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Previous: 8. Hands and Feet Up: The Language of Parable Next: 10. Childhood, Youth and Old Age

9. Sickness and Healing

We have spiritual faculties corresponding to all our physical organs. In their structure and activities they are even more delicate and sensitive. (D. P. 181; see Chapter vi.) If the physical structures become disordered by irregular ways of life, causing pain and sickness, must not the still more delicate spiritual faculties become disordered by indulging feelings and thoughts which are not according to the Lord's laws of life? We often speak of a "healthy" or an "unhealthy" state of mind, and of influences of companionship or reading as "wholesome" or "unwholesome." We speak of "heart-aches" and "wounded feelings." The most serious sicknesses are of the spiritual kind, those which the Lord most of all desires to heal. Diseases of the spirit are often directly mentioned in the Bible, so plainly that we see at once that the spirit and not the body is meant. Physical diseases too are named, and they are at the same time types of spiritual disorders to which they correspond. (A. C. 8364, 9031.)

Is the physical or the spiritual state of the world described by these words of the prophet? "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises, and putrifying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." (isa. i. 5, 6; A. E. 962; A. C. 431.) Is it physical or spiritual strength which is promised in the joyful words, "Strengthen ye the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not. . . . Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing"? (isa. xxxv. 3-6; A. E. 239; A. C. 2383, 6988, 6989.)

We remember how, as our Lord went about in Galilee, the sick were brought to Him for healing; how they were laid in the streets, that they might touch but the hem of His garment, "and as many as touched were made perfectly whole." (matt. xiv. 36.) It was physical sickness for which the people asked healing blindness, palsy, leprosy and the Lord was moved with compassion towards them. (matt. xx. 34; mark. i. 41.) But there were also about the Lord those who were sick and suffering in spirit. Must He not have felt still deeper pity for these? for the spiritually "lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others"? Did He not heal the suffering bodies the more gladly as a sign of His power to give strength to men's souls when they should desire it? "That ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house." (Luke v. 24; A. C. 8364 end.)

He "healed all that were sick;" it is said, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." (matt. viii. 16, 17.) Both the prophecy and the miracles of healing point to the far greater work which the Lord did in taking upon Himself the weakness and evil tendencies of perverse human nature, and overcoming them. The Lord spoke of the healing which He cares most to give, when He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and answered the objecting Pharisees, "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (luke v. 31, 32; A. C. 6502.) "Bless the Lord . . . who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases." (Ps. ciii. 2, 3; P. P.)

The Lord has told us to go and do like the good Samaritan, who went to the wounded man, and "bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine." (luke x. 34, 37.) He means also that we should with kindness and wisdom heal the cruel wounds which false teaching and evil indulgence have inflicted on, our brother in the dangerous journey of life. (A. E. 962.)

What particular diseases do you remember as mentioned in the Bible? Let us see if we can recognize the spiritual disorders to which they correspond. We have thought already of blindness and deafness (Chapter v.), of dumbness (Chapter vii.), and of lameness and the withered hand. (Chapter viii.) Among other diseases you will remember fever, leprosy, and palsy.

Do we sometimes speak of being in a "fever," not meaning a state of body, but of mind? "A fever of excitement" we often hear. A feverish state of mind is one heated and restless, or wholly prostrated, by the excitement of some disquiet feeling. A burning fever in the Bible is a type of the restless burning of evil desires. We read in Deuteronomy the curses which come upon those who do not keep the Lord's commandments. They are the unhappy things which inevitably result from the indulgence of evil. Among them is the restless burning of spiritual fever. "The lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning." (deut. xxviii. 22; A. C. 8364.) "When Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose and ministered unto them." (matt. viii. 14, 15.) Peter in us is our out-spoken faith in the Lord. (See Chapter xliii.) When the Lord comes with this faith to its house when he follows it back into the chambers of the heart He finds the affection for living the literal truth disturbed and prostrated by the more spiritual teaching and unable to go forth in active service. The Lord's coming gives new life to the literal truth and to the affection for it, making this affection a strong and useful servant to the spiritual life. "She arose and ministered unto them."

Leprosy is often mentioned in the Bible. The name probably includes several diseases of the skin, common in hot, dry climates, but not the more dreadful forms of elephantiasis called leprosy to-day. The skin and hair of a leper, either in spots or over the whole body, were dead, and white or discolored, and sometimes ulcerated. Lepers, according to the Jewish law, were driven from home as most unclean. (lev. xiii. 46.) The skin, which is chiefly affected in leprosy, is given to be a living, sensitive covering for the body, clothing it becomingly and, by its delicate touch, adapting it nicely to varying circumstances. The skin plainly does not represent the deep and hidden motives of the heart, but rather the external ways and manners and little acts in which the inner life clothes itself. These should be a true, living expression of the heart. But we know that they are not always so; sometimes they are unmeaning and dead. Even religious professions and ceremonies may be utterly dead. Is not this a condition of spiritual leprosy? A state of mind in which forms of worship and of religious life are angrily rejected, and one is sensitive and angry at the mere mention of them, is represented by the more grievous forms of leprosy. (A. C. 6963; D. P. 231.)

