Have you or a loved one ever been diagnosed with a chronic illness, and the only way you can make sense of it is to think that it must be God’s will?
That your suffering must have been caused by God?
I’ve never been comfortable with this idea that God causes most of our sicknesses. Things that we don’t understand we tend to explain away.
But just because God has allowed something to happen, does not mean that it is his will. Neither does it mean that He is the cause behind it. The answers to why we suffer from chronic illnesses are often much closer to home. More times than not, we are simply experiencing the biblical principle of reaping and sowing…whether we understand that or not. We need to stop blaming God for circumstances that we ourselves have created.
Sin and Disease
To be clear, there are many illnesses which are not caused by lifestyle choices. They could be congenital problems, or illnesses that develop with no known cause. Not every disease is the result of something we did or did not do (see John 9:3; Job 2:3-7)…but many are.
The Bible draws a clear connection between sin and disease in the both the Old and New Testaments.
In Exodus 15:26 there is a direct correlation between obeying God’s commands and health (as well as disobedience and disease).
King David spoke of hidden sin that destroyed his health in Psalm 32:3-5.
In John 5:1-15, Jesus warns a paralytic man that he had healed to turn away from his sin or risk suffering a worse fate.
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, Paul makes the case that many Christians had become sick or died because of sins against the body of Christ.
If we think of sin as violating God’s laws…including the natural laws God created which govern his creation and our bodies, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how sin could directly lead to physical illness.
Should We Blame God for…Cause and Effect?
A man chain smokes for 30 years, and then is diagnosed with lung cancer. Did God cause his suffering?
Of course not. We know now that smoking causes cancer. He developed that disease as a direct result of his actions. Was it God’s will that this man destroyed his lungs by his actions? I doubt it. But God did allow the natural consequences of his behavior to take effect.
A woman drinks to excess for most of her life and then is diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Did God cause her suffering?
No, He was not the cause. We know that too much alcohol leads to liver disease. The cause of her liver damage was the alcohol she consumed over her lifetime. Was it God’s will that this woman destroyed her liver by her actions? No. She reaped what she sowed.
A teenager uses illicit, intravenous drugs and contracts HIV. The cause of his immune disorder was a needle contaminated with a deadly virus. Did God cause his suffering? No. Today, we know how these deadly viruses are transmitted. The young man became sick as a direct result of his poor decision.
Today, Americans are being diagnosed in record numbers with diseases that are a direct result of our lifestyles: the things we choose to eat and the way we choose to live. They are collectively known as lifestyle or chronic diseases.
Our problem is that most of us are ignorant of the true causes of these diseases. It’s not God who is to blame after all…it’s our own choices.
The True Causes of Chronic Illness
According to the CDC, “Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, are among the most common, costly, and preventable (emphasis added) of all health problems in the United States.”1
If these diseases are preventable, that means there is something that we can do to reduce our chances of developing them. And if we can take actions that increase or decrease our chances of developing these diseases, then that means the cause (or cure) is in our own hands. 2
Well, if God isn’t to blame then you might have another suspect in mind. Maybe your genes are the culprit..
The Role that Genes Play
Nice try. But not so fast. Most chronic illnesses do not have genetic causes in the way that we think.3
Blaming our genes is just a scientific way of blaming God anyway. Because God made our genes. If we have no control over our genes, and then get sick, we can still point to something besides our own choices as the cause.
Something completely outside of our control.
That’s a perfect model for ducking responsibility for our own health outcomes.
Most of us believe that genes are like destiny. That if you have a certain set of genes (like BRCA1 and BRCA2) that you’re guaranteed to develop breast cancer or ovarian cancer. But that’s not quite how it works. (Studies show only 5-10% of breast cancers are due to genetic factors by the way).4
Genes do play a role in disease progression…but only if they are actually switched on.
Guess what switches genes off and on?
This relatively new field of study is called Epigenetics.
“Your genetics load the gun. Your lifestyle pulls the trigger” – Mehmet Oz
And what it shows us is that outside influences can affect gene expression – turning them off or on.
What are those outside influences?
Things we DO…
what we eat,
how well we sleep,
if we exercise,
how we handle stress,
the chemicals we’re exposed to…
by and large actions that we have enormous control over.
Taking Responsibility for Our Own Health Outcomes
The truth is, that most of what is physically ailing Christians today is the direct result of our own choices.
Though this may be a tough pill to swallow, there is really nothing but upside in accepting this reality.
If we can eat and live in a way that makes us more likely to develop a chronic illness, then we can also live in a way that makes us less likely to develop a chronic illness.
We can choose what to eat.
We can choose how much to move.
We can choose what type of products we use.
We can choose how we work, play, and rest.
We can choose how we handle our emotions.
In short, we can choose to live in alignment with God’s principles.
But…we can also choose not to.
And if we do choose to live in opposition to God’s laws, then we will suffer the consequences of those choices eventually. And when that happens, we should place the blame directly where it belongs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DALILA JONES STITZ
Founder and CEO, Health Insurrection LLC
Dalila is a native Houstonian and currently lives in Switzerand with her husband and two kids. She received her health coach training through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and Hallelujah Acres and teaches in-home bible studies and online courses.