(Extracted from Walking through Shadows, pages 105-109.)
As I returned to my room after visiting the nursing home, my youngest brother Stephen gave me an audio tape of one of Robert's sermons, entitled "The Experience Trap-Healing," that Rob preached on June 1, 1997-only a couple of years before his major health issue began to manifest itself. "You've got to hear this," he said, "Rob deals directly with the very issue he's being confronted with right now. It's almost prophetic."
I couldn't wait to hear the tape. What did he say that relates to this current situation? Did he have some insight I hadn't been given that could throw more light on the situation? Could his words help his family, and others who are grieving over the pain and suffering of a loved one, understand how to cope with his present condition? I eagerly devoured every word spoken by Rob in this sermon. It was very illuminating and extremely thought-provoking. It was as if God had been preparing Rob and his family and friends for what was coming.
Regarding the origin of sickness, he stated, "You see, if there was no sin in the world . . . there wouldn't be any sickness and there would be no death." This, of course, is totally in accord with what he had written to the Bible college president as discussed earlier.
So Rob understood that the reason for sickness is because of the fall of man as recorded in Genesis. But what about the accusation people sometimes make that sickness must be the result of some specific sin in a person's life? Well, Rob explained that the consequences of certain sins (such as alcohol abuse, homosexual behavior, and so on) could lead to sickness. Also, there are times when God can cause people to become sick because of their rebellion against Him. Rob discussed this issue when dealing with James chapter 5, in which the word is actually "weakness" (asthenei). This is connected to the word kamnonta, meaning "weary person," to refer to the sick one, and as such usually refers to sickness in a spiritual sense. However, he also went on to say:
But of course there are other people as well, who have some dreadful sicknesses, some dreadful diseases, that inflict them. And yet friends, it's not because of any specific sin in their life, nothing to do with any specific sin in their life at all. And so we need to understand that balance . . . sin has been in the world since Adam and Eve rebelled. It is called "original sin," and from there of course, sin has been the thing that has been really damaging every single person.
Rob goes on to point out that (apart from those alive at His return) "there is not a person in this world who will not die [before] the Lord Jesus comes again. . . ." Here he reminds people that the ultimate "sickness" that we all have to face, as a result of sin, is death....
In his sermon, Rob addressed the issue of healing. As you consider what he stated, you will see his sincere devotion to the Lord and his intense burden to challenge people to focus on Him and Him only:
In many churches today, the focus is on our ailments, on our illnesses and on our sicknesses, and so on. But the problem is that when that is the focus . . . we are focusing on ourselves rather than focusing on the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than focusing on what the Bible is actually saying and telling us.
Now you see, I am not for a moment suggesting that the Lord can't heal and the Lord can't bring miraculous things in people's lives, I am not suggesting that for a moment.
At this point in his sermon, he recounted the testimony of Dr. Carl Wieland that you read about in the first half. Rob was obviously explaining that God can heal, but the focus should never be on ourselves-our focus should always be on the Lord Jesus Christ. So what did Rob mean by this?
He indicates that nowhere in the Bible will we find that we can demand healing and miraculous signs from the Lord. He says:
The miraculous sign that the Lord gives us in fact, and the sign that we constantly need to be seeking and focusing on, is the sign where the Lord Jesus came into this world and gave His life up and shed His blood that you and I could be drawn to Christ. Where He rose from the dead, this is the greatest sign in the history of this world, and it will be the greatest sign until the Lord Jesus comes again. That Christ came into the world to give His life [see. Matt. 12:38-42].
The day I went through Rob's sermon word by word, I sat beside his bed in the nursing home holding his feeble hand, thinking about these things, and mulling over in my mind this next statement from further on in his sermon. You see, as I looked at his weakened body and his blank, now somewhat sunken face that once was filled with joy reflecting his Christian character, I kept thinking, This is not normal, Rob. Surely this is not normal for this to happen to such a one as you.
Now read Rob's statement, as if he foresaw what was going to happen. Referring to Paul and his thorn in the flesh, Rob states:
I am going to say this twice . . . I would like this to melt into your mind and into your heart. I want it to be written indelibly on your mind so that it will never, ever be wiped away. Please understand this. You see the apostle Paul when we look at the whole New Testament . . . Paul saw illness and he saw sickness as normal (N-O-R-M-A-L). I'd like to underline it with a great big felt pen and write it indelibly in every one of our minds. The apostle Paul saw sickness and illness as normal living in a world ruined by sin. I'll say it again; the apostle Paul saw illness and sickness as normal living in a world that has been ruined by sin.
If Rob was able to look on at this disease-racked body, I thought, knowing the person lying there was a devout Christian, he would say, through tears of compassion, that this is the sort of thing to be expected in a sin-cursed universe. Although it is abnormal in the sense of not being the way things should have been, were it not for sin-it should be considered "normal" in that sense, in this fallen world. I believe Rob would then tell us that instead of focusing on the disease, we need to focus on Christ.