There was a singular provision of the Jewish law, that if the leprosy extended over the whole body, the leper should be pronounced clean. (lev. xiii. 13.) Such a leper represents one who does not acknowledge and believe deep spiritual truths, and who is not aware of the inconsistency between his outward life and his heart. In his ignorance such a one is innocent, while one who accepts truth deeply and is in part sincere but in part consciously a hypocrite is unclean. (A. C. 6963.)

Recall the story of Naaman. (2 kings v.) A Syrian and captain of the host, but leprous in a part of his body (Ver. 11), Naaman represents a man of worldly wisdom who still feels that his life is not sincere. He was healed when he washed in Jordan seven times. To wash in Jordan is to make the life right in obedience to the Lord's commandments. (See Chapter xxviii.) To bathe in the rivers of Damascus is to rule the conduct according to our own wisdom, from motives of worldly policy; this has no power to make the life sincere. But when we obey the Lord's commandments, the love of evil is taken away and life does become sincere. Are little children hypocritical or genuine in their words and acts? Naaman's "flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." (Ver. 14; A. E. 475.) After Naaman's healing, we read of the hypocrisy of Gehazi, Elisha's servant, and his dishonest use of his holy office for selfish benefit; and the prophet said, "The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed forever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow." (2 kings v. 27.) It was not an arbitrary punishment, but an outward manifestation of his inward state, and of others who do like him.

The Lord accepted the healing of Naaman by Elisha as a type of the spiritual work He Himself was doing and always desires to do, when He said, "Many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but Naaman the Syrian." (Luke iv. 27.) The Lord said it to His own townsmen, who were less ready to hear Him than others. They were the lepers who did not care to be healed. Does it not reveal the fault into which the Jews had fallen, and into which the Lord's church too often falls, of being content with religious forms, caring even less than those without the church to make the life sincere? Are there not still many lepers in Israel? (A. C. 9198.)

By His miracles of healing also, the Lord showed His power and desire to help these spiritual lepers. "And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy; who seeing Jesus fell on his face and besought him saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him." (luke v. 12, 13.) So the Lord's loving power is extended to us however loathsome we may be in our hypocrisy and our mixing of holy things with what is false and evil. This healing of the leper should give us courage humbly to ask and to receive His help, who alone can make our lives really good. But let us not be of those who, when the Lord has helped us to live sincere, good lives, forget to give Him thanks. (luke xvii. 17.)

In Exodus we read that three signs were given to Moses by which he should convince the people that the Lord had really appeared unto him. The second sign: "And the lord said furthermore unto him, Put now thy hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow. And he said, Put thine hand into thy bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again; and plucked it out of his bosom, and behold, it was turned again as his other flesh." (Exod. iv. 6, 7.) This, like all other Divine signs, is not arbitrary, but is an outward picture of a spiritual condition. It represents the state of a church which has its worship and its ceremonies, but has no sense of the presence of "the Lord God of their fathers" in them. Such were the Israelites if they accepted Moses only as a man, and not as the messenger of the Lord; such are Christians if they follow the Lord as a moral leader but do not recognize Him as God with us. Then the hand is leprous. What is the hand? The works, the acts of worship. How is it leprous? It is external only, dead and lifeless. The restoring of Moses' hand is to show that with a recognition of duty to the Lord in all things, worship and all religious acts become genuine. (A. C. 6963, 6968.)

Another disease which the Lord healed was palsy. It means paralysis, which destroys control over the movements of the body, sometimes leaving one utterly helpless, unable to move hand or foot. Apparently it was such a helpless person of whom we read: "Behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: . . . and they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, [Son, be of good cheer (matt. ix. 2);] thy sins are forgiven thee. . . . Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house." (luke v. 18-24.) The Lord's words seem to be addressed to the palsied state of mind of which this helpless body was a type. They are spoken to all who despair on account of their sinfulness; who seem to themselves past hope, and in their discouragement are unable to take up life's duties. The Lord assures us all, when we are thus spiritually paralyzed, that while we live on earth, He can forgive sins can give us strength and courage to leave the sinful past, and to begin a new life.

We have seen that physical diseases correspond to spiritual diseases. They are pictures of them. More than that, spiritual disease tends to produce physical disease (A. C. 8364, 5726), and physical disease exposes one to influences from hell. (A. C. 5713, 5715.) It would however be a mistake to suppose that in this world the physical body is an exact expression of the spiritual state. (H. H. 99.) The body grows old and decrepit, not at all because the spirit is becoming feeble; the body may be deformed or shapely, and the spirit be quite otherwise. The reason is that the body is subject to many other influences besides that of a man's own spirit; the forces which cause disease, and the Lord's healing power, reach the body by many channels, through the spirit and through natural means. (A. C. 5713.)


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9. Sickness & Healing

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