You’ve been sick before – I guarantee it. You might be sick right now. I’m sure your loved ones have had their share of sickness as well. You probably have loved ones who have suffered or passed away from sicknesses and disease, or there might be someone you love who is currently sick. But what does the Bible say about sickness? More specifically, what does the Bible say about sickness being a result of sin? Let’s found out.
First, let us define sickness. For the purposes of this post, we will use the word sickness in a general and broad sense to describe any state or instance of being ill. Sickness can mean being in the state or condition of illness. That could be having a cold, the Flu, cancer, HIV/AIDS, or anything else that is abnormal for a healthy human being. But sickness can also mean instances of sudden ailments such as having a stroke, a heart attack, or anything other event that would not be normal for a healthy human being. Sickness is real and both Scripture and experience confirm this. I state that because there is a “Christian” group which has existed for many years who believe and teach that sickness is not real, but an illusion. The proponents and adherents of Christian Science believe such, and that belief is demonstrably false and destructive.¹
Second, in a sense, all sickness is a result of sin. The question concerns whether or not sickness can be a result of sin, and in a sense, all sickness is a result of sin. That is, all sickness is a result of sin’s effect. The reason for the existence of pain, sorrow, ailments, sickness and even death is because of the effect of sin on the universe. When sin entered the world in Genesis 3, the world became cursed and corrupted. Therefore, anytime you have sickness (of any kind), it is because we live in a fallen and corrupted world which is awaiting its renewal (Romans 8:19-21). One day the world will be made new and there won’t be any sickness at all (Rev. 21:4; 22:3), but as long as we live in a world cursed and corrupted by sin, there will be sickness. Most of the sickness we experience is merely a result of sin’s curse, because our bodies are fallen. Sickness occurs most often not because God is punishing or disciplining us, but because of the condition and world in which we live.
Third, some sickness is the direct result of sin. It is a possibility that sickness comes as a result of having committed sin. Unfortunately, there are some old fashioned fundamentalists who believe that every time you get sick is because you’ve sinned against the Lord, but the Scripture simply doesn’t teach this. It does teach that sometimes sickness can be a result of sin in our lives. Sickness can be the result of committed sin in three ways: 1) Sickness can be the following consequence of committed sin, 2) sickness can be the way God disciplines you when sin is committed, or 3) sickness can be what God uses as a means of judgment. Let’s talk about each of these individually.
- Sickness can be the consequence of having committed sin. By this I mean that some people get sick as a consequence of their actions. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Lord is punishing or disciplining them, it’s just reality taking place. Someone who gets blackout drunk cannot expect to be healthy and well the next morning! Or if you constantly eat junk food you’re not going to be healthy. If you don’t take care of your body, you will succumb to sickness more often. Sometimes sickness is merely eating the fruit of your deeds. Fruit is a result of what is sown, and what kind of fruit you eat depends on what deeds you have sown. When you commit certain sins which will inevitably affect your health, you are the reason why sickness was brought upon you.
- Sickness can be the discipline of the Lord. Sickness is one of the most severe forms of God’s discipline of His children. Sometimes it’s the only thing that will get our attention. We have an example of this in Paul’s instructions about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. The Corinthians were misunderstanding and abusing the Lord’s Supper, namely, observing it in an “unworthy manner” (v. 27). Because they wouldn’t stop doing so, Paul says, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (v. 30). God disciplined the believers there through weakness, illness, and even death. Another example of this is found in Psalm 6, where David prays a prayer of repentance. Apparently, he had committed sin. He doesn’t say specifically what it was, but it was obvious he was suffering from it. And one of the ways he was suffering was physically. He expresses in the psalm symptoms of an illness, which he appears to say is the Lord’s discipline. In v. 1 he acknowledges that God is disciplining him, and he notes that his “bones are greatly troubled” (v. 2), and that he is “weary” and “weak” (vv. 6-7). Although he doesn’t specifically say that he was physically ill, he certainly was not physically well. As a form of discipline, God allowed for him to experience great pain and it was probably some form of illness. Clearly, God can use sickness as a severe form of discipline upon His children. For determining whether or not your sickness is God’s discipline, look to see if you have unrepentant sin in your life or a pattern of serious sin. The reason I say that is because sickness is usually one of the most severe forms of God’s discipline. If He’s already tried to get your attention through other means and you still haven’t repented, He may resort to a more severe method of discipline – sickness.
- Sickness can be the means of the judgment of God. Finally, sometimes sickness can be the way God executes judgment upon an individual or individuals. Let me clarify at this point: the words judgment and discipline are not the same. Judgment refers to God’s punishment of sinners, discipline refers to God’s fatherly discipline of His children. And sometimes God will use sickness as manifestation of His judgment on the nonbeliever. There are several examples of this in the Bible. One example is in Exodus, where God caused a plague of “festering boils” to come upon the Egyptians in an effort to free His people from slavery (Exodus 9:9). Granted, boils aren’t an illness like a cold or the Flu, but they are in the category of physical ailments like illness. Another example is in Daniel, where God smote king Nebuchadnezzar with mental illness, changing his mind into “the mind of an animal” (Daniel 4:16). The king completely lost his mind and began acting like an animal (v. 33). When God deems it necessary, He will use sickness and other physical ailments as means of judgment.
Sickness is real and it exists because of sin’s effect on the world. It may or may not be the result of committed sin. Sometimes sickness is circumstantial because of the world we live in. Sometimes it is consequential – the direct result of your actions. Sometimes it is God’s discipline, meant for your repentance. And sometimes it is the means which God chooses to use to execute His judgment.
There are two more important matters I want to note in passing. The first is a pressing question often asked when talking about the subject of sickness: why are some people healed of sickness and others are not? The overarching answer is simply this: it either was or wasn’t the will of God. If God wills something, it will occur. If God doesn’t will something, it will not occur. And whatever God wills will always be for His glory. So, healing may or may not be God’s will for an individual who is sick. Why sometimes it is His will and other times not, we cannot know for sure. It is certainly not because an individual didn’t have enough faith. Some proponents of the health, wealth, and prosperity “gospel,” say that the reason why Christians don’t experience healing is because they didn’t have enough faith – their faith was the reason God didn’t heal them. Such a teaching is man-centered, non-biblical, and false. For believers who are sick, there is great hope even if they don’t receive healing. God uses physical ailments for His glory (see the story of the blind man in John 9), and believers can cling to the promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Those who do not believe cannot hope in that promise, for they are not those who “love God,” and they are not “called according to his purpose.” The second thing worth noting here is the obligation that Christians have to care for those who are sick. Scripture tells us that we should visit the sick (Matthew 25:36) and pray for them (James 5:14). It reveals much about our love for the Lord and for the brethren when we fulfill those responsibilities.
What Does the Bible Say? is a question and answer series which seeks biblical answers to pressing questions.
- George Shaw Cook, “The Remedy for Illusion,” Christian Science Sentinel. www.sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/50tfglv60w (accessed June 16, 2018).
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with free Christian resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife, Dakota live there with their dog, Susie.