Why God Permits Sickness

by Spiros Zodhiates

There are several Greek words that we shall examine in our study, but the main word is asthéneia, sickness. This really means weakness. It is made up of the privative a, meaning “without” or “not,” and sthénos, meaning “strength”; hence, without strength, weakness.

Now whenever we read the word “sickness” in the Old or New Testament, we immediately think of the physical part of man. However, man is a personality, and that personality is composed of spirit, soul, and body. When we read in the New Testament that a person was sick and then was healed by Christ, what did He heal? It is important to understand that He healed the total personality.

Today, psychology and psychiatry are built in part on the theory of psychosomatic diseases, that one’s thoughts may cause a headache, for instance. A person’s philosophy of life sometimes can cause depression, and deep depression will make it difficult for one’s body to function well. So weakness or sickness of any part of the total personality—body, soul, or spirit—can cause diseases. These diseases in Greek are called nósoi. In fact, modern medicine uses the term “nosology” which is the study of particular diseases.

Diseases can be classified as diseases of the body, diseases of the mind, and diseases of the spirit or soul. Spiritual diseases are those having to do with the relationship between a man and his Creator. An atheist, for instance, is sick in his spirit. His spirit does not function as God intended.

The fact is that when the Lord Jesus died on the cross, He did not annihilate corruption within our present bodies. Sickness (asthéneia) may be most noticeable in our bodies, but it may also be present, and perhaps commenced, in our emotional or spiritual parts.

Are Physicians and Medicine Necessary?

There are two Greek words for healers: iatrós, healer, from the verb iáomai, to heal, referring specifically to bodily healing; and therápo\n, from the verb therapeúo\, from which we get “therapy” and “therapeutic.” But a therápo\n is actually more than an iatrós (physician) because the therápo\n takes care of more than the body. He has a concern for the total personality—something we have largely lost in this present age of specialization.

What should we do when we are sick? Should we pray, or should we take a pill, or see a doctor? Should we refuse to see a doctor because that would be “unspiritual”? Certainly prayer is cheaper than going to a doctor! But because prayer costs nothing, while medical treatment may cost a great deal, is that the way to decide? Does God give us license to eat whatever we want and live however we want, if only we remember to ask Him to keep us healthy? What is the right approach to healing and healthy living for a Christian? Where is the balance?

We can gain some light on this subject by asking the same type of questions about food. Could we not simply ask God to supply the food we and our families require? It would be a lot easier and cheaper than working to earn our daily bread. And we know that God could provide for our needs in this way if He wished to do so, for did He not provide manna from heaven for forty years for the multitude of Israelites?

But we are in very different circumstances than were the Hebrews during their long trek from Egypt to the Promised Land. God could feed us, and He could heal our every disease, but He sovereignly does what He knows is best, meanwhile expecting us to recognize and respect His laws that He has instituted.

Again, think of the virgin birth of our Lord. His human body was supernaturally conceived within Mary’s womb, but God did not set aside His natural law of gestation. Jesus’ body was in Mary’s womb nine full months, though God could have brought about her pregnancy one day and the birth of her baby the next. Just so, there are laws today that govern our physical bodies, our minds, our psyches, our souls, our spirits; and one of the greatest things that we can do as followers of God is to discover and use those laws, though not leaving aside prayer or thinking that God cannot change laws whenever He chooses.

So it is not a question of whether to pray or medicate, but to do both. And in what order? Let us look to James for light: “Is any sick among you? 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…” (James 5:14). First they were to anoint the sick person; then they were to pray. “Anointing” in Greek is aleípsantes, which really means having rubbed with ointment. They were first to apply the healing ointment, and then pray.

In “the prayer of faith” in verse 15, euche\, translated as “prayer,” means a vow. Thus, coupled here with faith, it is a vow of faith. We do that which is necessary, that which we know to do, but not knowing the sufficiency or efficacy of that which we have done, we vow that we are going to abide in faith—and faith means trusting God to do His part.

From Sickness—Why? Healing—How?
© 1999 by Spiros Zodhiates.
Available from AMG Publishers

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