By Sigrid Fowler
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No one who reads Job can persist in the opinion that illness is a subtle sign of wrongdoing in the sick person. Humans get sick– the good, the bad, and the Bible doesn’t dodge this fact. When the Lord was to deliver the Hebrew nation, the burgeoning family of Jacob now slaves in Egypt, he made some pronouncements about illness no one, to this date, has seen fit to edit out of the Bible. There they are for anyone to read, no better time than a year when sickness is driving up negative statistics of all sorts. This is what God says:
“If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God and do that which is right in his eyes and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for am I the LORD your healer” (Ex 15:26).
Several things stand out in this promise. First, it is conditional, and the conditions stated set a bar so high the whole thing seems impossible. More about that in a bit. However, for starters, which of us actually considers approaching God based on our flawless law-keeping?Somehow we keep in mind another fact from the Hebrew Bible, the mercy of God. This truth is a major emphasis in the Bible, not stuck in somewhere as a side note. David Jeremiah notes twenty-three references (https://www.davidjeremiah.org/knowgod/23-verses-about-the-goodness-of-god), and I suspect that the list is much longer. The Bible often tests our ability to hang in with it (puzzle sometime over the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans, for example). The law and God’s mercy can seem like that, a real puzzle. My conclusion is to tell myself, if it’s in there, I’m not the one to take it out, never mind the apparent contradictions. From that perspective, I think I can safely suggest that God’s mercy is a place to grip the rock. Grip it and refuse to budge.
What about the rest of what God says about healing? There are three conditions, and as always, when it comes to law, these aren’t suggestions. However, I also feel that to dismiss the whole thing as impossible is an excuse. If we know God wants something done, we’re better off, more surely on the side of reality and blessing, if we do everything we can to pay attention—do what is right in his eyes, give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes. The things that are right in God’s eyes are clear from Scripture, and how hard is it to “give ear to his commandments”? Keeping all his statutes is another thing, but I’ll get to that.
Something else, maybe the most important point to notice about this passage is the clear indication that disease is something God is concerned about. Another basic point not to be missed is his control over disease. “I will put none of these diseases on you,” God says. In many ways, these biblical truths are puzzling, not easy to work out in your head. The answer has to be trust. Let skeptical reason chase its own tail.“The foolishness of God is wiser than humans,” Paul says (1 Cor 1: 25). I don’t understand black holes, but that doesn’t keep me awake at night. Children trust their puzzling parents, and we’re to be like them, trusting.
Now what about that discouraging condition that requireskeeping “all his statues”? There’s a corrective medicine against despair in that area, and it’s to be found in Isaiah 53. The Messiah is revealed to the prince of prophets, and this is one of the astonishing things he now knows: “Surely [the Messiah, the “arm of the LORD”] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement of our peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53: 4-5). The time you spend memorizing these lines is well worth it. This is a promise signed by God, as it were, using the hand of Isaiah. There is no perhaps here. I find no conditions. All we see is the goodness and mercy of God and the powerful work of the Sufferer. How right John the Baptist was when he called Messiah Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29). The Hebrew words we translate “griefs” and “sorrows” are more typically rendered, “sicknesses and pains or diseases, suffering, wounds.” God concerns himself with disease, and in Jesus, both healer and Messiah, he’s acted conclusively.