Honestly, there are times when nothing else will comfort, but being enveloped in the arms of one that we love. When life seems to be crashing in on all sides we need to feel that connection, that sense of safety. No one understands this better than Joni Eareckson Tada. For nearly 50 years as a quadriplegic she has woken up each day unable to even get out of bed on her own. When facing intense pain, while fighting the darkness of depression she turns to the Bible for comfort. Still, even this giant of the faith at times struggles to find the truth God was trying to breathe into her. That is why she created the Beyond Suffering Bible, the first study Bible for people who suffer and those that love them. It’s a grace to welcome Joni Earekson Tada to the farm’s front porch today…
It’s a question I hear a lot from the heart-broken.
And it’s a question I’ve asked God many times. I prayed and pleaded that God would heal me of my quadriplegia.
I attended countless healing services.
I was anointed with oil and followed every other scriptural injunction. But my fingers and my feet never got the message.
As a result, I have chalked up five decades in this wheelchair.
At first, I was troubled that God said “no” to my request.
But then I read an insightful passage in the Gospel of Mark.
In the first chapter, Jesus is healing many sick people in Capernaum. The next day, the townspeople again brought their sick to Jesus early in the morning.
Simon and his companions went to look for the Lord; “When they found him, they said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ But Jesus replied, ‘We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came’.” (Mark 1:38, italics mine).
It’s not that Jesus did not care about the cancer-ridden or the paraplegics, it’s just that their illnesses were not His main focus: the gospel was.
Whenever people missed this – whenever they started coming to Him only to have their pains and problems removed – the Savior backed away.
I know this may be hard to swallow, but the Bible specifically says that all who follow Jesus can expect hardship.
Paul told the new believers in Galatia that, “we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22).
After calling Christians heirs with God and coheirs with Christ, Paul adds, “But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering” (Romans 8:17). No one goes to heaven who does not first share in Christ’s sufferings. Peter says to hurting people, “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21).
Those are hard verses to read; no one wants to gag down such truths when their heart is grieving on behalf of a suffering loved one. When God doesn’t heal, it raises questions that really challenge our faith. But consider these answers to a few common inquiries about healing.
- Does God want us to pray for healing? Yes! Just as we cannot box God in and say he always heals, we cannot box him in and say he never heals. This is why the Bible encourages us to pray for healing (Jas 5:14).
- Should we fully expect God to heal? All healing from every affliction always comes from God’s hand. But in view of the fact that the kingdom of Christ has not yet come in its fullness, we should not automatically expect complete healing. Why should we arbitrarily single out disease – which is just one of sin’s many results – and treat it in a special way as something that Christians shouldn’t have to put up with? And the emphasis on earthly problems in the New Testament tells us we’re going to have to put up with plenty! (Mark 10:30; John 16:33).
- Does it show a lack of faith if people are not healed? No! The focus of our faith should always be Jesus. Although Jesus wants what’s best for His followers, “best” will not be an easy life with no sickness or pain. God’s idea of best may include physical hardships that drive us closer to Him.
- Why does God heal some people and not others? We cannot know what God has not revealed. God may occasionally grant miraculous healing as a gracious glimpse and sneak preview of the coming age when the eyes of all blind people will be opened, all deaf will hear, and every lame person will walk (Isaiah 35:3-6). When people are healed miraculously, it should encourage us to look forward to the time when healing will be for everyone.
- What should our response be when God doesn’t heal us? When bedsores afflict me as boils did Job, I will say with him, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10). And when I feel bound to my wheelchair as Paul was to his chains, I will say with him, “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Phil 1:29).
Joy Craves a Crowd
Does all this anguish and hardship have an end?
Well, misery may love company, but joy craves a crowd.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit long to fill the hearts of thirsty people who are spiritually dehydrated from a lack of joy.
The Father is gathering an inheritance who will join Him in the river of joy that is heaven. He is heaven-bent on gathering glad souls who will make it their eternal ambition to worship His Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit.
God is love and the wish of love is to drench with delight those who have stepped into the fellowship of sharing in His Son’s suffering.
And soon, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are going to get their wish.
Perhaps sooner than we think, God will close the curtain on sin, suffering, disease and death, and we will step under a veritable Niagara Falls of thunderous joy.
I may have suffered with Christ on earth, but one day in heaven I’m going to reign with Him.
I may have tasted the pains of living on this planet, but one day I’m going to eat from the tree of life in the pleasure of heaven.
There we will feel utterly at home, as though it were always this way, as though we were born for such a place— and we were!
In a way, I hope I can bring my wheelchair to heaven. I know that’s not theologically correct, but I hope I can wheel it up to Jesus, hold His nail-pierced hands and say:
“Jesus, see this wheelchair? You were right when you said that in this world we would have trouble. This wheelchair was a lot of trouble. But the weaker I was in it, the harder I leaned on you. And the harder I leaned on you, the stronger I discovered you to be. Thank you for giving me this bruising-of-a-blessing. My wheelchair showed me a side of your grace I never would have seen otherwise.”
Then the real ticker-tape parade of praise will begin. And all of Earth’s redeemed will join in the party. Christ will open up our eyes to the great fountain of joy in His heart for us that is beyond all that we ever experienced on earth.
And when we’re able to stop laughing and crying, the Lord Jesus really will wipe away our tears.
I find it so poignant that at the point when I finally do have the use of my arms to wipe away my own tears, I won’t even have to. God will wipe them away for me. And He will do the same for you.
So pray for your loved ones; yes, even for His healing.
But also pray that there will be a following in the footsteps of Christ, daily leaning on grace through every darkness and disappointment.
For although God hates affliction, He permits it to accomplish something far more precious than the comforts of this world can ever offer:
Christ in us, the hope of glory.
There is not one of us who gets a pass from suffering. Whether it’s sleepless nights with an infant, concern over a loved one, a physical disability, chronic pain, illness, depression, the list goes on and on we all need comfort. The Beyond Suffering Bible tackles the tough questions, not giving the pat answers, but pointing people to the goodness of God and what He has to say amidst critical questions about suffering.
Visit beyondsufferingbible.com for samples of the Bible and to explore its features all specifically designed to help reader engage in God’s Word.
If we are to fully grasp what suffering is, and what we must do with it, we have to spend time digging in Scripture and this Bible is your shovel. Go deeper into how God can use our suffering in ways we could never imagine — this Bible is for every heart that’s known brokenness….
[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale for their partnership in today’s devotion ]