Why are you ill? Here are some important answers to that question that the vast majority of Christian believers would share. You are not ill because you have committed a sin. You are not ill because God has stopped loving you. And you are not ill as a test to see how strong your faith is.

Christians have a belief that there will be a time in the future when all that is wrong in the world comes to an end. Heaven will be the context in which illness, death and suffering end once and for all. This is God’s plan for humankind.

The reason you are ill is that heaven is not yet a reality. Life survives on this planet because birth and death, humans and plant-life, viruses and bacteria, and every element of creation are in a delicate balance that require each other to exist. All illnesses are part of that cycle of life.

When Jesus was on earth he gained a huge following because of his reputation as a healer. He did not heal everyone who was ill, and it is not known why some were cured and some were not. And the healings were temporary, because even in the most remarkable cases the people went on eventually to die. But they were real. It was as though Jesus was showing a sign of the reality of total healing that will one day be the experience of all.

When someone is ill today, it is the natural inclination of Christians to pray for them. This has been the case for two thousand years. They do so because the most logical thing to do when someone you care for is suffering is to ask God to make it better. In many cases the result has been that the person’s health improves – sometimes in circumstances that seem miraculous. But not in every case. Just as in Jesus’ day, no one can be sure why some people are healed and some people are not.

However, Christians still pray and do not give up their hope and trust. They know that Jesus himself experienced both illness and suffering, so they believe that they are praying to someone with true understanding.

God has placed sources of healing deep down in the natural order of things. Bones that have broken heal up of their own accord. Antibodies in the immune system get to work to fight viruses. And God has also given humans the ingenuity throughout the centuries to discover ways of restoring health through medicines. Christians rejoice in all the things that bring health working together, whether they are natural, medical or prayerful.

God does not wish or cause illness or pain. Sometimes he seems to work through suffering, rather than take it away. And sometimes death comes to men and women as the ultimate healing, because it takes people into the absolute restoration of being in God’s presence where all tears cease.

Practical suggestion

Whether you are unwell or care for someone who is unwell, bring these three approaches together:

Natural – be sure that everything that damages a human body is banished, and everything that does it good is maximised;
Medical – follow the best advice it is possible to find from the medical profession;
Prayerful – ask those who follow the way of Jesus to pray to God for you.

What the Bible says about it

An extract from the Bible:
Is any one of you in trouble? You should pray. Is anyone happy? Sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? Call the elders of the church to pray over you and anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord.

Where to find it:
James 5:13,14

About these words:
These instructions come from a letter written to help people in a church perhaps twenty years after the life of Jesus know the best practical way to live as Christians.

And they said…

Lee Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon, having been diagnosed with cancer:
I have a fragile, limited faith with loads of questions. But this is not a fall into the unknown.  As a Christian the play-acting is over, isn’t it.  When hope is put to the test you either have [faith] or you don’t.  I am finding that I do.

Jakob Hutter, Christian leader, 1492-1536:
Be comforted then, for God leads into hell and out again; he makes us sad and joyful again; he gives death and also life, and after great storms he makes the sun shine again. Therefore wait patiently for the restoration of your bodies, and do not grow faint or weary in the race. See to it that the love in your hearts does not grow cold or die.

Julian of Norwich, writer and nun, 1342-1416:
These words: ‘You will not be overcome,’ were said very insistently and strongly, for certainty and strength against every tribulation which may come. He did not say, ‘You will not be troubled, you will not be belaboured, you will not be disquieted.’ But he said, ‘You will not be overcome.’

Henri Nouwen, Dutch priest, 1932 – 1996:
It would be just another illusion to believe that reaching out to God will free us from pain and suffering. Often, indeed, it will take us where we would rather not go. But we know that without going there we will not find our life.