Suffering and sickness

I posted this in the AAA forum, but since its no guarantee that those threads get answered (and so I can get some other perspectives as well), I thought I’d check in here:

In the Gospels, as well as the Acts, it appears every time Jesus or the Apostles came across someone who was physically sick or incapacitated in some way, they were healed and never told that it was “God’s will” that they remain sick. Why then does the Church teach (or does She teach at all) that physical sickness, pain etc (apart from persecution) are necessary or a part of God’s plan for us as believers, if in fact we have a “better covenant” than those in the Old Testament?


From the link above

Jesus made it clear that his work of redemption did not eliminate suffering
from the lives of his followers.
True, he promised that when he comes again, at the very end of history,
he will “make all things new” and rid the universe of sorrow and pain. This
promise appears in Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or
mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.
—Revelation 21:4
But that’s a promise about the end of history. In the meantime, another
promise holds true, the promise Jesus made during the Last Supper, when he
warned his Apostles that being faithful to his friendship would involve pain
and suffering. He told them:
If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world,
the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and
I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I
spoke to you, “No slave is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they
will also persecute you… In the world you will have trouble…
—John 15:18–20, 16:33
Earlier on, during his public ministry, he said the same thing more concisely
and more starkly. St. Luke records it like this:
Then [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny
himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save
his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
—Luke 9:23–24
Sorrow, loss, pain, suffering—Jesus didn’t save the world by eliminating these
things, but by redeeming them. These are unavoidable realities in a fallen,
broken, sinful world. They are not signs that God has abandoned us, or that
he is angry at us, or that he has somehow lost control of the universe.

Thanks, these are all great, but I’m thinking specifically about sickness and physical ailments. It seems strange that Christ would have used physical healing as such a symbol of his earthly ministry if that is not His will for man.

For the record, I personally can accept the teachings as a matter of faith, and many of the stories I’ve read and heard about people offering up their sufferings are beautiful and inspirational. However, I am from a background and family that believes the “Health and Wealth” doctrines. They would interpret the scriptures presented in the last post as referring to persecution, and would reject the idea that any other suffering can be pleasing to God on the basis of the Gospel accounts of healing (and of course the misinterpreted Isaiah 53:5). Basically, it is God’s will that everybody either goes in the Rapture, or that we die naturally and peacefully at an old age, completely free of disease, etc. It would be great if I could put into words (or better yet, quote Scriptural context) to clarify this aspect.

I have a theory about suffering and illness (particularly amongst the utterly innocent). This is the theory of sin pollution.

Just like in the natural world, if you live in a place with polluted water, air, and/or soil, contaminated with various poisons, etc. you will become ill. The physically weakest (small children and elderly) tend to have the effects of this natural pollution most strongly. So it is with sin pollution: even personal innocence does not save from suffering the effects of this sin pollution (just like the person who never added to the natural pollution in any way), and often times this suffering manifests in the form of suffering, illness, etc.

Now what can be done? For one thing, resolve not to personally contribute to the sin pollution in the world. Next, endeavor to repair whatever effects remain from past contributions to the sin pollution. Finally, when one is the one who suffers. becomes ill, etc–use this as an opportunity to see how fallen and fleeting this world is, pray for those who are adding to the sin pollution (frequently while scoffing at the idea that there is such a thing as sin), and look forward to the joys of heaven.

Does that make sense?

Remember even the Apostles weren’t immune from sickness. St Paul talks many times about his afflictions.

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” - 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Yeah…I’ve had that experience of being left "hanging"waiting for an apologist response that never quite came…

In the Gospels, as well as the Acts, it appears every time Jesus or the Apostles came across someone who was physically sick or incapacitated in some way, they were healed and never told that it was “God’s will” that they remain sick.


Why then does the Church teach (or does She teach at all) that physical sickness, pain etc (apart from persecution) are necessary or a part of God’s plan for us as believers, if in fact we have a “better covenant” than those in the Old Testament?

OK, several things to consider. First off, why did Christ heal people? It was part of his revelation of who He is, who God is. Don’t forget that the Jews of the OT believed illness to be a consequence of actual sin(vs original) - either their own or one of their ancestors. This is most vividly demonstrated from the account of the healing at the Pool of Siloam from the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel:

[quote=Gospel of John, Chapter 9]1* As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth.a 2* His disciples asked him,**(“”) “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

See how they thought that his blindness was a consequence of actual sin? But listen to what does Jesus says…

[quote=Gospel of John, Chapter 9]3Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.

