Those who are sick among us are very gracious. They hear lunacy from the body of Christ but usually take it in stride.
Here are samples of “helpful” things said to a sick friend of mine.
- Maybe there is sin in your heart that you forgot to confess.
- There MUST be someone that you have not forgiven. (“Yes, and now that you just said this to me I am having a hard time forgiving you.” At least that is what I would be thinking.)
- Coloring your hair can cause cancer, maybe that’s what is happening.
- You don’t eat right.
- It’s your medication. You need to stop taking it (from someone who didn’t know if this person was taking medication or why!).
- Your house is making you sick.
- It’s your water.
- Your husband is poisoning you. (There is no limit to human creativity.)
- You need to fast.
- You need to tell yourself constantly that you are not sick. (This is one of my personal favorites. It is the companion to “Visualize World Peace” bumper stickers.)
- It’s your posture. (?)
- You need to get better, this is taking way too long…(How sweet.)
- Sorry to hear things are worse, let me know if I can do anything. (This one is the most innocuous on the list, but can you understand why my friend and so many others put it on their “Top Ten Things Not To Say” list?)
The mind reels with nasty retorts, though actual sick people don’t usually respond that way.
Where do we get this nonsense?
Some of it comes from people who want to help, and their version of help is to reveal a secret that they believe is unknown to modern medicine. There is not much we can do with this one. These people will always materialize around a sick person and dispense their advice. If only they could be less confident—less arrogant. Maybe they could send it in a short letter?
The others are simply spiritually ignorant or arrogant. Take your pick. They believe that sickness is the proof of personal sin.
I thought Job put an end to that line of thinking, or the man born blind (John 9), or those who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell, or Jesus himself, who went through physical suffering and was not healed.
What keeps the myth alive are misinterpretations of the book of James. Here is where the “you need to have more faith” advice comes from.
But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)
Here is the “repent of your big sin” passage.
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:14-16)
Sin and sickness are not linked
Admittedly, these passages have their challenges, but even before we get to those challenges we must allow other Scripture, which is clear, to aid in interpreting this Scripture which is less so. In other words, clear Scripture severs the link between sin and sickness, so we should too. Also, James certainly understood that, at some point, people are not healed and die. Verses yanked out of the context can lead to wretched ministry.