Is God in control of disabilities, sicknesses and suffering?
Some believe God has nothing to do with anything hurtful that happens. The Devil did it! (Though the book of Job demonstrates that God is in control even of the Devil!) But would this really make us feel better? That God wanted to stop it but couldn't? This is no comfort! If he was too weak to stop this suffering, how can we trust him with eternity? What if he loses? And why is this God worthy of worship? He needs a Rescuer to help him!
Our answer begins at the burning bush. In Exodus chapter four God has appeared to Moses in the burning bush to send him to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt. Moses is making excuses to God. He complains that Israel will not believe that God sent him. So God empowers him with miraculous signs to prove it. One of the signs is very graphic. At God's command Moses puts his hand into his cloak and, when he removes it, it is "leprous like snow"! He returns it to his cloak and removes it, and his flesh is restored. This sign demonstrates God's power and sovereignty over the human body, and health & sickness.
Moses responds with another excuse. "I am not eloquent" (v10). God's reply to this excuse is very revealing:
Then the LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak. Exodus 4:11-12, ESVThese words are shocking to a generation who has been taught to define God according to their own opinions and desires. "To me, God is like..." Or the ever-popular, "My God would never..." Even many who have been raised in the church have sat under shallow, unbalanced teaching that emphasizes only one of God's many attributes (his love), while mostly ignoring others (his wrath, holiness, sovereignty). Only God can define God to us! Our idea and concept of God must be shaped around God's revelation of himself to us in his word.
And here in Exodus four, God himself is revealing his sovereignty over all things, including disabilities. God says that it is he (the LORD) who makes man "mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind." And while many theologians, pastors and Christians today try to "get God off the hook" by explaining that he has nothing to do with suffering, God does not feel the need to apologize or even explain himself completely to us. He simply reminds us that it is he who has made man's mouth, in whatever condition we find it.
This is very hard for us to understand, but the same Bible that teaches God’s sovereignty also teaches his goodness. He is not cruel. God has good and wise reasons for all he does. John 9:1-3 explains this. In this passage we see Jesus and his disciples encountering a man who had been born blind. The disciples ask, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus taught that the man was born blind, not because he or his parents sinned, but to display the glory, the works of God! This gives us more insight into our question. Here we learn that those with disabilities (or disease, or suffering, etc) are not necessarily worse sinners than those who are healthy and not experiencing suffering. Also, we learn that at least one purpose, or reason, for the suffering is to glorify God, which is our purpose for existing (Gen 1:26; Isa 43:7).
This idea is reinforced in John 11, the story of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus is informed about the sickness of his friend, whom he loved (v3, 5-6). Though he could have gone and healed him, he did not. Jesus said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (v4). He said the sickness "does not lead to death," and yet Lazarus did die. Was Jesus wrong? No, because he then went to Bethany and raised Lazarus to life! The end result was not death. And the purpose for this great suffering was the glory of God.
Yes, God is the Master of sickness, death, suffering and disabilites. There is a good and wise, if mysterious, purpose. And God will be glorified.
So how should we react to this difficult teaching? Our response to God’s sovereignty over disabilities, sickness and suffering can go in two ways:
1) The foolish response. The first option is to get mad at God for allowing it, and reject him. "God, if this is how you treat people, you can forget it." But this option leaves the person still suffering, with the addition of being cut off from the only One who can sustain them through it! And the final result is eternal suffering for sin and rejection of Christ.
2) The biblical and wise response. There is a better way. First, pray for healing! Jesus healed the man born blind in John 9. Perhaps the purpose of your suffering is to glorify God through healing.
But, if God chooses not to heal, then pray for grace to suffer well, that others may see God’s power in us as we suffer and continue to love God. God will be glorified, whether it is through healing or giving grace for endurance. When the world sees that our treasure is not health, but the glorious God, this is a powerful thing.
For those who are suffering with a disability or sickness or disease, and God has not chosen to heal you, look to the One who came and suffered for us at the cross. Jesus paid the price for our sins with his own blood and rose from the grave to save us. For those who repent of sin and believe on Christ, the Bible promises eternal life and everlasting joy in the presence of God! This includes physical healing (Matthew 8:17; Revelation 21:4)! As we look ahead to that Day, let's trust in God's goodness and wisdom - even when we can't understand completely the reason for our suffering.