One of my biggest struggles with chronic illness has been reconciling my health problems with my faith. As a child I was often taught that if you had enough faith God would fix your problems, but as I grew up I developed a more nuanced view. I learned that having faith does not automatically fix your problems, but it can give you the strength to bear them. Unfortunately I still hear the teaching that if you have an illness you must be doing something wrong, you must not have enough faith or you are being punished for God for some horrible sin. This is a deeply harmful philosophy. Bad things happen to good people and good things can happen to bad people, that is life. Some of the most faithful people I’ve ever known have suffered terribly from debilitating illnesses. Their illnesses actually led them closer to God, but they still weren’t cured. Additionally, not all healing is physical. If we turn to God in our struggles he will ease our burdens so that we may have the strength to bear them. God said to Paul:
My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:7–9)
When it became clear to me that God wasn’t just going to cure me because of my faith I began to search for a reason why. Why did I have to suffer, what was I supposed to learn from this? I think that is a question many of us ask ourselves and the answer is different for everyone. Sometimes bad things just happen to us. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was bitten by a tick. God wasn’t punishing me or trying to teach me a particular lesson. God didn’t put the tick on my leg because I needed to be more humble or faithful. I was just in the wrong state to get the correct treatment (Texas’ medical board has major financial incentive to harass doctors treating Lyme and ignore studies proving Lyme exists here) and when my treatment was delayed my health was ruined. It was just straight up bad luck.
I am tired of hearing all the faith promoting stories where someone is near death and then they are miraculously healed because of the thousands of people praying for them. Those stories are incredibly damaging to those of us who are not healed. It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles, I just don’t believe God bases those miracles on the number of prayers for a particular person. God doesn’t base his healing on popularity, that is not what prayer is for. I believe that prayer serves a different purpose, it helps us to align our will with God’s will and gives us strength to carry our burdens.
I’d also like to point out that when we feel guilt for having health problems and not doing enough to “live our faith” we are confusing following religious leaders with following God. My God is loving and kind and he knows my pain. He has carried me through the roughest times in my life and knows what I’m capable of. My religious leaders while being excellent people do not understand what I go through and what my limits and capabilities are. How could they when they haven’t experienced it? Sometimes we may feel as though God has abandoned us because our church environment is not for the disabled. The teachings in many churches are based on the assumption that we have a working physical body that can accomplish anything, but God knows each of our hearts and knows what we are individually capable of. He knows when we are doing the best with what we’ve been given, even if other people do not.
I believe that love and faith have the power to heal. They don’t physically heal us but they can heal our hearts and souls. When we rely on our love of God and his love for us our hearts can be healed, even if our bodies are not.