Jesus said: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Christ warns us that in this world we will have tribulation. Sickness and suffering are not fair and just, happening only to the wicked and unbeliever. They happen to everyone because there is a fundamental brokenness in creation itself – a separation of creation from God which affects all people because we all are born into a world separated from God through sin. Bad things do happen to good people. Paul Meyendorff comments in his book, THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK:
Sickness, suffering, and death are the inevitable result of the separation between God and humanity that took place when humanity disobeyed God’s command, when it chose to please itself rather than God. Sickness, suffering and death are the lot of all humanity in this fallen world—we all share the same fate, saint and sinner, young and old. Even Jesus Christ, who was totally without sin, shared our fate when he condescended to suffer and die – this is the very essence of the mystery of the incarnation.
…. In each of us, the process of disease, decay, and ultimately death begins from the very moment that we are conceived. When we sin, moreover, we contribute to a process that is already underway in each of us. This is the state of the world in which we live, and this is the sad reality that the Son of God came to overcome. (p 69)
Meyendorff goes on to say,
With the fall of Adam, both humanity and the entire cosmos were affected. Illness, therefore, is not the root problem, but only a symptom. The far more significant consequence of the fall was the rupture of the communion between God and humanity, between humans among themselves, and between humanity and the rest of creation. For Christians, sickness and death are not the real problem: rather, it is alienation from God, and the resulting spiritual death, which are the real tragedy. (p 84)
Seeing disease and suffering as not the problem of humanity, but the symptom of a deeper problem frames the entire understanding of humanity in a particularly Christian way. The Church is engaged in a healing ministry (except perhaps the Russian Orthodox Church which is blessing killing and suffering). The Church recognizes that God provided in the world herbs and elements for healing, and gifted some humans such as nurses, pharmacologists and doctors with the knowledge and gift of healing, all of which are blessings from God. But the Church also acknowledges that ultimately such healing too has a temporary nature to it, just like disease. For humans despite healing, despite Christ being the incarnate God, continue to age, become diseased and die. Disease and death are but the symptoms of the underlying problem of humanity – we are separated from God. Both illness and medical healing belong to temporal creation and do not answer ultimate questions.