When We Suffer With Illness

Text: Psalm 6

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

In the 1960s and 70s, the modern praise band in American Christian worship began.  This movement was inspired by a more contemporary and informal approach to worship.  These praise bands were incorporated into worship services and often focused on evoking strong emotions such as joy, awe, and happiness.  And as far as the music they sang, these praise bands often used themes and language from the Psalms.  

Now, with that said, what I find very interesting is that nobody decided to create a lament band.  Yes, a lament band.  If you think about it, why not?  According to one study of the Psalms, 59 chapters of Psalms are devoted to the theme of praise.  However, from the very same study, they determined that 63 Psalms are devoted to the theme of lament.  Yes, 63 Psalms from the Book of Psalms are devoted to bemoaning, hurt, sorrow, pain, and crying.  And so, this begs the question again, if laments are just a prevalent in the Book of Psalms as praise, why not have a lament band?  Instead of smiles, Hawaiian shirts, and upbeat songs, perhaps, churches could have musicians covered with ashes, wearing funeral clothing, and singing with sorrow.  

In hearing this, you may think that I am being a bit facetious – a bit witty – but in all seriousness, why not?  Why are we willing to sing about praise and not lament – when they are both equally represented in the Book of Psalms?  

While there may be a number of reasons why we don’t have lament bands, I believe it all boils down to the simple fact - we don’t like suffering.  We don’t know what to do with our tears.  We don’t know how to maneuver in struggle, pain, and sorrow.  And so, it is just easier to ignore suffering – to stuff those feelings.  It is just easier to sing half of the Psalms – the joyful sections and avoid the painful and tearful Psalms.  

Here at St. Paul’s Lutheran, even though we would never have a praise band in this sanctuary, I do believe we are just like everyone else around us – we don’t like suffering.  We don’t know what to do with our tears.  We don’t know how to maneuver in struggle, pain, and sorrow.  And so, tonight and in the coming weeks, we will be focusing on “Suffering in the Psalms.”  When we are done, some of you may want to start a lament band.  I doubt it, but we will have to see.  


Tonight, we read Psalm 6.  Psalm 6 is a powerful expression of our human experience of suffering.  In this Psalm, David pleads with the Lord for deliverance from his anxiety, physical discomfort, and sickness.  

Listen to a paraphrase of David from Psalm 6: 

O Lord, please come. If you love me at all, get me out of here. I’m no good to you dead, am I?  I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!  I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed has been floating forty days and nights on the flood of my tears.     My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears. The sockets of my eyes are black holes; nearly blind, I squint and grope.

David also said that his bones were vexed and troubled.  In other words, our bones, as humans, serve as the framework and strength of our bodies.  Our skeletal structure can prop us up even when our muscles are weak.  However, in the case of David, it seems that his disease and sorrow had penetrated to the firmest parts of his body - down to his marrow and nerves, David was afflicted and crushed.  No part of David’s body was not in anguish.  

And so, David is shaken by his physical health. However, what is important to note is that David’s soul seems to be shaken just as much, if not even more, than his body.  In other words, when the body suffers, the soul typically suffers with the body.  

When I was a young pastor just starting out, I remember going to the hospital for a young girl in her 20s who was dying of cancer.  She was suffering terribly with pain, as cancer ate away at her.  To a certain extent, I remember being prepared for the physical pain.  However, what I was not prepared for was the mental and spiritual pain that this young woman was going through.  Not only was her body troubled, but her soul was troubled as well.  

Dear friends, amid physical suffering of the body – when disease and sickness get down into your bones – we must remember that the soul also suffers.  We must remember that the human person is body ‘and’ soul.  And so, the human person needs not only the care of the body but the care of the soul as well.  When strength slips out of your bones and disease sets in, you can feel the physical strength abandoning you. And then, when the soul becomes vexed with trouble, pain, and suffering, it might seem to the one suffering that God has abandoned them as well. 

One of the biggest failures of the medical community and the church during Covid-19 – a sin that we need to repent of - is that we failed to recognize the importance of the soul.  Sure, we attempted to protect the body from Covid-19 through social distancing and lock-downs; however, there were numerous occasions where the medical community kept pastors from their parishioners - parishioners who needed pastoral care for their suffering souls.  And the church, well… the church and her ministers were slow to challenge this.  Again, the church and the medical community need to repent of this sin of failing to recognize the suffering of the soul.  We must repent of our failure to recognize that suffering souls needed pastors, friends, and loved ones just as much as suffering bodies needed the care of medical professionals.  Again, we live as body and soul; we suffer as body and soul. 

And so, with a suffering soul and a suffering body, David cries out, “how long?”  Now, there is a lot more to this simple cry than meets the eye.  When we cry out, “how long, why Lord or when will this end,” we are expressing our anguish.  We are boldly complaining before the Lord about our gut-wrenching suffering.  And the Lord?  He doesn’t hear these complaints of anguish as a nuisance.  Our wrestling with suffering before the almighty God is not seen as another problem case for God.  The Lord hears our prayers.  He hears our hurt.  He sees our suffering.  

Now, it is important to keep in mind that the Lord, based on His steadfast love, sometimes grants you and me relief from our suffering.  And other times, the Lord grants you and me grace through the suffering.  And sometimes, the Lord grants you and me a blessed death out of our suffering.  However, the one thing that the Lord God always does is to lead us to see our suffering in light of the cross of Christ.  In other words, David cried out to be delivered from death and the grave.  And the Lord heard this cry and answered David’s cry through Christ’s victory over death and the triumph over the grave.  In other words, the Lord always answers our prayers and meets our suffering bodies and souls with the cross of Christ.  

But we may exclaim: I am suffering.  Where is God when I need him the most?  Dear friend, God is where you need Him most – bleeding and dying on a cross for you.  

And that is the main point that we will be learning about suffering during this season of lent.  While we will often cry out, ‘why is this happening,” or, “where is God in my suffering,” both of these do not see suffering rightly.  As a Christian, it is not your primary objective to escape suffering or figure out the reason for suffering but rather to understand the suffering in light of the cross.  That is, whether you are suffering or not, you are to hear about the steadfast love of God – that you and all your burdens are buried in the wounds of Christ.  

And so, when you have anxiety, physical discomfort, and sickness, your calling is not to be tough and hold it in.  Furthermore, your calling is not to freak out in utter despair but instead to pour out your suffering cries unto the Lord.  At the foot of the cross, share your fears, helplessness, and pain with a listening God and a God who suffers with you and for you through the cross, so that you may know that as good or bad as it gets, nothing will be able to separate you from the Love of God in Christ.  Nothing! - neither life nor death, neither suffering nor prosperity.    

Where is God in the middle of suffering?  He is right there in the middle of it with you and for you.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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