Thursday, February 09, 2017

A Fate Worse Than Death

You’re sick, and you’re wondering why.

Agnostics and Christians alike will tell you the genetic draw you got at conception is a relevant factor, and both would agree that the way you’ve lived your life to date matters too. Years of less-than-optimal lifestyle habits have a way of catching up with you: not just substance abuse, but sleep deficits, insufficient exercise, poor diet and even shift work all may contribute to chronic problems in later life. And Christians and the unsaved alike experience stress, though we probably handle it differently.

The Non-Agnostic Options

Christians may also offer some suggestions an agnostic would not: maybe your sickness is God’s parental discipline, or his testing, or his desire to make a testimony of you to the world around you or even the world beyond our senses. Maybe it’s his way of bringing you closer to him. Maybe it’s his way of sensitizing you to the suffering of others so you can share with them the comfort you have received from God in your own illness.

Alternatively, maybe Satan is tempting you to despair or bitterness. The principalities and powers may be on your case.

One possibility I don’t hear too often is ... mercy.

Something Pleasing to the Lord

King Jeroboam’s wife went to see Ahijah the prophet. Her son was sick, and she and her husband were eager to know what would happen. Ahijah told her this:
“Arise therefore, go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.”
Got that? There was something in the life of Jeroboam’s dying child that was found to be “pleasing to the Lord”. This boy was the single positive thing to come from the bloodline of Jeroboam, so God granted him the mercy of not having to live through the judgment he intended to pour out on the rest of Jeroboam’s family:
“Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat, for the Lord has spoken it.”
Nibbled on by carrion birds or dinner for strays in the street. If that’s not a fate worse than death, at least it’s a fate worse than an ordinary death in bed at home. Jeroboam’s son died with dignity and was buried and mourned by all Israel. He escaped the direct judgment of God on the idolatrous members of his family.

God Took Him

It’s a bit counterintuitive, I admit, but sometimes being taken out of this vale of tears is actually a sign of God’s approval: Enoch walked with God, and “he was not, for God took him”. He didn’t even wait for Enoch to die first.

The Septuagint says “he was not found”, which suggests that perhaps Enoch’s family or neighbours went looking for him. Most of them would have been just as in-the-dark about the reason for Enoch’s disappearance as Christians today are about the specific cause of each incidence of human illness, chronic pain and disease.

A Matter of Opinion

From time to time, I encounter Christians who are quite opinionated about the reasons for the miseries of others. In the absence of a direct prophetic word to guide us in such matters, I suggest we are better off to weep with those who weep rather than grinding them under our heels with insensitivity. Job’s three friends were cautionary tales, not the curriculum for Hospital Visitation 101.

Jeroboam wondered about the reason for his son’s sickness, so much so that he sent his wife to consult a prophet of God. Unlike the rest of us, he got an answer, and it was not the answer he wanted to hear.

Sometimes ignorance is a mercy too.

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