Why Does God Allow Sickness: Difficult Principles to Unlock Hope and Healing
Updated: Aug 1
If you have sought God but are still experiencing sickness or another affliction without answers, one of the biblical principles below may hold your key. (Find guidance for looking to Jesus for healing here.)
It is the hope of this writer that the gems of Biblical truth that this article contains will provide renewed hope for the weary seeker.
Each of the Bible’s sixty-six books work together to point to Jesus. Keep that in mind as you explore the following six principles regarding sickness and health.
*Note: Many of the following principles are promises and directives for Christians. Believe and receive Jesus as your Savior today!
1) Instructions for the Sick: Go to the Elders
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they 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 person is powerful and effective. (James 5:14-16)
James tells us that if a sickness has a spiritual root (more on this later), praying elders are equipped to help. In fact, if the afflicted is in need repentance, the elders are there as an outlet to confess their sins. In brotherly love, the elders will pray for the sick, and they will be forgiven. Repentance will have set the sufferer’s heart back on the path of health, and healing will follow in God's way and timing. (Two examples: Recall that Jesus healed one paralyzed man by simply stating, “Your sins are forgiven.” – Matthew 9:2-8; and He warned another who had already been healed that something worse may happen to him if he did not stop sinning - John 5:14.)
*Note: For scientific and Biblical detailing of how a heart at peace results in a healthy body, see Life to the Body: Biblical Principles for Health & Healing, a break-through book by Christian author Marci Julin.
If the sickness does not have a spiritual root, we also see James instructing the elders to not just pray but to anoint the afflicted in the name of the Lord. Oil, especially olive oil, was used as medicine in those days. James is admonishing the church elders to do what they can to help care for the sick person’s physical needs. Therefore, a sick person should receive medical treatment, but in the name of the Lord. Meaning the sick person’s case is submitted to the Lord by prayer, and the medicine is secondary, laid at the feet of Jesus that He may use it to bring healing if He pleases.
One example of this is when the Lord promised Hezekiah that he would heal his fatal illness. The prophet Isaiah then instructed, “Prepare a poultice of figs.” They did so and applied it to the boil, and he (Hezekiah) recovered. Here, the healing was from the Lord, but God used medicine, giving those involved a part to play in the miracle. (II Kings 20:1-11)
*Note: Oil is also symbolic of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. The anointing of a sick body with oil further signified a complete dependence upon God for any healing. For a deeper study on oils in the Bible, see my book, Medicine of the Bible.
2) When Sickness is a Means of Sanctification
In the Old Testament, God used illness as a means of bringing His people to repentance. He tells Israel, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.” (Exodus 15:26) At times, Israel did not obey, and the nation suffered. (See also Deuteronomy 28)
For some examples, when the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, 23,000 of them died by plague. Once, when the Israelites complained against Moses and God in the desert, they were poisoned by snakes until they repented and cried out for help. And when spies brought back a scary report from the Promised Land and the people were afraid, God ordained that all those twenty years of age or older would die before God led the remnant into the land.
The Apostle Paul himself lists these examples in 1 Corinthians 10:6-12 when he warns New Testament Christians to keep from doing the same things, for these examples were written down as warnings for us.
King David also experienced God’s discipline in the form of physical suffering. He writes, “Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.” (Psalm 28:3)
Did the principle carry over into the New Testament? Consider the reasons for the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), and King Herod (Acts 12:21-23); and consider Paul’s thorn in His flesh to prevent the sin of conceit (II Corinthians 12:7). Consider also Paul’s warning that sin was the reason some people in the church were sick or dead (I Corinthians 11:28-31 – more on this next.)
It may seem cruel for God to allow physical affliction of His people to sanctify them, but Scripture also reveals that God is not happy about our suffering. He wants to heal His people. In Ezekiel 18:32, He says, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”
Remember, the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son…For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:6-7) Therefore, this kind of discipline is meant to get our attention and perhaps even to prevent something worse from happening. It is a loving act to bring us to repentance, not a cruel punishment.
What are you waiting for?
However, if your sickness is not discipline, God will be faithful to let you know.
3) When Sickness is Linked to the "Sins of the Body of Christ"
Have you ever wondered about Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians that because they did not “discern the body of Christ” during communion, it had brought “weakness, sickness and death” upon some? (1 Corinthians 11:28-31)
John Bevere in his book Killing Kryptonite illuminates an important principle that is supported throughout Scripture but is somewhat unfamiliar to us today. Since Christians are connected to one another as Christ’s body, the sins of some can affect the many!
