By Joy Crichton
The smell of mocha permeates the air like vapor energy, a kind of hypnotic happiness to fuel the remainder of our day. My eyes scan the booths of faces engaged in animated conversations in search of my friend. Before she sees me I briefly glimpse the ravages of her everyday life displayed in a mix of despair and heartbreak that etch the surface of her composure. But she’s quick. Either out of habit or for my ease, she dons the smiling mask that almost covers the exhaustion, but after months of Tuesday meetings her secret is out. There’s sickness in her marriage. She’s desperate for healing.
Like the man poolside at Bethesda, my friend marks her misery in years. She, too, waits for the waters to stir, for God to move and heal. For 38 years the man couldn’t drag himself the few feet to the magic pool until a stranger told him to pick up his mat and walk (John 5).
He wasn’t the first in humanity to have something broken in his life. All of us have despaired over broken relationships, finances, or bodies. We lie on our beds, desperate for healing, but the magic solution is just out of reach. How discouraging to move to the pool’s edge with the crush of broken humanity, only to watch others walk away healed. Yet Jesus asks us the same question as he stands over our brokenness: “Do you want to be healed?”
The High Cost of Healing
The question seems almost cruel. For four decades the lame man lived on the kindness of others, waiting for his circumstance to change. Of course he wanted to be healed, but Christ urged him to count the cost because healing changes things in our lives. It heals relationships, restores children, or controls our addictions, but what about the rest? For the man at the Sheep Gate, begging was a way of life. Could a man his age find work? Sometimes healing for us means making some changes that to this point we are unwilling to or, in our minds at least, unable to make.
It might mean walking away from our carefully constructed plan. Decades of patiently trusting the magic pool left the man unhealed. He staunchly clung to the hope of healing from a plan that hadn’t changed his situation in 38 years. What an amazing feat of faith! But he had no other choice. There was no other solution—until now.
The Hard Answers to Wholeness
The Healer instructed, “Take up your mat and walk.” Really. Most of us would have carefully annunciated in a loud tone, “BUT I’M LAME.” It’s what we do when our finances are broken and the Lord reminds us to tithe or to meet someone else’s need. “I’M BROKE” we remind our Lord. Or in other words, “Your plan for healing just doesn’t make any sense.”
Actually, not many of the biblical solutions to our “diseases” make sense. When in financial straits, taking a second job, hoarding, or even stealing seems more logical than giving out of necessity and tithing. But that is my Lord’s solution. If my marriage ails, a voice in my head tells me to run or find someone else, yet my Lord prescribes commitment and submission. It’s risky, especially when emotional or physical intimacy isn’t palatable. Confronting and disciplining my children is exhausting and might alienate us even more.
Yet our Lord asks us the same question he asks the lame man, “How’s that magic pool working for you?” The truth is, our “logical” solutions aren’t working. In The Upside of Down, Finding Hope When It Hurts, Joseph Stowell said, “It is sometimes difficult to see God’s place in our problems because a clear view of his role is often obscured by myth”—myths whispered to us by our enemy.
There is a lot of good-sounding information out there, especially on the Internet. The man at the pool trusted the magic because obviously some came out healed. He’d observed it. But almost four decades later, he remained unhealed. So if we really want to be healed, first we have to figure out God’s plan for our healing.
The Haunting Questions of Hurt
When true healing arrived, the man at Bethesda remained obsessed with the magic. Christ asked the simple question, “Do you want to be healed?” Instead of a desperate “Yes” the man whined, “I don’t have anyone to help me into the pool.” His earthly plan excluded the divine plan for his life. The man asked the wrong question when solving his problem. He asked “How?” when he should have asked “Who?”
What about us? In suffering we waste emotional energy by asking, “Why me?” Instead, the right query is, “Who can heal this and control it?” Our hope begins with Who. Once I drag my attention from my ill-fated conclusions, I hear his healing words.
God’s solutions are not mystical but certain. Surrounded by the shards of a broken relationship, our hope lies with the God who is able and willing to heal. As we pour out our anguish he whispers to us in Scripture, “Do you want to be healed? Do you want it enough to repent of your sin against your brother? to forgive a wrong? to humbly serve?” At first blush these solutions look like they open us up to mistreatment, but his remedies vanquish the pride and self-love that stand in the way of healthy relationships.
There were those who pulled themselves out of the magic pool a little better, but most hoisted themselves onto the edge unchanged. It was a lesser remedy at best. Worldly solutions sometimes have temporary results, but we don’t want temporary healing in our relationships. Instead of treating the malady’s symptoms, we have to look deeply into our hearts with the Spirit as our guide and let our Lord change us. Ask yourself: How have I sinned against my friend or mate? What drives the sinful responses that feed our conflict? What do I want? control? possessions? affirmation? security? Are those the things my Lord wants for me? Am I expecting others to satisfy longings that can only be satisfied by my Lord?
The High Calling Hereafter
After the Great Surgeon had done his work, he had one more instruction. “Go and sin no more.” We often live careless lives. There are consequences to sin. Those consequences wake us up to sin’s destruction and motivate us to rein in our passions. By the time the lame man encountered Jesus, he understood one thing: he was helpless to save himself.
As we ponder the snarled mess of our broken relationships, bodies, and financial profiles, we feel hopeless. Then, just as with the lame man, Jesus calls, “Take up your mat and walk.” It’s a call to ignore what we feel—frustration, anger, entitlement, pride, exhaustion, fear, offense—and act on what we know. It’s a call to the hard work of change. “All our healing,” John Piper observed, “is about holiness.”
Impossible, you say? The lame man thought that too, except Jesus was there. His presence created the faith necessary to obey the impossible. It should do the same for us. Holiness is an impossible feat, but our Lord does the impossible in our hearts. His grace makes us holy and in the process heals our relationships, finances, and marriages. In the end, these sicknesses reveal themselves as simple tools in the Creator’s hand that fashion us into masterpieces for his glory.
In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis described the loving strokes of an artist who can effortlessly sketch out a picture for a child or create a pièce de résistance. The “work which he loves” is painstakingly worked again and again. If the picture were alive you can imagine how it might feel after being “scraped and rubbed.” Likewise, we are God’s pièce de résistance. Through his work he has great plans for us.
The lame man felt he had ample excuse to lie on his mat by the magic pool. Christ had better plans for his life. Though at times costly, he has better plans for us and our brokenness too, if we will let him do his healing work.
Joy Crichton is a minister’s wife, mother of five, English teacher, and blogger in Johnston, Rhode Island.