My Theology of Chronic Illness

theology of chronic illness

by Natalie Bridges

Four years ago, I sat on the bathroom floor wondering what was wrong with me. Having recently graduated from college and started my first nursing job, I was excited to start my new life as an “adult” only to be blind-sided with an autoimmune disease.

In June of 2009, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an inflammation of the colon that causes pain, eating difficulties, and a host of other unsavory digestive problems. Even though I had just passed my boards as a Registered Nurse, I had no clue how to handle this new diagnosis and the plethora of life changes that accompanied it.

Thankfully, the Lord does not give us more than we can handle and He works all things for our good (Romans 8:28). With the support of my family, I started my journey with UC and found overwhelming comfort and support from others around me.

A year ago, the Lord showed me his grace and provision again when I married my husband. Seth provides for me physically by making the specific foods I can eat, taking me to my infusion appointments, and reminding me to rest and reduce my stress.

But even more than that, Seth reminds me daily of the truths we find in Scripture: the Lord heals, He cares, and He doesn’t abandon us. We pray together every night for healing, knowing that the Lord answers prayers even if it’s not in our preferred timing.

For several years I cycled through both physical and spiritual trials as I struggled unconsciously to define my theology of suffering in my own life.

Fear became a constant companion as I clamored for control over the uncontrollable, never knowing when I would experience an exacerbation.

Anxiety surfaced as I worried over whether my medications would continue to work as planned or if I would require a surgery at some point.

Anger set in as I questioned God in why he would allow me to endure such a trial. Entitlement emerged as I realized that, in my sin, I thought I deserved better that this. With all my sinful emotions swirling around in my head, the Lord finally revealed the truth to me, simply and clearly.

God is always good and for my best, despite what my senses may tell me. Therefore, if He’s allowing this to happen to me, then He must have a good reason, a reason that I can’t comprehend at this moment. So I need to trust Him.

While this revelation sounds theologically uncomplicated and plain, it took me years of searching through Scripture, journaling, and talking with pastors for the Lord to reveal it to me and bring me to peace with my disease.

I felt like Job, whining when God starts to bring perspective with, “where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). Who was I to question the Lord of the universe?

I was humbled by God’s loving attention that He would care so deeply for me; “why even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). I developed a heavenly perspective: today is fleeting but we will spend eternity with the Lord without suffering or pain, enjoying the glory of His presence (Revelation 21:3-4).

Trusting the Lord with my disease also entails searching for natural ways for healing through the common graces the Lord gives us on earth.

I radically altered my diet with the support of my husband and now write a blog, ThirtyEightFive.com about my experiences, urging others to pursue health and support each other in illness.

Whatever your trouble or trial, know that the Lord is using is for His glory, even if we don’t understand at the time. I would encourage you to search the Bible for answers, journal your thoughts, and talk with other Christians who can support and provide wisdom. And take comfort in the words of Jesus: “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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