Chronic Hope

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So many prayers are being sent up across the world during this time of pandemic. With millions sick and hundreds of thousands dying, we’re crying out to God for healing and hope. There is so much pain and suffering we desperately want to end.

God’s people have been praying for healing since the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 20:17 “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife, and his female slaves so they could have children again.”

And in the New Testament, Jesus’ ministry is full of people asking for healing for their loved ones, such as Jairus in Mark 5:23, who “pleaded earnestly with (Jesus), ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her, so that she will be healed and live.’”

When any illness strikes we pray for healing, a speedy recovery, and renewed health. From coughs and colds to cancer and strokes, big or small, our prayers remain the same.

But what happens when it seems even pointless to pray because we know that healing probably won’t come? It’s a question those suffering from chronic illnesses, and their families, wrestle with.

Chronic diseases are those health conditions that are long lasting, such as arthritis and diabetes, and that have little to no chance of healing or a full recovery. The Centre for Disease Control describes them as “conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.”

The numbers of people suffering from such chronic diseases are insurmountable. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 422 million people have diabetes - just one of many chronic health conditions.

When I was 7 years old, my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, one such chronic disease that affects the central nervous system.

Sometimes when people bring forward prayer requests for a sick relative or friend and ask for healing, it can be a harsh reminder of the reality of my family’s situation. Sometimes it can feel like a tiny stab to my heart, because I know full and complete healing is not likely to come for my mom. Without a miracle, she will always have MS.

It presents a challenge when reading verses like Psalm 103:3 where David says that the Lord "forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases."

It’s not easy, but dealing with chronic diseases brings the opportunity to look beyond earthly suffering to the great promise of God—everlasting life with him in heaven and an end to all earthly suffering. Hope for an earthly healing turns into hope for an eternal healing instead.

I can do so because I know "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18), and I believe that "he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23).

These promises aren’t just true for those suffering from chronic diseases, but for all of us who live in this broken world where pain and suffering is inevitable.

And so instead I pray for chronic hope. A hope that will never end, that takes God’s promises to heart and believes them to be true. A hope that remains strong and steadfast, never wavering when faced with challenges and struggles. A hope that is both from God and in God, that never goes away.

But even when my hope falters, I remember that God is chronically faithful, chronically good, and chronically trustworthy. We can trust him with chronic diseases, worldwide pandemics, and every burden we bear.

About the Author

Courtney Westerhof is a writer and communications professional. She is a Canadian expat currently living in London, England. She is a member of Ancaster Christian Reformed Church. Follow her on Twitter @cmwesterhof.

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Comments

 Courtney Westerhof’s lament for chronic illnesses is a grim reminder that too many Christians endorse the secular world’s belief that some illnesses are incurable. That’s the pagan view. The Christian should never embrace that. To believe Christ indwells us is to believe Christ the Healer is the One to go to in times of need. God wants Courtney’s mom well. Jesus healed all that came to him throughout his earthly ministry. When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases,"(Matt.8:16-17). Whether one believes as I do or not, that sin as well as its curse of sickness is included in The Atonement, it would be a blessing for Courtney’s mom to be fully-persuaded that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” (Heb. 13:8).  

Thanks, Courtney, for a new take on prayer.  To some extent, your understanding of prayer makes sense, because in regard to chronic illness, as you demonstrate, God does little in response to our prayers.  Most often, there is little or no physical healing.  That is despite the fact that Jesus tells us on several occasions that we can ask for anything and he will give what we asked for.  So like you, Courtney, we look for a way to make sense of prayer when we don’t get what was asked for, which is most often when it comes to chronic illnesses like cancer or diabetes. The problem I see with your take on prayer, is that prayer is completely unnecessary.  The promises you talk about are fulfilled whether one prays or not.  They are fulfilled for all who believe, apart from asking.  So we are still left with a God who doesn’t necessarily respond to prayer or only to ones that would likely be fulfilled anyway, apart from prayer.  Thanks, again for giving us an alternative to our classic understanding of prayer.

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