SICKNESS AND SELF
All of our bad and hostile environments expose our true condition. These environments will not bring out sins that we do not have. They will only expose the true conditions within us. Sickness is one of these environments, and it makes us understand our own true condition.
We never know how much we live for God and how much we live for self. When we become sick, especially during a long illness, we find this out. At other times, we can say that we are totally willing to obey God and that we are satisfied no matter how God treats us. However, when we become sick, we find out whether or not our previous words were true. What God wants to accomplish among His children is that they would consider His will as their satisfaction and take His ordained will as their enjoyment. God does not want them to murmur against His will—especially His arrangement—on account of their own feelings. He occasionally allows sicknesses to come upon His beloved children in order to see their attitude toward His ordained will.
It is most unfortunate when a believer who is under God’s trial complains because of his own desires and questions why he has fallen into such a state. He does not consider what God has given him as the best. (When we say God gives sicknesses, we mean that God allows them to come upon us. Satan is the one who causes sickness directly. But the sickness comes to us through God’s permission, and it comes with a purpose. The experience of Job is the best example.) His heart is filled with many hopes for an early recovery. Hence, God has to prolong the period of sickness on his body because He will not remove His means until His goal is accomplished. God’s goal in communicating with the believers is for them to obey Him unconditionally, so that no matter how He treats them, they would obey willingly. God is not pleased when He sees a believer praising Him during favorable times but murmuring against Him, doubting Him, or misunderstanding His works during troubled times. God wants a believer to obey Him to the extent that he will not resist even if he is to be put to death.
God wants His children to realize that everything that befalls them is given by Him. Regardless of how precarious the conditions of the body and environment are, they are all measured by His hands. Everything that has to do with them is under His will; even the falling of a strand of hair is no exception. If a believer resists the things that come upon him, he inevitably resists the God who permits such things to come upon him. If he becomes bitter through the suffering of his illness, he will inevitably resist the God who permits such illness to come upon him. It is not a question of whether or not a believer should become sick, but whether he should resist God. God wants a believer to forget his sickness while he is sick and simply look to Him. If the Lord wants you to be sick this way and continue to be sick in the future, are you willing to take it or not? Can you obey His almighty hand and not resist? Will you crave for health outside of His present will during your suffering? Can you obey until He has accomplished all that He wants to accomplish and only then ask for healing according to His will? When you are disciplined, will you refrain from seeking after healing apart from Him? At times of extreme suffering, will you try unwittingly to have what He will not give you? All these questions should deeply pierce the heart of every sick believer.
God has no delight in seeing His children become sick. His love would rather see His children pass through favorable days. However, He knows there is a danger: when believers have favorable days, all their love for Him, all the words of praise for Him, and all the things they do for Him are done only because of the favorable conditions. He knows that it is very easy for our heart to be turned away from Him and His will and turned toward His gifts. Therefore, He allows sickness and other similar things to come upon us so that we will see whether we are for God or for His gift. If, in every adverse circumstance, we do not seek after anything by ourselves or for ourselves, we are indeed seeking for God. Sickness can reveal if a man is after his own will or if he is after God’s arrangement.
We still have our own will. Our daily life is too filled with our own will. In God’s work, in our dealing with people and matters, in our thinking and opinions, there are too many indomitable wills. Therefore, God has to bring us to the door of death so that we will see the plight of those who resist Him. God allows us to pass through profound grief and pain in order to break us and cause us to give up the self-will that He deplores. Countless numbers of believers do not seem to hear what the Lord says to them during ordinary days, but when the Lord makes their bodies suffer, they become willing to obey completely. The Lord’s way is to resort to scourging when the admonition of love has lost its effect. The purpose of His scourging is to break our self-will. It would be well for every sick believer to examine himself concerning this matter.
