Message in a Bottle #10
Over the years I’ve given much thought to physical ailments and illness and some people’s belief on how they’re divine punishments from God. As a person who has dealt with often unexplained and chronic illnesses since I was a little girl, it almost hurts to grapple with this ideology.
But only recently did I actually go to my God and the Bible with my questions and doubts. My findings and the conclusions I’ve drawn, made me regret how long I’ve taken to dig deeper.
You see, one of the only “proofs” of illness as a divine punishment in the New Testament comes from the story of the invalid at the pool of Bethesda. John 5:6-14 Jesus finds the sick man there and asks him, “Do you want to get well?”
The man answers, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Now if you ask me, the man’s answer should be the first red flag. Instead of a straight response, he immediately gives an excuse as to why he can’t get better. His faith is clearly tainted, if there at all.
But Jesus doesn’t respond in frustration like so many others would; he simply says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
And the man is healed, simple as that.
Later, when Jesus sees the man again, he says to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
And that is where people will say, see, because he sins, sickness will befall him. But I will beg the question, proof of divine punishment or proof of lack of divine protection?
But to get to this conclusion we have to take a deeper look at the pool of Bethesda itself. The Greeks originated these pools, attributing their healing properties to spirits and created the cult of Asklepius— the pagan god of healing. They built temples to the god near these pools.
Waiting by the water, countless sick would pray, fast, and chant, until Asklepius or his serpent spirits churned the water. Yes, serpent spirits. Can’t really get any more demonic than that.
Knowing this, it’s safe to say this particular man at the pool was not just any other saint with his own inevitable sin. (To sin is to be human. It is to be alive.) This man was a Hellenistic Jew— a person who combines Judaism with Greek culture. He no longer believed in or served the one God but many gods. He was under no protection of the Lion of Judah, and so at the mercy (or lack thereof) of Satan and his demons. How much worse would it be for this man if Satan could get his hands on him AGAIN after Jesus had just freaking healed him. Thus Jesus lovingly warned him, “Stop sinning or something worse will happen to you.”
Often Jesus’ miracles clearly have a bigger purpose in sight, and this healing is no exception. It was a show of great power in front of a whole crowd who had spent an unknowable amount of time groveling for healing from serpent spirits and false gods.
Now in the Old Testament illness by divine punishment is a little more clear like Miriam and her temporary leprosy Numbers 12 and I’ll tell you why I’m not bothered by this.
In each instant I could find, the “victim” was explicitly told by one of God’s prophets or God Himself that they were in fact punishments.
What good would it do God or us for Him to dole out sickness as a punishment in an age where we have to guess if it really is punishment or not? Clearly not everyone’s illness is a punishment, so why some? Some of the purest hearts battle cancer for years only to end up still dying from it. Not everyone’s healing comes on this side of Heaven. And we all die eventually.
If we must look at sickness as anything but what it is, we might look at it as a tool or a gift, as it sets our sights more easily on Jesus and makes us dependent on Him as we ought to be. It also helps His glory shine more freely through us, thinning our walls that would try to hide it.
I think of Jane Marczewski, (Nightbirde to her fans) her brave fight against cancer, and her beautiful heart for the Lord. Before He took her home, Jane’s walls had grown so thin God’s glory shone through her like a clear pane of glass. It is convicting, breathtaking, and inspiring all at once.
So if I have something to work on, it is not accepting my ailments as punishments, but rather to allow my many weaknesses to run over my walls like a river to the sea, so that I too may wear thin enough to shine God’s light through me.
If we could all do this, think of how beautiful we’d be when we all come together like a great stained glass window of a cathedral, the light of dawn shining through with a glow worthy of other’s stares.
“Then He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Fair winds, following seas, and God bless.
Ps. I‘d love to hear your thoughts, agreements or disagreements. Let’s talk.