“if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. 16You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.” Job 11:14-16 NIV
So here is some of the rest of Zophar’s speech to Job, who is sitting, sick, boil-covered and grief-stricken on the dungheap of terrible suffering. Zophar’s logic is that Job couldn’t possibly be suffering this much as an innocent, he must have done or be doing something terrible. As soon as he turns from his wicked ways and repents, everything will suddenly go right with his life.
Sadly, this is still a nonsense that gets thrown around at the sick and the hurting today in church. I know, because I’ve had this boomerang hurled at me enough times. Put the sin away from yourself and suddenly all will be well. Well I say, put that self-righteous, ignorance away and I might be more inclined to listen to you!
Of course habitual sin is bad for us, and of course no-one is without sin. But when Jesus’ disciples see a blind man begging at the roadside, and ask, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus treats the question as the nonsense it is. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 NIV To the Lord, every piece of suffering is an opportunity to put things right. It is an opening for grace to be encountered, not a time to talk of blame or sin. God answers Job’s suffering with encounter, and Jesus does the same with the man born blind. Encounter for this man brings healing, but it also (maybe even more importantly) allows this man to become an evangelist. He turns out to be a very vocal and courageous supporter of the gospel, defying the leaders of the synagogue and even his own parents to tell the truth about Jesus.
I don’t pretend to know a great deal about healing, it’s a very complicated subject often, but I believe that with God, encounter and healing are always about wholeness. God doesn’t deal with us in bits, the way that our modern medical systems are geared to do. If God heals you physically, he will most likely heal your purpose and your being, and I think this is why he says to so many that he heals, “Your sins are forgiven you,” not because it was their sin causing the harm, though sometimes holding in hurts can cause us great bodily, mental and emotional grief, but because the transformational work he does treats us as entire, complex and spiritual beings.
In any case, most of us who are genuinely seeking God, like Job, and hopefully those of us in church, find one of the toughest things to do is forgiving ourselves (hence perhaps Jesus’ reassurance), we really don’t need any help looking for inner or “hidden” sins. If you are sick a long time, believe me, you’ve done a lot of soul searching already.
Equating sin with punishment in this life is to not understand the grace and the goodness of God. The Lord is all compassion and mercy and loving kindness. The greatest barrier and the greatest help to healing in the gospels is faith or lack of it, and usually this is the faith of the person or people praying for the sick, as it is also in James’ letter. We are scripturally more at liberty to blame our intercessors when healing doesn’t come, rather than those being prayed for. But blame in all its forms is to rather miss the point. Zophar and the rest of Job’s “friends” do this rather spectacularly. Suffering that presents an opportunity for God to be given glory is just not on their radar. I wonder if it is on ours?
Artwork “Put it Away!” by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt