Illness and Suffering in the Christian Narrative
How do Christians, who try to understand their lives according to the Christian narrative, cope with illness and suffering? This issue is the main concern of this article. Its point of departure is the assumption that the concept of “narrative” expressed in the idea that Christian faith is a narrative, might be taken to refer to a worldview, to a larger narrative (ie salvation history) or to the fact that Christians, in a process of hindsight, interpret their lives narratively. Based on talks with students and a process at Örebro Theological Seminary (ÖTH), in which we have been discussing the subject of illness and healing, I argue that some Christians are rethinking their understanding of illness and suffering. Since these Christians often have a high view of the Bible, it is important to examine how these issues are handled in scripture, and how biblical texts have been used traditionally. These Christians also refer to their experiences and to common apprehensions of illness and suffering in society. I propose that the Christians I refer to tend to avoid religious causal or teleological explanations of illness and suffering. They even seem to prefer not to involve God in these issues at all. This could be taken as a token of secularisation, but I argue that this is not the only possible explanation. I suggest instead that it can be linked to a reconsideration of basic tenets of these Christians’ theology and I make the claim that this reconsideration occurred during the process at Örebro Theological Seminary I have referred to above. The narrative reinterpretation of illness and suffering in the personal lives of these Christians is thus closely linked to a reinterpretation of the Christian worldview and salvation history.
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