The In/difference of God: Meditations on Healing

aj_sherrill_healing

My friend has Lyme disease. He suffers from flu-like symptoms and chronic fatigue most days. It has cost him his job, his livelihood, and, on the darkest of days, his dignity. As a friend who can only observe and listen, it’s the stuff that makes you cry. To make matters worse, most of his family suffers from it, too, while many in the medical field blatantly deny its existence. How incredibly disheartening.

In the midst of that arrives an annual juxtaposition: Pentecost. Every year, no doubt, Pentecost is one of the most anticipated seasons in the Church calendar for me and the community of which I am a part. Not only is there an uptick of congregational enthusiasm given the transition into spring weather, but there is also this palpable anticipation of God’s presence that hangs like dust that’s made visible through a sun-drenched window. Retelling first-century accounts of racial inclusion, economic justice, and physical healing through the gift of the Holy Spirit is thrilling. It excites me. But then I think of my friend with Lyme, still.

We have tried everything — prayer, prophecy, fasting, and bringing in those with, as Paul put it, “the gift of healing.” After years of intercession, faith, and enough oil that you could put in a bowl and pour over the state of Texas, there is little fruit to show for it, I think. Comparing his experience with the tales of Acts undoubtedly tempts me toward cessationism.

Asking the Right Question

Why is it that God ostensibly heals this one but not that one? After all, was it not Jesus who said the rain falls on both good and evil indiscriminately? Why not healing then? What does it all mean? Why does arbitrary gold dust purportedly fall like a winter blizzard in one church while my friend’s blood remains poisoned in Manhattan?

Wrestling with these kinds of questions for well over a decade, I’ve settled on what I believe is a better question to ponder: Is God indifferent? It’s a better questions because we can get at an answer with a fair amount of confidence.

Frederick Buechner once preached:

In Luke, Jesus tells a strange story. At midnight an unexpected guest arrives. He is hungry, but you have nothing to feed him. So you go to the house of a friend to borrow some food. “Don’t bother me,” the friend says. “The door’s locked. The children are all asleep. I can’t give you anything now. Go home.” But you keep on pestering him. You are so persistent that he finally gets up and gives you what you want. Then Jesus adds, “For every one who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.” And his point seems to be that the secret of prayer is persistence. Keep at it, keep speaking into the darkness, and even if nothing comes, speak again and then again. And finally the answer is given.

It may not be the kind of answer that we want—the kind of stopgap peace, the kind of easy security, the kind of end to loneliness that we are apt to pray for. Christ never promises peace in the sense of no more struggle and suffering. Instead, he helps us to struggle and suffer as he did, in love, for one another. Christ does not give us security in the sense of something in this world, some cause, some principle, some value, which is forever. Instead, he tells us that there is nothing in this world that is forever, all flesh is grass. He does not promise us unlonely lives. His own life speaks loud of how, in a world where there is little love, love is always lonely. Instead of all these, the answer that he gives, I think, is himself. If we go to him for anything else, he may send us away empty or he may not. But if we go to him for himself, I believe that we go away always with this deepest of all our hungers filled.

Incarnation, Not Indifference

If you’ve received the exact breakthrough you sought, I rejoice with you. But if you haven’t, here is what I know: Our greatest fear isn’t discovering a God who doesn’t heal our greatest pain. Our greatest fear is discovering a God who is indifferent to our greatest pain. I can stomach a God who decides not to heal every wound for one reason or another (at least for the time being). What I can’t stomach is a God who doesn’t care one way or another. And what the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth tells us, if anything, is that God does, indeed, care.

So may you summon yourself to worship and pray into the darkness, because the God who gives good things to His children is still listening. Whoever you are, and however you suffer, may you know that God does not suffer from the chronic disease of indifference. And I think that remembering this, somehow, makes all the difference. At least it does for me. And I hope it does for you, too.

“Come seek God’s presence with the loving practitioners of the Praxis Gathering.”

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AJ Sherrill
AJ serves as Lead Pastor at Trinity Grace Church in Chelsea, a neighborhood in Manhattan. He is author of the contemplative work Quiet: Hearing God Amidst the Noise. (2014), and a spiritual formation resource, Urban Disciple: Following Jesus through the Gospel of Matthew. (2013). He is currently pursuing his Doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary.
AJ Sherrill

1 Comment

  1. Jacob McMillen Sep 8, 2015 Reply

    Love the honest look at this topic AJ. It’s so easy to try and slap an absolute theology on something when the evidence doesn’t support the conclusion, and simply say, “well God’s ways are higher.” I really appreciate your willingness to acknowledge a gap in understanding, while also making a fantastic point about the underlying pillar we can all be confident in.

    The conclusion I’ve come to (for the moment, at least), is that God always wants to heal, but it’s not always his priority in the moment.

    Just as Buechner preaches about “going to him for himself,” I believe that if we are looking to partner with Holy Spirit in accomplishing the Holy Spirit’s priority for that moment, we will see far more fruit than if we attempt to have God perform on our own schedule, AND I believe this will then open up the door for healing afterward.

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