You step off the elevator as nurses pushing beds and doctors reading clipboards whiz by. Then you find the room around the corner, quietly greet the nurse as she exits, and find your church member in her hospital bed staring out the window into the grey skies.
“I’m glad you’re here, pastor,” she tells you, “but where’s God?”
What counsel will you offer in response? You only have several precious moments to give an answer, so you look for the chair in the corner and push it near the bed. She turns to look at you with tears in her eyes.
“Why me?” she asks. “It shouldn’t end this way. Will God heal me?” she pleads. The seconds are passing by as she waits for your response. What hope will you offer?
I believe Psalm 103 provides several truths of pastoral counsel that remind the sick and the dying that God has not forgotten them. There is hope for the sick and dying Christian. God will be good to you (verses 1-5). God will remember you (verses 6-14). God will never change (verses 15-19). God will be praised through you (verses 20-22).
God Will Be Good to You
You can’t hear enough about health-care benefits these days, from government legislation to health care provider changes, it’s all over our 24 hour-a-day news cycle. Having God’s benefits in view is what controls the Psalmist’s heart.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,” David tells himself (verse 2). The benefit of healing is on David’s mind. “Bless the Lord . . . who heals all your diseases” (verse 3). God heals us.
Though we get sick, God is still good. In David’s mind the focus isn’t on the theological relationship between sin and sickness (that is, the impact of original sin) but that God “satisfies with goodness” those who have sinned and those who are sick (verse 5). This is exactly what the sick and dying believer needs to hear: God is good and brings healing. God has promised to heal and restore their frail bodies whether or not healing comes in this life or not. Healing may be temporary now in this life, but it will be permanent in the next.
That’s hope that endures. Remind your sheep that we have a greater hope of receiving imperishable bodies no matter what happens now (1 Corinthians 15:54). One day we will live in a new, whole, painless body. God will heal them. God will be good to them.
God Will Remember You
The sick and dying believer can have moments of doubt, wondering where God is in the midst of their suffering. Their thoughts turn toward Him. Yet they wonder if His thoughts are turned toward them.
Good pastoral counsel will tell the sick and dying believer that God does have them in His thoughts. “For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust” (verse 14). How else does God act toward us? He always does what is right (verse 6). He is the covenant Lord who has promised to be merciful and gracious (verse 8).
In between verses 6 and 8 is a statement about God’s loving actions to His people in history. God has covenantally bound Himself to His people, so He can do nothing but remember them. He is no longer angry toward His people (verses 9, 10, 12). His covenant love is always directed toward them (verse 11). He acts as a loving, compassionate Father toward His children (verse 13).
These are beautiful realities that God exhibits toward all believers, even the sick who know all too well that they really are frail as dust (verse 14). Helpful and biblical counsel communicates that God always remembers His people. He knows what they’re going through and has not forgotten about them. He always has loving thoughts toward them.
God Will Never Change
The contrast between knowing we’re finite, weak creatures and that we have an infinite, powerful God is never more apparent than when we’re sick or on the brink of death. Life is changing fast for the person in the hospital bed. Nurses and doctors change every shift. Day changes into night and night into day without concern for the sick person’s daily schedule and routine.
One day life was well and ordered; the next day life was dark with sickness and chaos. Life is changing fast and death could soon approach and change everything.
Does God change?
The Psalmist knows this comparison between our human frailty and God’s greatness is great, so he turns to this comparison in verses 14-19. This comparison, however, doesn’t bring despair. It brings him comfort.
In light of eternity, we last as long as a blade of grass or a flower, growing upward and green most the year, only to fade under the frightfulness of winter (verses 15-16). Yet God lasts forever and never changes (verse 17). His loving, covenant faithfulness never ends towards those who love and obey Him (verse 18). His kingdom endures forever (verse 19). God’s eternal nature and existence is a comforting doctrine for sick and suffering believers.
God Will Be Praised through You
The final part of Psalm 103 ends with praise to God (verses 20-22). All of His creation—angels, servants, and creation itself—will praise Him. God’s benefits bring about praise. The fact that He knows and remembers us is a cause for praise. His unchanging nature is a reason for praise.
The sick and dying often need a reorientation to the divine perspective—that is, to believe once again that God is working all things according to His will, a will that is motivated by grace and love for us (Ephesians 1:5-6). Psalm 103 helps us reorient the sick and dying patient toward the God who is present. It helps us provide wise and tender pastoral counsel.
Join the Conversation
Of the four “God Wills” of Psalm 103, which one “hits home” the most for you today?