Yesterday it was again brought to my attention that I represent in my body, mind, and spirit, a disconnect for many Christians.
Many of us are theologically correct enough to not outwardly embrace the properity gospel: We say with our mouths that we know that the active presence of God in one’s life does not prevent that person from going through difficult trials, sickness, and loss. But somewhere in our hearts, we still hold to some kind of belief that if a person is truly faithful to God and seeks the Lord fully, that person will be spared the really awful, extreme forms of suffering. There is some sort of sense that we still hold to of the gospel of transactional mercy: If we are holy enough, God will be merciful with us regarding our life circumstances. Somehow, almost 40 years into a life steeped in suffering, I still wonder what in the world I’m doing wrong to still be so darn sick.
Jordan preached on the story of the four friends who cut a hole in the ceiling and lowered their sick friend on his pallet into a room where Jesus was preaching. He shared about the healing, how Jesus healed the man’s heart first, and how He only healed his body when the church leaders questioned His authority to forgive sins.
Jordan spoke of the call to seek God for healing as well as the reality that physical healing doesn’t always happen. He spoke of desperation, and He also spoke of surrender to the heart of God when healing doesn’t look as we expect it should look. What he did not speak of in that half-hour sermon is that our family sits at this intersection of healing and surrender.
In our small congregation, everyone present knows of my illnesses. I can honestly say that I believe that most of them are praying regularly for my healing. I can also say that many of them uphold theology that sees God in a similar light to that with which I view my Lord.
But one thing arose yesterday in the aftermath of the sermon: I still have many of them stumped. Frankly, I also spend much of my time stumped. I am doing just about EVERYTHING that I can do to pursue healing: even yoga (you will get it if you have chronic illness—everyone loves to recommend yoga to people with Chronic illness, almost as much as they love to recommend whatever health pyramid scheme is popular any given year). I am still here (about seven miracles in itself), seven years into an illness that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, and dang, it makes people uncomfortable.
The thing is, we’re not going to figure it out. There are some realities in this world that will not make sense, no matter how hard we try to figure them out.
I want to acknowledge that with “unanswered prayer” so front and center in my life, I learn about the heart of God more and more every day. When I beg and beg for healing, His answer to me is never ‘no’. His answer always comes in the form of His presence. Sometimes he reveals deep truths about Himself to me. Sometimes He opens my heart to other areas in my heart and mind that need healing. Sometimes He points it back to me and teaches me tremendous truths about myself that are vital for my growth.
Sometimes, He shows me His face and glory in ways that leave me forever transformed in ways that leave the idea of physical healing shriveling in the dust. In my journey of seeking God’s face in my illness and also of regularly asking for healing, I have come to know the heart of my God intimately and deeply, leaving me forever grateful for the space the my illness causes me to occupy.
I believe that He can heal me. I also believe that my suffering hurts His heart. I honestly believe that He is in the process of healing me in ways that I never even knew I needed healing. I’m pretty sure that He will heal me physically on this side of eternity (you know, until I end up dying, like we all will one day—on this side of eternity, no physical healing is permanent).
I’m thankful for the place of desperation to which my illness takes me. I’m thankful for the discomfort that suffering brings when I place it next to my theology. I’m even thankful that my situation is confusing for other Christians, because if we can move past trite answers, dismissive judgments, and hurtful accusations, we can begin to seek the heart of God for those who suffer; And news flash: That’s all of us.
I’m not going to wrap my illness up with a pretty bow. I’m not going to make my writing light and shiny, because frankly, my life is really heavy. It’s not my goal to sweeten the bitter. It’s my goal to push all of us to take our bitter to Jesus, because He is the One who knows it better than anyone else. And when we take our suffering, our disappointments, our grief, and our pain to the One who knows suffering, then we will find ourselves blindsided by His beauty, His deep love, and His rich goodness. We will also be awakened to a Kingdom that turns everything else on its head, and we will understand in an instant what it means when scripture says “light and momentary suffering producing within us a weight of glory…”.
Suffering is not something we were created to run from. It is something that we run with straight to the arms of Jesus. Please don’t run from the people who manifest the tension of this world in their bodies or minds or circumstances. Please don’t step away when someone’s life collides with your theology and you can’t figure it out. Please go with them and with the mess of your life straight to the heart of the Father and discover the riches and depths of His love. HE is greater than my suffering. I want HIM more than I desire relief from my pain and agony. And because of that, my miracle is always right in front of my face.