Sin and Suffering

Life Notes—February 16, 2012

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray.  Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.  Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”  James 5:13-16

The scripture above is clearly about the power of prayer.  It encourages us to pray for ourselves in our suffering, as well as for others in theirs.  Where things murky for me is in the implied relationship between suffering and sin.  Are sin and suffering always related?  Clearly, sometimes they are.  If we treat others poorly, we should expect to be treated poorly in return.  If we mistreat our bodies in various ways such as overeating, smoking, not exercising, etc., we can expect various forms of suffering to result over time.  I can see the link between sin and suffering in those cases. 

But what of illnesses that do not have an apparent sin-related cause?  What about the person diagnosed with lung cancer who has never smoked a day in their life?  What of the person seriously injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver—is the resultant suffering related to the sin of the sober person?  It is difficult, to say the least, to connect all of our suffering to sin.  And yet, the Bible seems to connect the two in many different references, including in James above. 

Some will say we know much more about the origins of illness today than was known in Jesus’ day.  So it stands to reason that without today’s scientific research on causation that people might have believed at the time that suffering and sin were always related.  But is it possible our vast information base masks spiritual connections that may have been more apparent prior to us becoming so “smart?”  I do not know, but I find the idea intriguing.  My point is NOT that all suffering results from sin.  Rather, we live in a world where sin is present, our own and that of others, making this an imperfect world where tragic, unexplainable events happen with regularity.  And that is where our prayers can be powerful and effective, for ourselves and for others, just as the writer of James tells us.  Regardless of whether or not suffering results from sin, prayer will help. 

Tom’s sermon is titled, “The Power of Prayer,” based on James 5:13-16 this Sunday downtown.  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch’s sermon at our west campus is titled, “Awe. Shucks, based on Mark 9:2-9.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  It is Youth Sunday at the west campus and our youth will be assisting at both services. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Experience the power of prayer in worship!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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