If we believe in a good God who is in control of his world, then presumably his promise to “work all things for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28) extends even to man flu. So what good is God able to work in the midst of illness? I can think of at least three:
- Illness is good for giving us opportunities to patiently wait in humble dependence on God. Every night it’s the same: will I sleep well tonight? Will I be better tomorrow morning? And every time the answer is ‘no’ we have to practice patiently trusting God. I want to be better straight away, but God has other plans that are bigger than mine, and I must wait until he is ready to make me better.
- Illness is good for showing us that we’re not superheroes and we need to stop every now and again. Sometimes it’s easy to overdo it in the short term (even if that’s a six month ‘short term’) and convince yourself that it’s sustainable and you’re doing ok. But then eventually you crash and burn and get stuck in bed for a week, and it can be a good way for your body to say “you are going to stop and rest whether you like it or not”. There’s a famous story (does anybody know where it’s from?) of a busy pastor who never quite managed to take a day of rest each week, and then after a few years ended up with a serious illness that lasted basically as long as all of those skipped rest days strung together.
- Illness is good for reminding us that our identity is not in what we can do or how we can serve. Every day you think to yourself “I’ll be well enough tomorrow to fulfill that commitment I made to so-and-so” or “I’ll be well enough by church on Sunday to do the powerpoint”. Then when you’re not, you have to ask other people for help and the body of Christ kicks in to action and everybody rallies round and copes pretty marvellously without you and it turns out you weren’t quite as indispensable as you thought. And that’s ace, because it brings conviction of ways in which you’ve started to define yourself by what you do and the ways in which you serve, and find your value in the contribution you make rather than simply your standing in Christ as a precious child of God. Occasionally having to allow others to serve you rather than trying to do everything for yourself can be humbling in a really helpful way.
That’s as far as I’ve got so far – maybe you’ve got some suggestions of your own?
P.S. Free special bonus treat: Jonathan Edwards’ resolution No. 67: “Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what am I the better for them, and what I might have got by them.”