This poor guy was blind his entire life as part of God’s will to reveal His works to others. So that is one dimension of physical suffering that was part of God’s loving plan for Mankind (ie the full revelation of Himself through Christ).
I think there is another dimension to consider as well. The time of Christ’s earthly mission was unique. Incredible things were happening - including healings - that were unique to the time. We get a hint of this in Christs conversation with John’s disciples that demanded to know why Christ’s didn’t fast…

[quote=Gospel of Matthew, chapter 9]Then the disciples of John approached him and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast (much), but your disciples do not fast?” 15Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

The time of Christ’s earthly mission was a special time that obviated fasting, but once it’s over, their will be fasting again. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that the miraculous healings were also something unique to that time and that it would not always be quite that way.
Another hint that things would be different once Christ left with respect to wellness comes from an indirect logic of what he said here:

Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, 5“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages* and given to the poor?” 6He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.e 7So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.* 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Here is another reaffirmation that things are different during Christ’s earthly mission than they will be afterwards. More to the issue of health, however, is the comment that you will “always have the poor with you”. Poverty is not going away here on earth. One of the consequences of poverty is poor nutrition which has as a consequence poor health. Christ saying that we would always have the poor is another way of saying that we would always have the ill with us. It is part of the consequence of the Fall. Christ came not to create Heaven on earth, but to reveal “God to Man and Man to himself” and to redeem us through his sorrowful Passion. When a Christian bears the sorrows of life - including physical suffering - with confident faith in God’s love and hope in the life to come, they bear witness to God (and image Christ in the process).
One of my favorite prayers is the Divine Mercy Chaplet…given to St. Faustina by Christ himself. Listen to the final prayer…
“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible - look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is love an mercy itself.”

We know that all things work for good for those who love God (cf Rom 8:28) - even physical illness.


Here is a reply from Fr. Serpa addressing a similiar question of suffering as you view it.…ous+protestant
Re: An Anxious Protestant and the Question of Redemptive Suffering
by Fr. Vincent Serpa

Dear friend,

I don’t really see your difficulty as a theological problem. You seem to understand and agree with Catholic theology. Your difficulty seems to be …

Jesus has shown us that sacrifice is the measure of love. We know more about how much people love each other by how far they are willing to put themselves out for each other. Talk is cheap and feelings just tell us how we feel. In suffering and dying for us, Jesus has conveyed his love for us in a way that we can understand better than in any other way that is open to us here on earth. This in no way means that we should not enjoy that which is pleasurable. Jesus, himself, enjoyed the company of others and worked his first public miracle at a wedding.

What you need to know is that the Catholic Church does not teach that if you become a Catholic, you must strive to suffer. What it does teach is that you must strive to love. And love is worth any amount of suffering that may result from it.

There are several ways to handle suffering.

  1. Reject it as ungodly, i.e., against the will of God and coming straight from hell. Fight it with all your might. Those that do this have a faith crisis in the making. Illness comes to just almost everyone which is suffering. That means that person is ungodly and the devil has them in their clutches. And then they feel that their faith is weak or the devil should not have touched them. This is not a catholic solution.

  2. Accept it for oneself as being permitted to test and strengthen virtue by God. Job, in the old testiment is the prime example of this. After every one of his losses he said,
    “blessed be the name of the Lord.” Catholic teaching at its best. To praise God always in and out of bad times.

  3. Desire it for oneself as accepting punishment for the sins of others to obtain for them the grace of salvation from God. And in attonement to God for the sins against his mercy and love. Catholic teaching by the mystics because of their perfect love of God and neighbor.

  4. Penance, mortifications, prayer, sacrafices, are all ways to help those in purgatory and to help oneself to avoid or have a short stay there later. Good Catholic teaching.

May God bless and keep you. May God’s face shine on you. May God be kind to you and give you peace.

We don’t know how many people Jesus didn’t heal; the gospel writers saw no need to comment on this multitude. We only know of those that He did choose to heal, and the reason why:

John 2:23
23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.

As for our suffering being of value, this comes from uniting ourselves in suffering with Jesus who suffered for us.

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