Aside from our own hopes and desires, what God hates the most is our self-love. Self-love damages spiritual life and destroys spiritual works. If God cannot expel self-love from within us, we can never soar in the spiritual journey. Our self-love is especially related to our body. To say that we have self-love is to say that we love our body and our life. Therefore, in order to abolish our self-love, God allows many sicknesses to come upon our body. Because we love ourselves and are afraid that our body might become weak, God allows it to be weakened. We are afraid to see our body suffer, yet God allows it to suffer. We long to recover, but our sickness worsens day by day. We want to preserve our life, but ultimately even the hope of life is gone. Naturally, God’s dealing varies from person to person. Some dealings are heavier, while others are lighter. However, God’s intention to eliminate self-love is the same in both cases. Many strong believers have to wait until they approach the door of death before they give up their self-love. When the body is broken down, when life is at stake, when sickness has engulfed one’s health, when pain has worn out one’s strength, and everything is shattered, what else is there left to love? At this point, the believer may want to die, and he may realize that he is hopeless and that there is nothing more to hold onto in his self-love. It is unfortunate that even when he reaches such a point, he still does not know how to turn around and grasp the promise of God’s healing.
It is very difficult when the believer’s heart is far apart from God’s heart. God’s purpose is to have the believer lose his self-love. Therefore, He allows him to become sick. However, the more he becomes sick, the more he loves himself, and the weaker he becomes, the more he cares for himself. God’s goal is that he would forget about himself, but he keeps thinking about his own sickness, the pain in his body, the way to be healed, and whether or not his sickness is getting better. All his thoughts are centered around himself! He pays attention to his food and how he should refrain from this and avoid taking that! When he feels a little uncomfortable, he becomes terribly upset! He pays considerable attention to his own warmth and sleep. When he has a little temperature, catches a little cold, or loses a night of sleep, he becomes very uncomfortable. It seems that all these are fatal to him. He is very sensitive about how others treat him. He is very sensitive about how often people think of him, care for him, and come to see him. He spends a great amount of time thinking about his own body and its condition, and not the Lord and what He wants to accomplish in him. Indeed, many believers are totally "obsessed" with their own self during their sickness! We usually are not very aware of how much we love ourselves. But when we are sick, we realize that we love ourselves very much!
Is this what God delights in? He wants us to realize that self-love damages us more than anything else. He also wants us to know that we love ourselves immensely. In the midst of a sickness, He wants us to learn not to look at our symptoms and care for our pain, but to look at Him wholeheartedly. He wants us to commit our body completely into His hand and let Him care for it. Every time a bad symptom is discovered, it should always warn us not to think of the body anymore, but to wholly think of the Lord.
However, because of self-love, the believer seeks for healing as soon as he becomes sick. It never occurs to him that he should first remove the evil deed in his heart before asking for healing. He only sees the hope of being healed. He will not inquire as to why God allowed the sickness to come upon his body, what he needs to repent of, what he needs to eliminate, or what he must reject so that he does not waste God’s work. He cares for himself. He cannot afford to get weak and longs to be strong immediately. Therefore, he seeks for ways to be healed. He inquires of man and begs God, hoping to have an early recovery. Under this condition, God will never reach His goal. Although many times we see this kind of believer momentarily healed, the healing does not last; after a while, the old sickness recurs. How can long-term healing be possible when the root of the sickness is not removed?
Sickness is God’s way of speaking to us. He does not intend that we frantically look for healing but that we obey and pray. It is very pitiful that the believer does not say to the Lord, "Speak, for Thy servant heareth." Rather, he hopes to obtain a speedy recovery. Our goal is to be delivered from pain and weakness immediately. Hastily we try our best to seek for the best medicine. It seems as if sickness forces us to invent all kinds of remedies. Every single symptom scares us and wrecks our brain. God seems to be far away from us. We forget our spiritual condition. We can only think of our suffering and remedy. If the sickness is prolonged, we will misperceive the Father’s love. If the medicine works smoothly, we will praise God’s grace. However, we should ask if it is indeed the leading of the Holy Spirit that we be wholly delivered from pain? Will such an exercise of fleshly strength glorify God?
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 14: The Spiritual Man (3), Chapter 10, by Watchman Nee)