Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in which the body’s immune system breaks down, rendering it unable to fight disease. The person with AIDS is in perpetual danger from any number of ordinarily curable diseases. Barring the unexpected discovery of a cure, virtually everyone currently diagnosed with the HIV virus will eventually die from an AIDS related illness.
Approximately a million people in the United States and Canada are currently infected with the HIV virus. Approximately 75 percent of these contracted the virus from homosexual activity. Another 15 percent are intravenous drug users infected by contaminated needles. Others sufferers include hemophiliacs and others infected by blood transfusions, men and women infected through heterosexual contact, and children born to infected parents.
Because of its prevalence in North America among homosexual men, AIDS has come to have stigma attached to it comparable to that associated with leprosy in Bible times.
The caller who is suffering from AIDS or who knows that he or she carries the HIV virus will probably be going through various stages of the grieving process, which for the AIDS victim might look something like this:
1. Denial. “I can’t believe this is happening to me. Let’s run those tests again!” This would be the first reaction of any rational person who discovers that he or she is terminally ill.
2. Anger turned outward. This anger may be directed at the person from whom the AIDS was contracted, at doctors or the government for not having found a cure, or at God for allowing such suffering.
3. Anger turned inward. The person begins to feel guilty and blame himself or herself for the infection. Even people who contracted the virus through an “innocent” means such as blood transfusion may feel that they are being punished for some unrelated sin.
4. Genuine grief. The person begins to realize that he or she has a limited time to live. There’s a sense of genuine loss. There’s a dread of already worsening problems: physical suffering, social prejudice and isolation, loss of employment, overwhelming medical bills, and the effect of the illness on friends and family.
5. Resolution. The final stage of grief comes when the person accepts the fact that he or she is terminally ill and begins making the necessary preparations and emotional adjustments.
Friends or relatives of the AIDS victim may go through a similar grieving process:
• Denial that it could be happening to someone so close.
• Anger directed either toward the victim for his or her lifestyle choices, or towards other parties, whether guilty or innocent.
• Anger turned inward: “It’s my fault that he or she got into the situation where AIDS was contracted.”
• Genuine grief over a life cut short.
• And finally, accepting the illness and the victim, taking steps to make his or her remaining time as pleasant as possible.
For the AIDS/HIV Sufferer:
The AIDS victim who seeks help should be treated with special compassion. He or she may have had to overcome great fear of public exposure just to seek help. He or she may also have a keen awareness of spiritual need, due to the illness and the prospect of death.
If you become aware that the caller contracted AIDS through homosexual conduct, and you question your ability to discuss this area objectively, you should refer the inquirer to another Christian helper.
The following guidelines apply to dealing with any inquirer reporting AIDS or HIV infection:
1. Thank the person for calling, and give assurance of your desire to help in any way you can. Try to empathize with him or her, while realizing—and honestly admitting to the caller—that you will probably not fully understand the anguish he or she must be feeling.
2. At some convenient point in the conversation, ask the inquirer if he or she has ever received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Share Christian Biblical Counsel: STEPS TO PEACE WITH GOD.
3. If he or she responds affirmatively, pray for a new outlook on life as he or she faces the difficult days ahead. Pray that the blessed hope of everlasting life will become a reality in his or her life, and that God will use this new believer mightily as a witness of His saving grace.
4. Stress the importance of reading and studying God’s Word daily to gain a new understanding of life and eternity from God’s perspective.
5. Encourage the inquirer to become part of a Bible-teaching church. Recommend that he or she make the pastor aware of his or her situation, so that the pastor can help ensure that the person finds within the church the support and acceptance to grow as a Christian to face the future challenges.
6. Whether or not the person responds to the Gospel, recommend calling a local pastor for referral to a Christian professional counselor and to a Christian agency addressing the needs of AIDS patients. Stress that such an agency would be glad to help the person without regard to his or her religious affiliation.
Questions a Homosexual AIDS Victim Might Ask
1. “Don’t Christians believe that all homosexuals are hopeless sinners?” Or, “Don’t Christians believe that AIDS is God’s judgment on homosexuals?”
