Just this past weekend, we, as a collective body of Christ, commemorated Good Friday and celebrated Resurrection Sunday. We reflected back on the suffering and victory of Jesus from the cross to the grave. We raised our hands in praise over the footprints that exited the tomb!
Also, this weekend, masses of people walked through their own suffering. From suicide bombers to menacing tornadoes to hopeless diagnoses, many…many people suffered. And, no doubt, many cried out to God for freedom, for safety, for healing.
I’ve heard a lot of prayers in my life. Growing up in a family that was surrounded by the Word and lived the Gospel amid mounds and mounds of suffering, soul cries are familiar territory. We all want suffering to end. Some people name healing and claim it like wished for winnings on a lottery ticket already spent. Others hold to the idea that suffering isn’t God’s will and that those who are truly faithful and righteous don’t suffer… at least not for long. There is the notion that God is only in the business of healing and miracles, as if pain and suffering is, by contrast, a sign of His abandonment.
I recently read Joni Eareckson Tada’s recollection of attending a healing conference. After the preaching and “healing” was over and she lined up, disappointed, with other people still bound to their wheelchairs waiting for the elevator she pondered the look of confusion and grief in their eyes.
“Something’s wrong with this picture. Is this the only way to deal with suffering? Trying desperately to remove it?” She says.
She goes on to say in her book A Lifetime of Wisdom, that “suffering humbles us under the mighty hand of God.” If you don’t know Joni’s story, you can read it here. It’s worth the detour.
The beautiful truth is we are glorious ruins and, thereby, suffering matters.
It’s not something to be simply rescued from or forgiven of. In the shadow of the cross, in the rough splintering of its beams, in the blood dripping from pierced feet and hands and side, in the soaked earth taking in the life of its Creator… suffering matters.
It’s not something simply to get through or to pray through or to wish through, it is something to be regarded as a gift. This is a hard pill to swallow, trust me, I’ve seen it face-to-face. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t fun. It isn’t what we think life in Christ should look like. But Jesus suffered. And, because of our humanity and God’s gracious divinity, we suffer too.
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5
What is this hope? This hope that comes from suffering? Is it a hope of healing, of safety, of freedom? Maybe. Maybe sometimes.
But for some, for many, in fact, it is a hope of eternity for they will never be freed from this earthly suffering except through death. It is a hope of knowing that Christ suffered for us so that our suffering will only be limited to this life but after… after in the glorious revealing of eternity to our “made new” eyes we will see Him face-to-face. No longer face-to-face with suffering, but staring in to the loving, all-knowing eyes of our Lord.
Joni didn’t have healing, not in the physical sense. My sister, despite the faith-filled and often stubborn prayers of countless believers all over the world, didn’t have healing. A dear friend, who is a bastion of strength and truth and a deeply believing woman of God, still waits and prays for her husband’s healing. After years, she waits.
It aches. The waiting and the wondering and the constant battering ram of prayers on the doors of heaven become so, so heavy. Why are some healed and others aren’t? After all, Isaiah says that the Lord’s arm is not too short to save (Isaiah 59:1). Jesus healed, and we know that He is just as powerful today as He was then. We know that He is not constrained by a calendar date. Space and time and dimension are irrelevant to Him. So why? Why the lingering in waiting and the lingering in persecution and the lingering in pain?
The reason? The Gospel – the good news that He came to earth as a baby - a God Man, lived a perfect life, took on the sins of the world in death on the cross, was buried, walked out of the grave three days later slaying death and sin, and then ascended to Heaven taking His seat at the right hand of God. It is that great transfer of His perfection for my sin, His strength for my weakness, His glory for my pain, and His life for mine. When we come to Jesus simply to have our pain taken away instead of to have Him change us for His glory, we completely miss the point. He is more interested in heart surgery than cosmetic surgery.
The physical healing of this world isn’t what His priority is. Sure, He would love to see us whole and complete, but only as that is a reflection of Him. And, as Paul said “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” because Christ is sufficient. He is all we need. And His reflection is often best seen in broken sinners, limping prodigals, speech-impaired leaders, reckless kings, promiscuous women, childless women, despised tax collectors, poor fishermen, and wheelchair bound saints.
As He suffered, so will we. And because He suffered, so will we.
My sister, to this day, still spends all of her time either in a bed or in a chair. She can’t eat or drink or walk or wipe her face or comb her hair or wave hello or kiss goodbye. I can’t tell you why God didn’t choose to heal her, but I can tell you that my life and many others would not be the same if it weren’t for her pain. The people that stood over her, laid hands on her, shouted at heaven and claimed healing for her did it in great faith; but I can relate to Joni when she says of this mysterious dichotomy, “at the end of the day, it is not who has the most faith, but what God in His wisdom, love, and sovereignty chooses to do.”
We may never know, and certainly aren’t capable of understanding in this lifetime, why God chooses to heal some and not others. It doesn’t matter. We don’t need healing, we don’t need safety, we don’t need perfection, we don’t need an epidural to numb the pain of this world – We need Jesus.
We. Need. Jesus.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace! He intends to come in and live in it Himself. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
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