If we can receive it, chronic illness is a gift ...

“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.” Malachi 3:3

A MASTER CRAFTSMAN SHAPES

A master craftsman deploys many tools to accomplish his artistry in the creation of a masterpiece from a block of wood. The work often begins with a hammer and chisel to effect a major reshaping. A finely sharpened tool may be used to give new contours to the wood. Sometimes, his shaping work calls for the finest of sandpaper. The friction it creates is barely discernible, yet it leaves behind the smoothest of surfaces. Nevertheless, however it may be reshaped, it remains the same fundamental chunk of wood with all its internal imperfections. A coat of stain applied often reveals flaws just below the surface that are indiscernible to the naked eye. The stress of weight or dryness may provoke a fracture—revealing a hidden inner flaw.

But a metallurgist, one who works with metals, has as his first goal purifying the basic substance with which he works. It always involves applying heat, thereby allowing the dross to be separated from the pure metal. For when that is done, the metal becomes more useful for many different purposes. It is stronger than before the refining process and fit for things unpurified metal is not.

A MASTER REFINER PURIFIES

As the Master Refiner, our Lord does not want to merely reshape us, he wants to purify us. In so doing, he fits us for greater purposes. His eternal purposes. Sometimes the heat he deploys arises from external trials. Other times it comes from internal ailments.

There are far too many accounts in Scripture to the contrary for us to conclude physical illness just happens to the child of God. It is not an unfortunate stroke of ‘bad luck’. Since we have been fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in our mother’s womb by God himself (Psalm 139:13-14), any genetic predisposition we may have towards whatever ails us was under his control. As he controls the circumstances of our lives, we know trauma or disease does not strike at a moment of his inattention. Like Job, we acknowledge the mystery of his sovereignty in our lives is “too wonderful for me” to comprehend (Job 42:3). But we know it is true and trust all to his care.

When first struck with chronic illness at the age of 27, I was easily consumed with the physical challenges my illness provoked. The physical agony and disruption of normal life seemed quite overwhelming. Yet, the one who “works all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) seeks to use the heat of illness to purify us for his eternal purposes. If we can receive it, chronic illness is a gift—a work of grace used in the Refiner’s hand to loosen our grip on the fleeting pleasures of this life.

LOOSENING THE GRIP OF ATTACHMENT

The death of two high school friends, one from trauma and the other from leukemia, awakened me to the fleeting nature of life itself—and the need to prepare for the inevitable arrival of my own death. Their deaths were the means the Lord used to bring me to new life in his son. But it was chronic illness that loosened the grip of life itself. I experienced an instant victory over death at the moment of salvation, but victory over the attachment to the things in this decaying world has been (and continues to be) a progressive process. Few things have been more effective to that end than chronic illness.

  • The discomfort provoked by chronic illness has served as a constant reminder that we live in a broken world. Sin invaded his creation. This requires the ultimate destruction of our corruptible body. Why would I want to hold onto something that is decaying?
  • The challenges created by chronic illness exposed my inclination toward self-sufficiency and has given abundant opportunity to test the sufficiency of God’s promised grace. That grace has proven sufficient every time. Testing and proving the sufficiency of his grace has given comfort for subsequent trials.
  • Pain, most often invisible to others, has forced me to face my blindness to the suffering of others. It has revealed flaws in my own character and helped me better understand how to love others.
  • The limitations imposed by chronic illness have struck repeated blows to pride, which continues to die a painfully slow death within me.

Yes, chronic illness is a gift. For in the Refiner’s hand, it is a means to remove the dross of our lives and fit us for greater usefulness in his kingdom.

Photo by Philip Swinburn on Unsplash

Dr. Craig Svensson

Dr. Craig Svensson

Dean Emeritus and Professor

Dr. Craig Svensson is Dean Emeritus and Professor in the Purdue University College of Pharmacy and an Adjunct Professor in the Indiana University School of Medicine. Craig and his wife of 35 years live in West Lafayette, Indiana where they serve with Faith Church. He is the author of When There Is No Cure: How to Thrive While Living with the Pain and Suffering of Chronic Illness. Visit his website at CraigSvensson.com.

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