Are our health problems caused by our own sin?

  1. The Black Paint of Sin

The Fall, that ill-fated action which changed the fate of man, had such a profound impact that none can fathom the extent of the repercussions that have befallen creation nor envision the ideal community that might have been . The invasion of sin into the world has impacted every facet of God’s blueprint. One area of deep impact that will be discussed is the constitution of human health. Is the “fall of human health” caused by the direct sin of the individual sinner? Or is it just a culminated defilement of the original drawing of creation? Both of these two perspectives of sickness and human health have shaped man’s approach to healing. However, only one is correct and in this paper we will contend and defend that human illness and the fall of human health is the result of sin’s holistic infestation on God’s canvas and not simply the result of an individual sinful action.

The human body, the culmination of six days of creation, formed with the intent of a relationship with God, filled with the breath of God, and embedded with the image of God, was made perfect in every way. Thus, it was made perfectly compatible with the creation designed in the previous five days. It was made in perfect unity with the environment with the symbiotic purpose of having dominion over it. How can such a perfect entity face the plethora of maladies that abound today? We must get to the root of the cause before we can draw a conclusion to its origin. Medically speaking, every impact on human health has an origin that at some point in the past originated either from outside the body or from a misuse of the body. When we consider a simple wound, we understand that the cause was a confrontation between the body and a sharp object, either man-made or designed by nature for self defense and preservation. When we consider a virus or bacteria, these are foreign organisms invading and defending itself against the body. Even in the case of hereditary defects, they are a result of defective DNA which generations earlier had taken root through the hereditary process. Is there any doubt that these illness-inducing genes were recessive or nonexistent within Adam and Eve? After the fall, a need for self-preservation within created beings became necessary because in effect the Fall removed the perfect equilibrium in creation which allowed for a peaceful coexistence among all created beings. In Genesis 3:18, we understand that “thorns and thistles shall it [the ground] bring forth to thee.” There was no need for such protective devices before the Fall when creation maintained that perfectly symbiotic relationship with itself. It can be safely extrapolated that these offensive and defensive mechanisms emerged throughout all creation. No more could the lion and the lamb peacefully coexist. No longer could the field mice have no concern for the hawks above. Now nature had to fend for itself, just as Adam now had to fight for his livelihood. If we can imagine that the original creation was the canvas for a perfect painting, the Fall of Man has now allowed a can of black paint to drip on the canvas. This paint is slowly spreading to the entire canvas so that there is now little resemblance to the original perfect masterpiece. Through the first sin a slow disorder has crept across creation, and it will continue to grow. “Traditional Reformed thinkers have assumed that like evil, sickness is part of the disorder that infects the world after the introduction of sin, and so its existence is contrary to God’s ultimate will for the world.” (Pg. 5. Groenhout, Ruth. Not Without Hope: A Reformed Analysis of Sickness and Sin.) It is the evolution of this disorder that has caused man’s health maladies to increase over the centuries. The most notable demise of health over the centuries can be seen in the life expectancy. It is true that modern science and improved quality of life have increased the life expectancy of certain demographics by a few decades, but that is a far cry from the centuries of life lost over the first millennium as sin slowly took hold of all aspects of creation. Those first humans were capable of nearly a millennium of life. The human body was designed for so much more. Unfortunately, the canvas continues and will continue to be inundated with the black paint of sin.

  1. A Hope for Restorative Healing

One can take solace in the fact that this understanding of health forces the acceptance that it is very rare that one’s individual sin is the sole cause of a health condition. Yes, the sinful nature of man is the source of the black paint of sin, but at this point, the black paint is already infected throughout all creation. Therefore most malaise are a result of the preexistent sin that has taken root. “So we shouldn’t always react to illness by asking: “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Instead, a Reformed view of sin emphasizes that the connections between sin, evil, and illness are pervasive, structural, and entangled in every aspect of human life (Wolterstorff, 1983, p. 23).” (Pg. 7. Groenhout, Ruth. Not Without Hope: A Reformed Analysis of Sickness and Sin.) One more source of hope concerning this condition of illness in the world is that it can also be understood to be a part of the restorative plan that God has prophesied and promised in the new age.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

The prophets understood that God’s plan was to remove the defect of sin, but they also understood that the infection of sin had taken such a strong root in creation that God would choose to begin with a new canvas, the new heaven, the new earth, and the new city of Jerusalem. Regardless of the steps God takes to accomplish His work, we can understand that God never had an intention for sickness within His kingdom. Through Christ, death itself was defeated, thus it naturally follows that all conditions that lead to or hasten death have already been appointed for demise.