Answer: In addressing this question, remember that Christ was always very forthright in confronting people about sin, but He did so lovingly, always with the goal of leading them to repentance and salvation. Don’t be afraid to let the caller know that, based on the Bible, you believe that homosexual conduct is sin. Refer to the verses listed under “Scripture” in the chapter on “Homosexuality.”
Point out, however, that the Bible also teaches that all humans are sinners, no matter what their sexual orientation (Romans 3:23). Emphasize to the caller that you, the same as he or she, are a sinner in God’s sight.
Then proceed directly to the great promise of Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Then read Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Salvation is based on God’s grace, not on a person’s moral goodness. Invite the caller to receive the gift of eternal life.
2. “How can I trust a God who would let me suffer this way?”
Answer: Admit that you can’t explain all the reasons why God allows us to suffer in this life. But you do know He allowed His only Son, Jesus, to suffer. Read Isaiah 53:1–9 and John 3:16. Even though He was God, Christ suffered more than any human will ever suffer, so He understands how we feel when we suffer. God never promised freedom from suffering during this short time that we call life here on earth. He does, however, promise freedom from suffering for eternity if we trust Christ as Savior. It’s very normal to feel bitter when any of us gets a terrible disease, but we should not let such bitterness stand in the way of receiving eternal life through salvation in Christ.
3. “If I trust Christ as Savior, will He cure my AIDS?”
Answer: God can always choose to cure any person of any illness, but history indicates that He usually chooses to let the human suffering do its greater work of making us long for the greater “cure” of eternal life. This assurance of eternal life also helps us endure whatever suffering we must endure in this present life.
4. “Can God forgive a homosexual like me who has AIDS?”
Answer: Say something like, “If God can forgive me of all my selfishness and pride and all the other sins I’ve committed, He can surely forgive you!” Refer to Proverbs 6:16–19, where homosexuality is not even included in the seven worst sins. Say, “I’ve committed six of the seven worst sins, and yet God forgave me and saved me, so surely He can forgive you of homosexuality or any other sin.” First John 1:9 promises forgiveness for any sin, as long as we are humble enough to confess it. First Corinthians 6:9–11 lists homosexuality as one of the sins the Corinthian Christians had formerly practiced. But the homosexuals at Corinth were forgiven just like the others, when they renounced their sin.
5. “How can I overcome my homosexuality?”
Answer: Encourage the inquirer to seek professional counseling with a Christian psychologist or qualified pastor.
For Family and Friends of the AIDS/HIV Sufferer:
If the caller is seeking comfort or advice concerning a friend or family member who has AIDS, proceed as follows:
1. As early as possible, determine whether or not the inquirer has accepted Christ as Savior and Lord. Share Christian Biblical Counsel: STEPS TO PEACE WITH GOD.
. Faith in Christ will give the person a totally new perspective on the person with AIDS.
2. If the friend or family member contracted AIDS through homosexual activity, share insights from points 1 and 4 under “Questions a Homosexual AIDS Victim Might Ask.” Make sure the person understands that, in God’s sight, homosexual sin is no worse than any other sin.
3. Advise approaching the situation as an opportunity to share the Gospel and to show Christ’s love and acceptance.
4. Stress the need to keep the lines of communication open with the AIDS victim, to avoid condemnation, to show acceptance through things like inviting the person with AIDS into your home and including him or her in social activities.
5. Advise encouraging the AIDS sufferer to seek counseling and other available support networks; especially encourage his or her involvement in a Bible-teaching church.
6. Seek counseling for other family members, especially younger children, who may have questions about the illness or may themselves be experiencing prejudice because of their relationship to the AIDS victim.
A Christian Perspective on Suffering:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1–3).
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. And not only they, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly awaiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. . . . And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:18–23, 28–31, 35, 37).
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
“To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Homosexuality Is Sin, but Is Forgivable as Any Other Sin:
“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, NIV).
“When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, TLB).
See also Homosexuality, Suffering and Adversity, Terminal Illness
The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook; World Wide Publications, 1984, 1996