Health is the ultimate design of God for humanity. Though life often thwarts that design, the health we have is a good gift of God. When God created humankind, God declared it “was supremely good” (Genesis 1:31). Among Jesus’ statements on the purpose of his presence is the statement that he came that we “could live life to the fullest” (John 10:10). Every account of Jesus’ ministry documents how Jesus saw restoration to health as a sign of the kingdom of heaven becoming present amongst us. When John the elder wrote to Gaius (3 John 2), he wished for him physical health no less than spiritual. The biblical narrative is filled with stories of God’s healing presence in the world. This includes spiritual, psychological, emotional, social, as well as physical healing. (2016 Book of Resolutions, #3202)
§ But what about diseases like Alzheimer’s, Cancer, and others. If it’s God’s will that we are healthy, then why would this happen to me, or someone I love?
When tragedy strikes, it is common for us to ask why. We turn to our faith for answers, but answers don’t come easily. We wrestle with making sense of the suffering we witness, in light of our Christian faith. Questions are left unanswered. The tragedy is not explained.
In a sermon titled “The Promise of Understanding,” John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, says we may never know. He writes,
“We cannot say why God suffered evil to have a place in his creation; why he, who is so infinitely good himself, who made all things ‘very good,’ and who rejoices in the good of all his creatures, permitted what is so entirely contrary to his own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works. ‘Why are sin and its attendant pain in the world?’ has been a question ever since the world began; and the world will probably end before human understandings have answered it with any certainty”
The short answer is: We do not know why disease, pandemics, natural disasters, and other suffering are part of our world. While Wesley admits we cannot know the complete answer, he clearly states that suffering does not come from God. God is “infinitely good,” Wesley writes, “made all things good,” and “rejoices in the good of all his creatures.”
Our good God does not send suffering. According to Wesley, it is “entirely contrary to [God’s] own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works.” Suffering is not punishment for sin or a judgment from God. We suffer, and the world suffers, because we are human and part of a system of processes and a physical environment where things go wrong. Here’s an example where leaders in Jesus’ day ask the same questions we ask today…
§ Read John 9:1-41
When Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind, the disciples ask Jesus the question we are asking. “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Jesus, why does seemingly arbitrary suffering occur?
Jesus is calling his disciples and us to a ministry. We are to join Jesus in displaying God’s mighty works. We are an extension of God’s presence in the midst of the tragedy as we come beside those who are suffering in ways we don’t comprehend. We are to be agents of healing, working to restore God’s order to people’s lives and communities. We are to be representatives of the day of resurrection to come, as we seek to rebuild and renew.
Using poetry from the exile and the story of the Exodus we find that God’s steadfast, universal presence and love can be known experientially and relationally by those cut off from their past and living in physical, emotional, and intellectual dislocation. Though they may have forgotten God, God has not forgotten them; and in that affirmation lies their identity, their worth, and their hope.
- Read Exodus 3:1-12
Questions to consider this week:
§ How do you experience the presence of God? How do those with Alzheimer’s or dementia experience the presence of God?
- God told Moses that he sees, he heard, he knows the Israelites suffering. What does it mean to say that God sees our suffering? What does it mean to say that God hears our suffering? What does it mean that God knows our suffering?
- God knew that the Israelites were suffering from bondage. How is dementia a form of bondage— where your thoughts are locked and imprisoned in your head?
- God called Moses to lead the Israelites from Egypt into the wilderness, a place of exile. They were taken away from their homes, the familiar to a new land—and, they thought, away from God. How is dementia a form of exile?
- Who is God to those who experience dementia? Their families and caregivers?
*An Alzheimer’s Patient Prayer
Pray for me I was once like you.
Be kind and loving to me that’s how I would have treated you.
Remember I was once someone’s parent or spouse I had a life and a dream for the future.
Speak to me, I can hear you even if I don’t understand what you are saying.
Speak to me of things in my past of which I can still relate.
Be considerate of me, my days are such a struggle.
Think of my feelings because I still have them and can feel pain.
Treat me with respect because I would have treated you that way.
Think of how I was before I got Alzheimer’s; I was full of life, I had a life, laughed and loved you.
Think of how I am now, My disease distorts my thinking, my feelings, and my ability to respond, but I still love you even if I can’t tell you.
Think about my future because I used too.
Remember I was full of hope for the future just like you are now.
Think how it would be to have things locked in your mind and can’t let them out.
I need you to understand and not blame me, but Alzheimer’s.
I still need the compassion and the touching and most of all I still need you to love me.
Keep me in your prayers because I am between life and death.
The love you give will be a blessing from God and both of us will live forever.
How you live and what you do today will always be remembered in the heart of the Alzheimer’s Patient.
Prayer by Carolyn Haynali