Sin and brokenness are not the final word, however, and God’s sovereignty is not destroyed by human evil. The world is created by a good God, and is being directed, ultimately, by that same good God, and from a Reformed perspective, we can live and act in the hope of a restoration of the goodness of that creation (Bouma et al., 1998, pp. 8–9). A Reformed response to illness, then, is not a response of despair, but a response of hope, and a response of willingness to work as one is called to alleviate suffering, bring healing, and respond in love to those who are put in one’s path. And the tension between, on the one hand, seeing the pervasiveness of evil and of sin’s causal connections to the suffering and illness in the world, and on the other hand seeing the world as God’s good creation, broken, but being sustained and restored by grace, is a very productive tension. It allows one to see illness as connected in complicated ways to all sorts of individual and social choices and structures, and to recognize that any attempt to solve one problem may result in five more problems of different sorts. That is the nature of systemic evil. But while seeing this clearly, the Reformed thinker is able, nonetheless, to avoid despair because of her or his fundamental faith in God’s sovereignty in all these matters. Ultimately it is not fallible, corrupted humans who are in charge of all of history; it is God who works out God’s plans. (Pg. 14-15. Groenhout, Ruth. Not Without Hope: A Reformed Analysis of Sickness and Sin.)

When we consider this with the fact that Jesus’ the example of man in perfect relationship with God led a ministry of healing. Jesus showed that His effort in bringing about God’s kingdom was not just proclamation of the kingdom, but by living by the aspects of the kingdom community, particularly love for all especially those that were maligned.

  1. The Role of the Christian

Through this lens, the Christian approach to sickness should be consistent with the Christian perspective of sin. It is not a part of God’s kingdom, it will be eradicated when God’s kingdom has been established on Earth, and the role of the Christian on earth is to bring about God’s kingdom. “There is no possibility of redemption until we go out and find those that are in need, clasp hands over the chasm that divides us from the unfortunate, look into their faces and tell them that we are akin to them in need. “ (Pg. 269. Exell, Joseph S. The Biblical Illustrator: St. Luke Volume I. ) However, the Christian is aware that they are not alone in this battle. God has provided weapons and His strength in the effort against illness. On the day of Pentecost, the gifts of the Spirit were unleashed for this purpose exactly, to enable Christians to combat sin wherever it is found.

to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit…

– 1 Corinthians 12:9

Particularly, the gift of healing was delivered by the Spirit to eschew in the new age of victory over sickness and death.

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James 5:14-16

Paul and James understood that sickness and malady, though a result of inherent sin, were not necessarily the direct result of their own, personal sin. The necessary step was not to shun the infirmed, but to embrace them with love and prayer until they are restored through the healing power given through God. They reacted to affliction with love and care.

The care extended was restorative in nature, mimicking the perfect and eternal restoration that will follow in God’s kingdom. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a clear illustration of not only care and healing, but complete restoration.

33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  – Luke 10:33-35

The statement “take care” is used repeatedly because the Samaritan was focused on ensuring the care given to the injured stranger. The Samaritan did not just bandage the wounds, but he carried him to the inn, ensured he was cared for and then promised to follow up and complete the process of restoration. In every case of healing during Jesus ministry, restoration was the final step. Lepers were not only healed, but they stood up and then proclaimed the kingdom. The Christian must understand that healing efforts are not in vain. It is true that the infestation of sin cannot be eradicated through the efforts of man, but the restorative power delivered through the Spirit can win each individual battle. “Healing is possible, and change can occur, because the flawed creation we live in is not only or wholly evil, but also retains its fundamental created goodness and reflection of holiness. In acting to cure, heal, and ameliorate, people act as God’s agents (whether intentionally or not), and in so doing they bring grace to a broken world.” (Pg. 7. Groenhout, Ruth. Not Without Hope: A Reformed Analysis of Sickness and Sin.) It must be understood that this is a broken world, a flawed painting, but it also must be understood and wholeheartedly embraced that underneath the black paint is still the perfect masterpiece. Creation was never created evil.

When Christians can embrace the underlying perfection and purity of the world, then there is a hope and desire to unleash it. Let us strive to restore what little of the painting we can because even through those minute portions, we can see a microcosm of God’s chef-d’oeuvre. “Dr. Guthrie… saw what could be made of them [street boys], and therefor appealed with impassioned eloquence to the dull and uninformed public…there may be locked up in him capacities not unsuspected.” (Pg. 270. Exell, Joseph S. The Biblical Illustrator: St. Luke Volume I. ) There is no greater example of this buried and suppressed capacity than man himself. The well of black paint stems from human nature, but under that is the pinnacle of creation. The glory of God shone through the only man in all of history who was able to resist defilement by the black paint of sin. Jesus is the example of not only what all men should have been, but also what all man can be, the image of God that exists within all of us. It can be said that in every man is not only the image of God, but the image of Jesus.

It is every Christian’s role, responsibility and duty to unlock every aspect of this image, including health, so that each man is one more light shining upon creation. “Let professing Christians especially lay to heart the solemn lesson that there does lie in their very religion the possibility of their being culpably unconcerned about some of the world’s wounds, and that, if their love to God does not find a field for its manifestation in active love to man, worship in the Temple will be mockery.” (Pg. 320. Maclaren, Alexander. Expositions of Holy Scripture: St Luke. ) Illness should not be viewed upon with disdain, seeking repentance, persecution and beratement for the afflicted, but with love, care and even aggression in bringing about the original masterpiece within each man.

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