cause.” By this he meant the ultimate purpose of a thing. If I ask, “Why am I sick and tired all the time?” I might be asking whether I have a virus or a hormone problem — or I might really be asking, “What is the purpose of these bad things I’ve experienced?”
That’s a different question, isn’t it?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I have thought about it a lot. So let’s go through some verses:
- II Corinthians 1:3-5, which I quoted at the top of this post, implies that we experience suffering so that we can both experience the comfort of God, as well as become a source of comfort to others. That can seem a bit like circular reasoning, but it’s true that as we suffer, if we suffer well, we become able to offer comfort.
- Hebrews 12 is another good place to read. We’re reminded here that Jesus suffered. We’re told that God disciplines those whom He loves — that He scourges each of His sons. People get really uncomfortable with this, but the truth is that the Church has always held this position — that sickness and suffering can be the Lord’s love and severe mercy unto us. We’re clearly told here that God disciplines us — allows our suffering — that we might share in His holiness, that we might become righteous.
- Romans 8:28 reminds us that God uses everything for the good of His people — that whatever happens to us, God is always working for our good.
- In II Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul reveals that his personal health struggles were how God protected him from pride — in Paul’s weakness, God displayed His strength. We are told that we can be content with our difficulties because God will work in them and through them.
We have to make our peace with the fact that this is where we are right now, and therefore this is where God wants us. Yes, we can pray for healing, and yes we can try to make wise choices that may help us improve. But in this moment, we just have today. Tomorrow may be better … or not. But we can trust God, who in His wisdom and mercy uses the weak and, yes, even the tired, as vessels of His grace.
When I look back at sickness, I see God’s protection. I think that I could have become very prideful in my teen years, but God’s hand was heavy upon me, and that was for my good. Did you know that’s what that word translated above as “affliction” means? The Greek word is thlipsis (θλίβω). It doesn’t just mean distress — there is this sense of being under pressure, of being pushed down. When I was under His hand, it felt like an attack to me. I had no idea that it was for my protection. But I see that now.
I’m not saying that God is trying to protect others who are sick from pride — I can’t know that — but only that in affliction He is still working. This has long been the view of the Church. God does not seek to make us comfortable. He seeks to make us holy.
Sickness can keep us from getting too attached to this life. It has many times reminded my wandering heart that this life is not my goal and this world is not my home. Sickness and fatigue have been my tutor in virtues in which I can confidently tell you I still require many lessons.
So before we move on with this series — before we talk practical details of coping while homeschooling, or possible ways to conserve or even produce more energy, I suggest we start with a new perspective: thank you, Lord, for this your grace to us, for the vices you are pruning away, for every hard day that has made us long for our eternal Home.
Suffering well begins with an acknowledgment that God wisely directs the lives of His people, that we can rest in His will, that we can accept both easy times and hard times as His gifts to us.
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