1 Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;
2 the LORD protects him and keeps him alive;
he is called blessed in the land;
you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
3 The LORD will support him on his sickbed.
In his illness, you will completely
transform the bed on which he lies.
4 As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me;
heal me, for I have sinned against you!”
5 My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
Our sick and afflicted!
What an overwhelming amount of quietly endured pain and hidden suffering lies hidden behind that expression “our sick and afflicted”! Other people don’t much notice, but there’s often a lot of fear behind that curtain. How many illusions are exploded in the rooms of the sick! How many flickering hopes extinguished! How many little flowers snapped off their stems! Add the actual pain that goes along with this. Pain that is very intense! Constant pain! Pain that never ends! Pain that burns so deep that it penetrates our bones! It’s all covered up so well. The majority of people hardly take any notice of it at all. But for our sick it’s a different matter. Theirs is a different kind of world, and you can safely say that it’s a terrible world, at least as long as people endure their suffering without God.
Do you pay much attention to those who are sick? Are they a living part of your prayers? Aren’t they confined pretty much to the formal prayers of the congregation, although with pity and compassion, when it meets on Sunday?
They are “our sick,” and you have a sense of what that involves. They belong to us. They are part of our circles. They are part of our congregation. They have left our homes and gone to their sick rooms. They are our flesh and blood. Our sick are lying there in order to send us a message. They’re there to appeal to us in our casual superficiality by in effect telling us: “It won’t be long before you’ll be where I am.” Our sick became sick so that we may shower our love on them. So that our faith might be evident to them! So that we might comfort them by what we say to them! Our sick that are lying in front of us dressed in their white gowns are like priests and priestesses who whisper: “This is all because of our sinfulness, and that involves you too!”
Yes, why should we be writing only about “our sick”? They are salt to us in our corrupt and corrupting lives. If sicknesses had not come into their lives, how many others would never have found God? How much devotion and self-denial would never have seen the light of day? How much more unrestrained would those who lightheartedly pursue worldly pleasures have been? Illnesses serve as a restraining grace in our circle of the living. And that’s the glory associated with those who lie ill among us. They suppose that they are doing nothing, but they are actually blessing us! They imagine that all their suffering is useless, when in fact it strengthens the bonds holding the Lord’s household together.
Amazing, isn’t it? To prevent all supports from collapsing under the weight of material pursuits and superficial diversions, the Lord God sends an attacking angel. From its bowl of wrath, it sprinkles some drops on a dearly loved, rosy-cheeked child who becomes pale and wastes away. Next a few more fall on a pious child of God who is zealous for the Lord of Hosts but is suddenly blocked in the prime of life.
If there has to be sickness at all, you say to yourself, why doesn’t God afflict the godless or the aged who are going to die anyway?
Naturally, as long as you think about being sick as a useless waste of time, it won’t make any sense. But if you see it as a time when the power of the kingdom can be displayed, then it’s something else again. For through sickness, God can bind the Devil’s work in the social order and open up opportunities for the greatest tenderness. Then you understand how a sick person sometimes is far more useful and accomplishes more for the Lord than a person in full health. Then you can also see why God often allows so many of his dearest children to become ill. It’s because they are the ones through whom he can do his best work.
God’s dear children always have other children of God who love them dearly. So the situation turns out beautifully. God’s dear children are Satan’s favorite target. For that reason, they carry a heavier obligation to guard their soul than other people do. It’s also true that when they’re sick in bed, things often turn out better for them than for children of the world. Rivet and Witsius were both highly learned professors. But they may well have contributed more to building the inner kingdom of God during the few days that they were sick in bed than they did through all their scholarly writing! We can’t calculate that, of course, but the spiritual power of a God-glorifying sickbed stretches incredibly far! It’s a spark that starts a fire and that in turn starts others generation after generation. It’s a seed buried in the ground that always produces even more grain at the tip of the stalk when it ripens.
So now ask whether God is acting unjustly! Ask whether he is being unfair by causing his dearest children to suffer!
Well, remember Golgotha! “He laid on him the iniquity of us all! By his stripes we are healed!” Now you’d like to drop your question, wouldn’t you?
But not so quickly! Show a little of Job’s courage and like him tell your would-be comforter: “God’s ways are not always easy! I will accuse the Almighty and make my case before him!” For there’s a definite solution. And it’s presented in the words of the psalmist at the beginning of these reflections.
No, the Lord God doesn’t act unjustly when he lays suffering on his dearest children. For, in the words of David, the Spirit says: “In his illness, you will completely transform the bed on which he lies.”
The God who possesses such mysterious powers deals freely with his dearest children. And what is the mystery involved in this “complete transformation”?
Isn’t it the mystery of Marah? Early in its pilgrimage, Israel came to a well in the desert, but it could not drink the water because it was too bitter. Then Israel’s shepherd called on the Lord, and the Lord showed him something. He threw it into the water, and what happened? The bitter water became sweet. Then Israel continued on its journey in the wilderness until it reached twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. And it camped by those waters.
And precisely that is the sacred mystery involving God’s dearest children when they make their way through the wilderness of life’s illnesses. He completely changes everything for them.
Not always! Sometimes he goes away and leaves people alone. That could be because they don’t love him or because he wants to test their love. That’s when things get very bad and seethe in the depths of their soul. That’s when dark clouds roil, and when sometimes just a brief flash of faith’s lightening still pierces the gloom.
But that’s not where things stay. After a shorter or longer time, the Lord returns. Then a miracle happens. Even if the condition remains unchanged or the illness perhaps becomes even worse and the oppressiveness more frightening, it no longer involves what it did before. “God has completely transformed the bed of illness on which the person lies!”
The bitterness remained, but yet it became sweet.
That’s because the Lord came. He embraced the soul. He breathed strength into it. He brought the comfort of his most tender reassurances.
Then a journey of faith commences. Everything takes on a new appearance. The branches of the palms sway softly in the distance as they stand among the refreshing springs of water. That’s where God’s children make camp. The onlookers think: “How terrible! How bitterly painful!” But God’s children take no notice. “They find that what has crossed their lips is sweet rather than bitter!”
What makes all the difference is whether a sickbed is endured with God or without him!
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms