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Facing Sickness & Death

Joel Beeke writes: “Man is not naturally inclined to face sickness and death well. The unbeliever lives for the here and now, and this life is everything to him. He dreams of a life free of illness and adversity, even free of death. His life consists of the pursuit of happiness, and he would want to live here forever if that were attainable. The ungodly therefore respond in anger and bitterness when illness and/or death interrupts their pursuit of a vain happiness that so often eludes them.

If only it were true that Christians were free of such sinful emotions and such a sinful response to illness and death. When serious illness and the possibility of death suddenly intrude our lives, such a struggle arises in our hearts. The flesh can rear its ugly head when the prospect of chronic or terminal illness dramatically alters the course of our lives.

Such an unbecoming reaction to divinely sent affliction will, however, be a matter of grief to the believer, as it is the desire of his renewed inner man to surrender fully to the providential leadings of his heavenly Father. How intense the prayerful struggle to surrender wholeheartedly to a God who in His sovereign wisdom is slaying me in order to accomplish His purpose in my life!

And yet such wholehearted surrender alone will enable us to face the reality of illness or the inescapable prospect of death. Such surrender enabled Job to say that he would still trust the God who was slaying him and had thrust him into the furnace of affliction. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:5). The grace of God prevailed mightily in a man who, on another occasion, cursed the day he was born.

Clearly, only the sustaining grace of God can enable us to face sickness and death as a Christian—that is, as someone who trusts his heavenly Father and the unfailing promises of His Word. We must learn to make use of these promises when serious trials become our portion. Only by appropriating God’s precious covenantal promises will we be able to rise above our circumstances and trust our heavenly Father when nothing appears to make any sense. We must learn to judge God by His Word rather than our feelings and circumstances.

Such unwavering trust enabled Paul and Silas to sing God’s praises when they found themselves in abysmal circumstances (Acts 16:22–24). Such trust enabled countless believers throughout the ages to remain steadfast during seasons of great trial. Christ wanted to teach His disciples this great lesson when He came to them in a raging storm. He first calmed their hearts by speaking to them before silencing the storm. His objective was to teach them (and us!) that in the midst of grievous trials, they should first consider His Word rather than circumstances.

What are some of the promises we can prayerfully appropriate when facing sickness or death?

  • “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee” (Isa. 49:15). Even when God leads us in ways that are far beyond our understanding, God cannot forget His own. His eye will always be upon those who fear Him.
  • “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Even through sickness and death, God is working things together for the spiritual good of those who love Him, conforming them to the image of His Son (v. 29).

This is only a small sample of the many promises our heavenly Father wants us to appropriate by faith. What a blessing when God’s grace enables us to say with the psalmist, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust” (Ps. 56:3–4)! Only by faith (a gracious gift of God) can we face sickness and death and echo the words of Psalm 112:7: “[I] shall not be afraid of evil tidings: [my] heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.”

-Joel Beeke
Used by permission.  Reformation Heritage Books 2014 

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