How Should We Respond to Illness?

Written By Julia Lee, Singapore

As a medical social worker, I provide support to people who have suffered the loss of physical ability, mental capacity, or both. In my course of work, I’ve come across many patients and family members who face difficult circumstances because of their illnesses. Here are some examples:

A young man cannot work due to extensive nerve damage that cannot be rectified despite several years of treatment. At what should have been the prime of his life, he is mostly home-bound, as he experiences bouts of pain almost on a daily basis. His family, meanwhile, struggles with paying off debts from his exorbitant medical bills and caring for his physical and emotional needs and managing his depression.

A middle-aged woman with a psychotic disorder throws tantrums that are directed at her children, displays unpredictable mood swings at home, and has delusions about her husband being an abusive man. She had responded well to initial treatment, but struggles with what it means to be a psychiatric patient. Her refusal to take the required medication continues to be a daily source of tension between her and her family.

A man with treatment-resistant schizophrenia is experiencing decline in his cognitive abilities as the illness progresses. He has lived in an institution for most of his life, as his family is unable to care for him at home. Over the years, his family members have stopped visiting him, and are now uncontactable. However, he remains cheerful and helpful while living in an institution.

An elderly woman is wheelchair-bound and has a fear of leaving her home after she broke several bones from multiple falls. She lives alone with her domestic helper; even though she has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, they are seldom involved in her life. She copes with her loneliness by calling friends and volunteers over the phone for chats, and watches television to pass time.

These real-life narratives have got me thinking about how people responded to physical or mental illnesses in biblical times. One character who went through immense suffering is Job, who was inflicted with painful sores, among other things. When he cried out in distress, his friends gave him poor advice; as a result, Job came close to blaming God for his misfortunes. Eventually, however, he recognized that God was the one who gave him everything in life. He continued to praise and worship God, and at the end, God blessed him with family and possessions beyond what he used to have.

In the New Testament, we also read of people with physical and mental ailments, such as the blind, the lame, and lepers, who faced discrimination by society. Interestingly, however, why and how they got their illness was never the key subject—the glorification and sovereignty of God was. In the account of the man blind from birth, Jesus said that he was born this way so that the “works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

Today, we have the privilege of hindsight and can see why some people were plagued with illnesses and how their sufferings ended. But it’s a lot harder to accept or understand when we are living through it, or when people close to us are facing illnesses. Many people struggle to make sense of their illnesses, and worry about how long they have to endure the illness, and how their lives would turn out.

Having struggled through such adversities with my patients and their families, I’ve learned that what’s important is how people respond to their illnesses and try to make sense of them. How they react can make their situation better or worse.

As Christians, we can respond by turning to God and putting our hopes in Him. We may not be healed instantly—or possibly not at all—but like Job, we can keep depending on Him and trusting in Him. And because He is a loving God, He will give us the strength to bear with our sufferings, and walk with us every step of the way.

One of the most striking things about Job’s story is not that he was eventually healed and restored, but that he was able to keep praising God despite his suffering—it was his continued faith amid pain and grief that was his biggest testimony. When we continue to trust in God, we glorify Him.


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