Wednesday Writings

Chronic Illness and the Sufferings of Christ

In Fiction: A Type of Christ’s Sufferings

I recently read one of my favorite series, a YA fantasy series by Megan Whalen Turner. In the second book, one of the main characters suffers a severe injury that leaves him permanently handicapped. He spends the rest of the book struggling through the physical and emotional aftermath of the injury: depression, despair, self-pity, bitterness, anger, and more. 

(A chronic illness isn’t the same as a debilitating injury, but I could still relate a great deal. I’m sure you could too.)

Near the conclusion of the story, the character demands from his gods an explanation of his suffering. To his shock, the gods actually answer.

“Little Thief,” she said, “what would you give to have your hand back?”

Eugenides almost lifted his head.

“Oh, no,” said the goddess. “It is beyond my power and that of the Great Goddess as well. What’s done is done, even with the gods. But if the hand could be restored, what would you give? Your eyesight?” The voice paused, and Eugenides remembered begging Galen, the physician, to let him die before he was blind. “Your freedom?” The goddess went on. “Your sanity? Think, Eugenides, before you question the gods. You still have much to lose.”

Softly Eugenides asked, “Why did my gods betray me?”

“Have they?” asked the goddess just as softly.

“To Attolia, to the Mede . . .” Eugenides stuttered.

“Would you have your other hand back, Eugenides? And lose Attolia? And see Attolia lost to the Mede?”

Eugenides’s eyes were open. In front of his face the floor was littered with tiny bits of glass that glittered in the candlelight.

“You have your answer, Little Thief.” And she was gone.*

The gods’ response suggests that Eugenides has been allowed to suffer–suffer this life-changing, almost life-taking injury–so that his country of Attolia, along with other countries, could be protected from the invading Mede Empire.

Gen: one person’s suffering for the good of nations.

That’s what I wrote as I was preparing for a book review.

And I realized just how much this fictional character is a type of Christ.

Image by Jirreaux Hiroé from Pixabay 

In Scripture: The Extent of Christ’s Sufferings

Those of us familiar with the concept of sharing in Christ’s suffering may wonder if we in our situations (chronic illness for us in The Valley) can really identify with Christ’s suffering.

He didn’t have a chronic illness, but He was no stranger to pain.

Christ suffered physically

  • He was punched and slapped (Matt 26:27).
  • A ring of thorns was pushed into his head (Matt 27:29).
  • He was scourged with the cat o’ nine tales (John 19:1).
  • He was executed in the most painful manner known to man: spikes driven through his wrists and feet to pin him onto a wooden cross where He would hang until He died by exposure or suffocation (Luke 23:33).

Christ suffered emotionally

  • Throughout his entire ministry, He was misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented.
  • His very own brothers didn’t believe Him (John 7:5).
  • The religious leaders wanted to kill Him and found fault with everything He did (John 5:16).
  • One of His own followers betrayed Him to those religious leaders (Mark 15:10).
  • The rest of His followers abandoned Him in His hour of greatest need (Mark 15:50).
  • One of these followers denied knowing Him (Luke 22:57-60).
  • He was mocked by Jews and Gentiles alike, before and during His crucifixion (Luke 22:63, Luke 23:11, Matt 27:29, Mark 15:31).

Christ suffered spiritually

  • He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11).
  • He agonized to submit Himself to God’s will for Him to be crucified (Luke Matt 26:37-39).
  • He was abandoned by God–separated from His Father, deprived of the fellowship He had always known with God–as He took upon Himself the sins of the world (Mark 15:34).

This is the suffering that God redeemed for the good of many: 

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son”

John 3:16

“It was expedient that one man should die for the people

John 18:14

“Even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men.”

Romans 5:18
Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

In Chronic Illness: Our Fellowship in Christ’s Sufferings

In his letters, Paul writes frequently about the fellowship we have with Christ in His suffering:

“. . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.”

Philippians 3:10

“[We are] heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

Romans 8:16

“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.”

II Corinthians 1:5

We may not suffer the exact same way that Christ did, but suffering is suffering no matter the kind or degree.

All suffering hurts, in body or in spirit. All suffering is hard. All suffering pushes us closer to God.

All suffering is permitted by God, and all suffering can be redeemed by God.

Eugenides’ response from his gods echoes the promise we have from the one true God: “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Ro 8:28).

Just as God used Christ’s suffering for good–for a good beyond Himself–He can use our suffering for good, for a good beyond ourselves.

So take heart! In your chronic illness, remember that

  1. Your suffering brings you into a closer relationship with your Savior.
  2. God promises to use your suffering for good just as He used the suffering of His own Son.

These are the privileges of knowing the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.

What good has come out of your suffering? How have you grown? What ways have you been able to help, encourage, counsel, serve, or relate to others because of your chronic illness?

*The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, pp 356-357.

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