Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Mark 8:31-38; 2 Corinthians 4; Psalm 102; 1 Samuel 11-13
Psalm 102 beautifully and hauntingly captures the suffering involved in watching one’s own body waste away. Many a sick person has cried out to God as their days go up in smoke. Their bones burn with pain while their hearts shrivel up and wither like grass. Little wonder they forget to eat, emaciated to where their bones protrude through their skin.
Life continues within the wilderness, like an owl perched amidst the tumbled ruins of former homes. Lying awake in the silence of night, they are like a lonely bird perched on a roof. Some around them taunt them, maybe raising some anger that is then directed at God. Why has he caused this? Why did he raise them up only to tear them down again? As the end approaches, they feel their life drying up like grass turning to hay. How quickly life comes and goes. Here today; gone tomorrow.
The psalmist thus encourages us to express the pain of our suffering. Illness, disability and dying are not part of the way things should be. We are right to be upset, and to express our agony to God. Yet in remembering God, and how fleeting our lives are, the psalmist remembers that God is very different. He is enthroned forever even while our lives quickly come and go. As our lives fade away, the Lord’s light will shine forever. This gives the ill person confidence that God looks down upon us and hears our groaning. The heavens and the earth will change, but God’s people will live on in his caring presence.
Today’s other passages show that illness is not just something to get through, but something to thrive through. Contemporary society values and sometimes worships the body. Health is valuable, but problems develop when we think it is the most important thing in life. We can get caught up in the idea that life is primarily for pleasure and enjoyment. Illness is so challenging because it interferes with our ability to get everything out of life. But Jesus asks, ‘What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?’ (Mark 8:36). There is something much more important than health and a long life.
Our bodies age, decay and die. What society treats as treasure is only the container for true treasure. Paul says our bodies as merely clay jars that contain the treasure of our inner lives (2 Corinthians 4:7). As our bodies waste away from illness, or are beaten by others, our inner selves can be renewed day by day. If we allow God to work in us, our character can be shaped so that the life of Christ is revealed through our mortal bodies. That can bring life and hope to others in their suffering. Fixing our eyes on the unseen hand of God at work in our lives allows us to see the good that can arise even while we ache and suffer.