About a week ago, our friend Gospel Matt called late at night to hear the latest on our lives. When he hung up, he joined The Architect in the Marital Bed, where they prayed for us, and very early the next morning, they joined their morning prayer group to bring us before God. About four hours later, my wife and I woke from a solid slumber and staggered past the alarm clock which was supposed to wake me hours before. What happened? Even in our stupor, we knew that we should email Matt to confirm that he had indeed prayed for a good night’s sleep. Which he and his friends had, blessing us with the best sleep we’ve had in months, and miraculously overriding my wife’s pregnancy-induced, 6-fold nightly visits to the Loo.
Later that day I was helping some friends with a small plumbing problem. Namely, that the pressure regulator valve had failed, leaving their family without a hint of indoor plumbing. As I cut into the copper pipe, committing myself to the repair, I offered a fervent and half-hearted prayer for the project. Not a “Lowerrd, heal this pipe, and guide the torch that heats it.”, but a simple, “God, we’d all appreciate it if everything about this project could just go right.” Which, if your plumbing skills are like mine, is asking a lot. But not, by God’s grace, too much. Problem solved and well-rested mind intact, I headed home a couple of hours later.
So what gives? Why would God help with such small-time stuff when so many people are praying so desperately for our boy?
Let me just say it: I believe in divine healing. By most measures, I’m a bona-fide Charismatic. I’ve seen people healed of all kinds of stuff, and even been on the praying end of things when it happened. I’ve been called out in public meeetings so that my friends could see energy course through my body, moving under my skin like some kind of wave of water. I’ve felt that electric charge inside that begs to be discharged into someone else, demonstrating God’s power and concern for them.
I’ve had God fix things in my own body. Most of them, I’m embarrassed to say, were running injuries. Longstanding repetitive use injuries that just went away when someone laid hands on them and prayed a simple prayer. Which spoke powerfully to me of God’s grace and mercy, as these were injuries which I had earned in every sense of the word, and healing which was completely unearned. All for the self-indulgent purpose of my running a marathon. Not feeding a sick child, or freeing an innocent prisoner, or allowing an ill husband to once again provide for his family. But an undeserved gift for a whining, self-pitying, middle-of-the-pack runner to finish yet another marathon. Pure grace.
And none of this elevated anyone beyond a regular life filled with pain. My left knee was fixed forever (four more marathons without even a tickle), but my life was not. I’m still the messed-up jerk I’ve always been. And the conduits of these healings weren’t floaty gurus with big hair, but regular people with real lives who delivered healing, but didn’t experience it themselves. God does a lot, but he doesn’t do everything, or always. Furthermore, the healing he brings is partial, and temporary. Check the Bible, and check the world: no one who has been healed has had every problem area of their life fixed. And everyone who has experienced healing has not been healed forever– they have all died.
Once, while in England on a ministry trip, my wife was sitting in the back of a meeting. From the front, a stranger spoke in detail about her exact medical condition (one which she had struggled with for years…). At the end of the meeting, she went forward for prayer and (presumably!) healing. Which she most certainly didn’t get, even to this day. So why? Why bring it up, God? Just to let us know that you know about it (which we expected, anyway!)?
Or the day that we got the wonderful news that we were pregnant. A bittersweet day for me, because I was wracked with guilt over our friends in their childlessness. For we got our long-awaited and desperately-desired pregnancy, and our dear friends — no less desirous or deserving of the same thing– didn’t, and haven’t. What gives, God?
This tension is not new. It was true even for Jesus. The gospels are brimming with stories of his healing. He healed regularly– sometimes, we read that God’s power was present to heal every single person who came to him on a particular day (can you imagine that?). But there were times when he was limited, or couldn’t heal at all (due to geography, or the audience, or the fact that he was doing something else, or some other mysterious cause). Even for Jesus, healing was a mysterious and mystical experience, and deliverance was inconsistent, at best. And it didn’t exempt him from trouble in his own experience(remember how his life ended?).
And the same Spirit that healed through Jesus healed through the members of the early church. We have breathtaking accounts of widespread miracles done through that group as they spread out from Jerusalem. And even to today, where Jesus and the Spirit work to do all kinds of works of grace and mercy. But not always.
And that is the grain of sand in my mind these days. The inconsistency. I’ve experienced all kinds of blessings from God in my short life, and I’m grateful for them, and hopeful about many more to come. And I pray regularly for my little boy. Sometimes, I lay my hands over him and pray with little emotion, and other times I sob out a prayer that is deeper than words. But every time I pray, I have complete confidence that God could heal him, and that– in a general sense– God wants to heal him. But that’s his choice.
At the same time– and right at the moment– I don’t want good things from God, and I’d rather not hear good things about God. I am willing to accept something exceedingly difficult from God: this thing that is the hardest thing that I’ve ever experienced, and which I can scarcely believe I can survive. I know he hasn’t exactly given it to me, but at the same time he could spare me of it. And I can deal with that. I can accept this kind of harsh treatment. But if I’m going to take that, I have a very difficult time accepting any of the good things he might give me. To wit, I broke down mid-Eucharist last week, unable to accept this good gift from Jesus. This week, I somehow choked it down, so I guess that’s progress.
It’s not easy, but this is the challenge of life. The tension, the conflict, the dilemma which is inescapable. That God can, and does, fix things for us at times. Heal our wounds, and protect us from heartbreak. And that same God sometimes allows those same wounds to overcome us, and those tragedies to break our hearts.
Sometimes we get our life back, and sometimes we settle for a good night’s sleep. Welcome to the Kingdom, at least for now.