I have been perplexed over this question for many years. My mother suffered with a form of Cancer for 20+ years. Most of the time, she was not aware of it, because the medical profession, in their wisdom decided not to tell her about it, but only confided in me and my father. After some 15 years, the side effects were noticeable, and she was eventually told about her cancer – something to do with bone marrow? My mother passed away in her mid 70’s some 10 years ago.
She was a born again Christian from her early 20’s. My parents were married for 50+ years, both loved the Lord and brought me and my sister up to love Him too. Over those many years that she suffered, even her best Christian colleague once confronted her that her illness was probably due to some sin in her life, that is why she was not healed. I can not accept, that my dear mother harboured some sin which caused her not to be healed. I too, agree, that only the Lord knows my mother’s heart, and it is in God’s infinite wisdom to decide who will, and who will not be healed of a particular disease, and for his Glory only. But it upset me so much, when her best friends would say, that she was not healed because of some sin in her life, perhaps even an old sin that she hadn’t confessed to yet! Who are we to judge! Who are we to criticize God for not doing what we think He should be doing.
I stand to one side, and have questioned the motive of my mothers friends, who sometimes caused her to be broken to tears, she was such a soft-hearted individual who only thought of others all her life, putting them before herself, even when she didn’t possess the physical strength, sometimes, and relied solely upon God for her strength.
If you can shed any light, from scripture, I would be pleased to hear from you. I suspect that one should question the validity of what my mother’s friends were saying. Had they interpreted some particular verse of scripture in the wrong way?
Sickness is a complicated issue. The short answer to your question is that sickness may be caused by a variety of causes, sin being just one of them.
Sin and Sickness
Jesus, when he was on the earth, healed all who were sick and demon-possessed (demon-affected is actually a better word). To a man that Jesus had just healed, Jesus said, “sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” (John 5:14). In 1 Corinthians 11:30, the apostle Paul said to those who were abusing the Lord’s supper, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” Notice again that there was a direct relationship between their sin and their sickness. The word ‘sleep’ here actually means die. These people were dying because of their sin. Yet again, in Psalm 106:15, we read, in the King James, “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” “Leanness into their soul” is actually translated “Wasting disease” in the New American Standard Version. So it is certain that sin can cause disease. However, must it? No, certainly not.
**No** Sin and **Still** Sickness!
In 2 Kings 13:14, we read, “Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died.” We know that Elisha was a righteous man! There is no mention in the Scriptures of any sin that he did to deserve this disease. To suggest that he must have sinned I think would be unwise since the Scriptures do not give us any indication that this is so. Again, the book of Job is a case in point. The reason for Job’s sickness was not because Job was sinful, but because God “made a bargain” with Satan, as it were. Indeed, in Job 1:8, we read God declaring to Satan that there is **none** like Job, a **perfect** and an **upright** man, one that **feareth** God, and **turns away from** evil! Imagine that, the most righteous person of the day got sick! Those who espouse the “sickness must always equal sin” theology have simply not let the book of Job do it’s work in them! Furthermore, Job’s children did not die because they were any worse sinners than anyone else. Indeed, there are ‘sinners’ who do much worse today, but have not died, and live freely, seemingly without affliction of any kind (see next section).
**Much** Sin and **No** Sickness!
A person may be spared sickness for no reason associated with their righteousness. Indeed, they may not be righteous at all, in God’s sight. In Psalm 73, the Psalmist complains to God on account of those who, “are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” Yet these men are enemies of God! “They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens [i.e. against the kingdom of God], and their tongue walketh through the earth,” we read in Psalm 73:8-9. What does this tell us? It tells us very plainly that those who are well (physically) are not necessarily righteous. The direct corollary to this is that those who are sick are not necessarily unrighteous. It’s basically ‘two plus two’ theology (basic math!). Psalm 73 coupled with the book of Job is a strong defence against feeling condemned because you are sick. Please, do not feel condemned! That is not why Christ came! (John 3:16-18)
**Sin or No Sin** but **Still** Sickness!
Sickness does not have to be related to sin at all, as is clearly evidenced by diseases such as scurvy and goitre. I remember when I was in the Philippines in 1989, I went to visit a remote village where they do not have iodized salt. An elderly woman there had goitre on the side of her neck that must have been at least the size of a baseball (or softball, even). Iodine can prevent that. That is why we put iodine in our salt. (Check the label on your salt and it is sure to say, “Iodized salt”. That’s to prevent goitre.) You’ve also probably heard of the story of the men and women who were dying at sea of scurvy who found that by making tea with the bark of a tree were able to get healed. It was discovered that the vitamin C in the bark was what healed them. At sea, of course, they had no constant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables which contain an ample amount of vitamin C to prevent scurvy (so you don’t have to worry if you are eating plenty of these!). A folic acid supplement is **strongly** recommended for women who are planning to have a child (the early months are the most important) because it has been documented that there is a direct link between a lack of folic acid and an increase in cases of neural tube defects such as Spina Bifida. Note that none of these is related to sin.
In closing, I would forget about the idea that your mother’s sickness was caused by some unconfessed sin, or bitterness, or what-have-you, unless you personally feel convinced that there was indeed a justifiable cause for her to be afflicted and that the Lord is leading you to investigate this further. Clearly your mother is with the Lord right now, where she is pain free on account of the perfect redemption which can be found only that side of the grave! While we are here, we will suffer, whether through sickness or other afflictions. The Bible calls these “momentary” in comparison to all eternity with the Lord, and they are obviously not the thing to be focused on, the Lord is.
Having said all this, because of my own personal experience at seeing the Lord work so strongly in my own life with regards to His desire to heal people, I encourage people everywhere to get involved with a group of Christians who can pray for their healing, through anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, and other Biblical means (including the casting out of demons, repentance and confession, forgiveness towards others, a good diet and proper eating habits, getting the proper amount of rest and exercise, etc.), and to “press in” and believe God for their healing, unless God specifically says that it will not happen (e.g. the case of Joni Erickson Tada, whom it would appear will **not** be healed this side of the grave – her testimony is second to none, and she is being used powerfully by the Lord. She will surely walk again, though not here on this earth).
God bless you as you consider these things. Your precious mother is with the Lord! Praise the Lord! Oh, that we would all be with the Lord one day. (Do me a favour and pray for mine, who does not know the Lord yet.)