Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sickness and Sabbath

As people designed by God for lifestyles of vitality, productivity and energy, we naturally hate sickness. Illness is our enemy. It saps our strength, darkens our mood and throws wrenches into our plans. Illness is not natural. At its core, it is a twisting of God's good design, giving us a brief snapshot of what waits for us all on this earth: death. Illness is an effect of God's Genesis 3 curse on us as rebels wanting independence from Him. Therefore, it doesn't surprise us that when Jesus comes again, all things twisted will be made straight. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4) Unquestionably, illness is one of many accursed effects of the Fall which will one day be no more. For one in a currently sick state, I say "Hallelujah!"

But that may not be the whole story. When one reads the opening chapters of the Bible, it becomes unmistakably clear that God's good creation was crowned with a space of sacred rest, worship and recovery. "And on the seventh day, God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that he had done in creation." Woven into the fabric of human history and life on planet earth is sacred rest, designed both to honor God and bless mankind. In order to impress its importance on His people, God mandated it again under threat of death in the fourth commandment (see Exodus 20:8-11 and Numbers 15:32-36). The importance of consecrated, Sabbath rest could not be more clear.

Now, let's think again about physical illness. Though it is an effect of the Fall which eventually comes to all of us through fallen elements in our fallen world, like viruses, water-born illnesses and infections, could it be that much illness - especially in our production-oriented culture in the West - is the natural effect of our refusal to seriously and fully embrace God's Sabbath design? Could my present illness be the result not merely of having picked up a 'bug' from other sick people, but the result of my arrogant marginalization of the restful margin God commands that we need to function well? Could it be that other kinds of illness which plague our society (such as workaholism, depression, ulcers, panic disorders and social breakdown in general) could sometimes be caused by our rejection of Sabbath? Could it be that God's medicine for so much of what ills us is something as profoundly simple as disciplined, holy rest? I think we know the answer to that question.

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