Toward a Theology of Illness


Part of health and wellness involves how we respond to illness, whether it’s episodic, like the flu, or persistent, like arthritis. No matter how much we exercise or how many vegetables we eat, we will continue to suffer bodily afflictions. As a Christian, what does it look like to suffer well?

A friend recently emailed me a quotation by a French Orthodox theologian that gestures toward one possible answer to that question. I was challenged by it; perhaps you will be too.

The Fathers stress the point that “it is not in vain, nor without reason, that we are subject to illnesses.”  This is why they encourage us to be vigilant when illness strikes, and not to trouble ourselves first of all with their natural causes and means to cure them.  Rather, our first concern should be to discern their meaning within the framework of our relationship to God, and to throw light on the positive function they can have in furthering our salvation… Understood and experienced in this perspective, illness does not crush a person under the weight of their “mortal body” (Rom. 7:24), but to the contrary turns the person towards God.  It reunites the person to God, drawing him toward God as the true source and end of his existence.  It offers wisdom to his intelligence – that is, true knowledge of the world, of himself, and of God – and to his will it offers conformity to the will of his Creator.

(from Jean-Claude Larchet, The Theology of Illness. Translated by John & Michael Breck (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), p. 58.)

Tommy Grimm

(Image: Brent Moore via Flickr/Creative Commons)

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