It is true that there are believers in churches who are weak or suffering from persistent sicknesses and diseases. Could it be that God is using sickness, weakness and even premature death as a means of sanctification of His church?
It may sound unfair, but this is exactly how God treated Israel in the Old Testament. Paul tells the Corinthians (who were not under the Law but under grace, like us) that their consequences were no different. Paul notes that though only some of them were guilty of the communion meal offence in 1 Corinthians 11:21, God’s judgment was falling indiscriminately on the body of Christ as a whole. We as the church are one!
This should give reason to pause when it comes to personal sin. The Bible is clear that our decisions affect other believers, perhaps in ways we never imagined. It may feel impossible to escape to consequences of such sin, but we are never without hope. The prayer of a righteous person avails much. (James 5:16) Let us pray for our churches today and ask that God brings repentance and restoration.
4) When Affliction is Linked to the "Sins of the Father"
John Piper warns that Christian parents should be committed to raising children in the faith because there are lasting implications at stake for future generations “not only because of what we teach but also because of what we are.”
When his disciples asked Jesus about a man born blind, “who sinned, this man or his parents?” it demonstrated the common belief among Jews that sin not only could cause physical affliction but also that a child could be punished for a parent’s sins.
We tend to balk at this, but it would be wise to remember the account of King David’s firstborn son by Bathsheba. The child died as a result of the king’s actions.
… ‘For this reason the son who was born to you will die.’ Then Nathan went home. And the Lord caused the son of David and Bathsheba, Uriah’s widow, to be very sick. David prayed to God for the baby. David fasted and went into his house and stayed there, lying on the ground all night. The elders of David’s family came to him and tried to pull him up from the ground, but he refused to get or to eat food with them. On the seventh day the baby died… (II Samuel 12:14-18)
In the account, the warnings of God from Moses' texts play out.
I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands [of generations, see 7:9], to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Deuteronomy 5:9-10)
And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them. (Leviticus 26:39)
Other prophets predict more of the same…
…I will indeed repay into their lap both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the Lord… (Isaiah 65:6-7)
When you tell these people all this and they ask you, ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ then say to them, ‘It is because your ancestors forsook me,’ declares the Lord, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law. (Jeremiah 16:10-11)
However, this situation is not so bleak or so simple. Deuteronomy 24:16 assures us that “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sins.” So, what do we make of this conundrum?
Notice the verses that follow the above Jeremiah passage (emphasis mine)…
But you have behaved more wickedly than your ancestors. See how all of you are following the stubbornness of your evil hearts instead of obeying me. So I will throw you out of this land into a land neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor. (Jeremiah 16:12-13)
In this case, the children are just as guilty. They are not being punished for anything they did not also do themselves. However, there is a clear connection between their sin and the sins of their fathers. The Bible tells us that the sins of parents have an effect on their children’s lives. When children adopt the same rebelliousness toward God as learned from their parents, parents also experience God’s punishment when calamity is brought on their children as a result of that sin. Now that is not so difficult to understand.
Therefore, parents have an influence on the health and future of their children even before they are born through the decisions they make. These choices can carry into the generations that follow. In fact, curses are not the only effects that hang around. In Scripture, when someone became a Christian, their family was often baptized with them. When blessings were mentioned in the Bible, these also carried on to the children. The connection between parents and children is clear.
To further demonstrate this concept, the Apostle Paul tells us that even in situations where one spouse is a believer and the other is not, the non-believer has been “sanctified” through the believing spouse, “otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (I Corinthians 7:14)
One meaning for this passage is that those children born into a situation where they will be brought up in the faith have an advantage over those who are brought up learning only sin. For sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death. (James 1:15)
It is heart-wrenching to look at the possibility of our own sin hurting our children. Similarly, it is troubling to think that the sins of those who went before us might have played a role in what is happening in our lives today. But there is hope. Jesus’ blood conquers all sin and in Him we become new creations. If we turn from our sin, we will live, us and our children.
… I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life... (Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a)
5) When Sickness is Linked to Demonic Causes
In America, talking about demons and their abilities is taboo, even in some of the Christian churches. The truth is that in Scripture, demons were the cause of many ailments (Examples: Luke 8:26-39; Luke 13:10-11; Mark 9:17), and demons continue to afflict believers and unbelievers today.
