By Dr Chua How Chuang
When we were in Tokyo some years back, Kaori and I paid a hospital visit to a church member suffering from terminal cancer. Mrs Miyashita was a believer. In fact, she was known to all for her deep love for the Lord. I still remember well the deep sense of tranquility that descended upon us the moment we entered her hospital room. We had been afraid of not knowing what to say, but Mrs Miyashita’s calm and serene disposition quickly put us at ease. She told us how much she looked forward to the meeting with her Lord, and even called her hospital room “Heaven’s Waiting Room.” After some time, we prayed with her and left. A few days later, we learned that Mrs Miyashita had gone to be with her Lord.
My last encounter with Mrs Miyashita has not only helped me understand my own illness better, but those precious moments are also teaching me that sickness can indeed be a powerful means of Christian witness.
To begin, every sickness bears witness to the somber reality that things in this world are just not right, not what they ought to be. Because of sin, the whole creation is made to suffer decay, and groans for deliverance as in labour pains (Rom 8:20-22).
On the flip side, sickness also provides an opportunity to witness to the sufficiency of divine grace for us despite the sad reality of suffering in this world (2 Cor 12:9). The grace of God makes all the difference between the way a believer and a non-believer goes through sickness. Mrs Miyashita, for example, shows us that even in debilitating illness, we can truly experience a peace that “transcends all understanding” (Phi 4:7). Such peace is not something that can be worked up from within but rather a gift that is conferred from above.
Next, critical illness can become a Christian’s witness to what it means to die well. While we are all called to live well for the Lord, we must not forget that dying well is also part of every believer’s calling. The manner of dying that honours God is one that despises death as a defeated enemy on the one hand (1 Cor 15:54-55), and witnesses to the reality of heaven on the other (Rev 21:1-4). Such witness is only possible because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, through which we can experience His sustaining grace in this world, and His complete deliverance from all sins and sickness in the next.
Contrary to some false teaching, Christians do fall sick, and die. The Bible is unambiguous in its teaching that the physical body that we have now is a decaying body (2 Cor 4:16). God is glorified when healing happens. But He can also be glorified when it does not. Whatever it is, let us, as good stewards, take care of our bodies; and if sickness strikes, let us not waste the trial but use it as a witness to the authenticity of our faith.