Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Sick Links

For those thinking about cancer and being sick as a Christian, Ben Myers recently linked back to old post on cancer and the will of God which included this great Barth quote:

“[Sickness] is opposed to [God’s] good will as the Creator and has existence and power only under his mighty No. To capitulate before it, to allow it to take its course, can never be obedience but only disobedience towards God. In harmony with the will of God, what man ought to will in face of this whole realm ... and therefore in face of sickness, can only be final resistance.”

- Karl Barth, CD III/4, 367-68.

Ben then continues:
Cancer is related to God’s will only as that which God rejects and negates—it is an expression of the threatening power of chaos which God has set himself against. Those suffering with cancer may therefore be comforted not by trying to convince themselves that all this is somehow God’s bitter “gift,” but by recalling that, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has forever said No to darkness and death, and Yes to light and life. God’s “sovereignty” is not an abstract principle of determinism, but it is the fatherly Lordship of God’s grace, as revealed once and for all in Jesus Christ.
And Ben has also recently linked back to another one of Kim Fabricius's famous ten propositions, which is the best thing I've read on prayer for a while. See if it inspires you to pray.
UPDATE: Don't miss Kim's new ten propositions on worship. See if it also moves you from reading about to doing.

Finally, here's some reflections from Kim on being sick.


Anonymous said...

We must, of course, do what is prudent to help our bodies be well (they are temples of the Holy Spirit, after all), but faced with a sickness from which we cannot free ourselves, does it really make sense to resist, to set up our wills against what IS?

While God does not will "the threatening power of chaos" any more than he willed Pontius Pilate to condemn Christ to death, he DOES ALLOW the course of fallenness to work its dark work, and he is still able to use it for our good - in fact, ONLY he can wring so much good out of the worst in us. From the deepest evil he can draw the greatest good, just as from the outrageous execution of the innocent Christ he willed to redeem a fallen world.

Of course, we are not to simply "capitulate before (sickness), to allow it to take its course," but doesn't it make sense to accept it as God's will, inasmuch as he has ALLOWED it to happen to us? This, as opposed to setting our wills against it altogether? Doesn't it make sense to see that, for some reason we cannot immediately know, he has indeed seen that this is somehow necessary, and that he can work some good through it?

Everyone has seen the good that can come from things that in themselves are not good, and cannot be directly willed by God - natural disaster, illness, personal tragedy, etc. There are always moments of grace which prove that God has indeed said NO to darkness and death, and YES to light and life.

And finally, if Paul had set his own will against the "thorn in the flesh" that God had "given" him, how could he claim that God's grace was sufficient for him, and that he somehow "made up" what was still lacking in the sufferings of Christ? This statement is absurd unless we accept some notion of the Mystical Body of Christ and its capacity for redemptive suffering.

Forgive the long post, but this is really the quintessential question, isn't it? It is suffering, and the capacity to ask questions about the meaning of suffering, that differentiate man from every other part of creation, that make humans human. It is really at the heart of what we are, and our answer (or lack of it) is at the very heart of our relationship with the Creator. What causes suffering? Why do we suffer? How should we suffer? How does God view suffering? Why does he allow suffering?

It is a conversation worth having...

byron smith said...

kathryntherese - great questions and thanks for your stimulating comment. I look forward to hearing responses from others. I have a number of thoughts, but I'll have to wait till I get back later today to say more.

Anonymous said...

I think I feel like what has been lacking in these discussions is consideration of the type of idea we find in Hebrews 12 - God disciplining us for our good. No doubt God's ultimate purpose is the end of death and sickness and suffering; yet as Byron has mentioned, these things are not the Great Enemy. That is Evil, and the road to its final overthrow in our lives, the road to holiness, may be a rockier one than we would perhaps desire.

I don't want to sound trite, but I think many, including myself, can testify to the truthfulness of the words: "discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

byron smith said...

Indeed, discipline from our heavenly Father is another important possibile 'meaning' to suffering and I think this is partially what kathryntherese might have been getting at when she spoke about Paul's thorn in the flesh.

And to repeat what I said in another thread, I think that God often graciously redeems even our very sufferings to snatch good out of evil, victory out of defeat, blessing out of curse, growth out of pain, a resurrection from a cross. However, I still think this perspective, though crucial and so pastorally relevant, is a secondary response to evil and suffering. This is (part of) the good news of what God is doing about sin and evil and suffering, but I think it important that evil be primarily conceived as God's (and our) enemy, rather than his instrument. A few months back, I wrote a six-part series on this very topic.

There are answers, I do not deny them - though I think they are provisional and partial and need to be placed within a larger eschatological and evangelical framework telling the story of God's opposition to and ultimate defeat of all evil and suffering.

Anonymous said...

Byron--did you know you were rated "best new theology blog of 2006" on Faith and Theology? very kewl.

byron smith said...

Benjamin - yeah, it was a nice and flattering surprise a few days ago.