For believers, we may at times recognize poor health, accidents, and the like (Ephesians 6:16) as results of spiritual warfare, with the enemy’s goal being to distract, discourage, deceive and ultimately render us powerless. For unbelievers, who have no protection against enemy’s plans save for God’s purposes and the prayers of the faithful, the enemy deceives and uses them, hoping to destroy them before they can come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
But if demons are able to cause a health affliction, then they are also able to remove the affliction, giving temporary relief for the purpose of redirecting our attention away from God. These counterfeit healings deceive people into trusting healthcare practices, practitioners, medicines, diets, vitamins, occult magic, etc., instead of trusting God. The drive to be healthy can become an obsession. The desperation to restore one’s health at all costs can lead victims to dark places, devastating choices and even extreme demonic bondage.
“You have no need of God,” whispers the enemy in whatever voice appeals to seekers. “Power is elsewhere.” To those susceptible, he adds, “Even within yourself.” (See my article on the dangers of alternative medicine here.)
Christians are often taught that they cannot be possessed by an evil spirit because the Holy Spirit resides within them. That is so, however, I submit that the Bible clearly indicates we should be aware of demonic attack. Christians are not immune to the devil’s crafty deceptions (II Corinthians 2:11) or demonization, for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
Billy Graham notes in the preface to the second edition of his book Angels that he once realized little had been written about angels after the nineteenth century, yet bookstores and libraries were stocked with books on demons. We tend to give demons more attention than they deserve, and we attribute more power to them than they have. Although demonic activity is real and Christians are not immune, demonic power is limited and subject to the name of Jesus (only Jesus). Jesus even told his disciples not to rejoice that they had authority over demons, but to rejoice that their names were written in heaven. (Luke 10:20)
Therefore, don’t let the reality of this principle frighten you. Submit yourself to God, resisting the devil, and he will flee from you – a promise of God! (James 4:7) Join with other Bible-believing Christians to command the devil to leave your body and your home in the name of Jesus. Repent of any action that may have given him a foothold in your life (Ephesians 4:27); you may have to ask God what it was if you are unsure. As Jesus did (Matthew 4:1-11), use Scripture as your sword (Ephesians 6:17). Recite the truths and promises of God’s Word to defeat the enemy. For more detailed help, use my book How to Deal with Demons.
If demonic affliction still exists, see the next principle.
6) God's Sovereignty
We live in a fallen world. Not all illness has a spiritual link (John 9:1-3), and not all illness will be healed on this side of eternity. God is sovereign, and His children must accept His purposes and trust Him who is our Lord.
I recall another story once told by a pastor. He said that a friend of his had fallen ill with a fatal disease. The pastor immediately traveled to his friend with the intention of anointing him with oil and praying for his healing. Upon arrival, the man informed the pastor cheerfully that his daddy (God) had already discussed it with him. He was going home (to heaven). The pastor replied that was good news, but he wanted to pray for healing just the same. His friend, not wanting the pastor to become discouraged when he passed away, replied that he could do that, but asked that the pastor not abandon his faith in the Lord’s willingness to heal after his friend’s death. “You just step over me and pray for the next one,” he told him. The pastor’s friend did go on to his reward, and the pastor went on to pray for healing for others in the name of Jesus, and to teach that Jesus is Healer.
Often people will say that a prayer for healing didn’t work. That same pastor always tells them, “Yes it did.” God always answers prayer. His friend did receive a complete healing, in heaven. We cannot know God’s plans, but the Book (The Bible) tells us to pray, and to trust.
God’s ways are not our ways, and in fact, they are higher than ours. When we truly understand this, we can face our circumstances with peace in our hearts.
Consider the lives of the following men in the Bible who understood God’s sovereignty.
How could Jonah be so calm in the belly of the great fish? It had become apparent to him that God had other plans for him. He wasn’t going to be eaten. Jonah knew now that nothing happening to him was by chance, circumstance, luck, or blind fate. When the fish spit him out on the shores of Nineveh, Jonah knew his deliverance had been directed by the Hand of God, Who rules all His creation.
Job also learned to understand God’s sovereignty. In his God-permitted affliction, Job acknowledged God’s greatness and splendor in contrast to his pride and sin. “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) Job realized that God’s purposes are supreme and He is sovereign.
James reminds us, “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:14-15)
Thankfully, our Sovereign God is good, faithful and loving. He causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Thank You for Reading!
The principles of this article are intended to be a concise but informative overview of health and healing topics as found in God's Word, but these are not comprehensive studies. They certainly do not cover all possible healthcare topics. I encourage you to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and go to the Scriptures yourself to find out if what I wrote is true, and check out the biblical principles about healthcare here, and healing here.
Peace and Health to you.
Meg Grimm writes biblical studies and research articles that help set women free from impractical standards of the world. She strives to unveil true beauty and sensible body care principles from a godly perspective.