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Posts Tagged ‘healing’

In recent weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of the Apostolic Fathers and other early church writers for a paper.  The more time I spend with them, the more I realize that they were a whole lot smarter than I originally thought and far better theologians than many give them credit for.

One of those eye-opening moments for me was reading Justin Martyr on the resurrection of the dead.  There were many who mocked the Christian belief that God would raise all people in bodily form.  One of the mocking claims was that if a person died blind or lame, they would be raised blind or lame.  Here is Justin’s counter (emphasis added):

Well, they say, if then the flesh rise, it must rise the same as it fails; so that if it die with one eye, it must be raised one-eyed; if lame, lame; if defective in any part of the body, in this part the man must rise deficient.  How truly blinded are they in the eyes of their hearts!  For they have not seen on the earth blind men seeing again, and the lame walking by His word.  All things which the Savior did, He did in the first place that what was spoken concerning Him in the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘that the blind should receive sight, and the deaf hear,’ and so on; but also to induce the belief that in the resurrection the flesh shall rise entire.  For if on earth He healed the sickness of the flesh, and made the body whole, much more will He do this in the resurrection, so that the flesh shall rise perfect and entire.  In this manner, then, shall those dreaded difficulties of theirs be healed.

While the language is somewhat difficult to sort, it’s easy to see Justin’s point: Jesus’ healings point to the day when God will raise the body in perfect form, in other words, the resurrection is the final and ultimate healing.

This stuck out to me largely because I originally had thought that this was a fairly unique insight belonging to Jurgenn Moltmann, “But in the framework of hope for the coming of God and his kingdom, Jesus’ healings become inextinguishable reminders of this future” (In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope p.65).  It’s fascinating to me to see the same observation made 1800 years apart, and makes me wonder if others have seen this and I just didn’t know it. It also leads me to think that there is more to Jesus’ ministry on earth, the resurrection and the Kingdom of God than I currently think.

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This week, the Marchionni household has experienced a number of light and momentary afflictions, each of which have conspired to keep us from getting a good night of sleep for nearly a week.  “A good night” here means “more than 4 hours.”  One source of this sleep deprivation, which will come as no surprise to the seasoned parents among my readers, is my 15-month old son, who has taken ill this week with some flavor of virus.

Whenever my son is suffering, even from a simple cold (and praise God that it’s naught more serious than that!), the cerebral circuits devoted to Christian suffering always turn on in my head, giving rise to a panoply of reflections and questions.  Last night, I was especially struck by the words of the excellent Craig Blomberg in a post he wrote some time ago dealing with the particularly American response to suffering.  Says Blomberg,

At an international evangelical consultation on contextualizing the gospel this summer in Oxford, the Asian representatives agreed that one of the biggest theological differences between Asian and American Christianity was that Asians assumed suffering was a normal part of life, especially if you were a believer, whereas Americans were always trying to avoid it or end it. One Chinese theologian explained, “The typical Chinese Christian, when suffering, asks, “How may I acquit myself in a God-pleasing way as I suffer?” The typical American Christian asks, “How may I get rid of the suffering?”

When was the last time you heard a public list of Christian prayer requests that included prayers for people to be good witnesses in the midst of their suffering rather than for God to take away everything from terminal cancer to the common cold?

Clearly, in the case of my son, there isn’t much he can do yet to be a faithful witness to God in the midst of his suffering.  But what about me?  How do I respond to my own suffering, or the suffering of others?  Like a “typical American Christian,” I usually ask God to take it away.  As I reflect on this, however, I am increasingly convinced that I am due for a rearrangement of priorities.

I cannot address all of the dynamics of suffering here, nor will I attempt to introduce a theodicy.  However, I do believe that the question of the Chinese Christian above ought to be ours as well.  Specifically, our first priority in prayer concerning suffering ought to be bringing God glory, as opposed to bringing ourselves relief.

Consider Jesus’ miracles:  Many of Jesus’ healings are explicitly explained as being performed to bring glory to God (e.g., Jn. 9:3; 11:4).  Other miracles have a clear pedagogical purpose in revealing Christ’s identity (e.g., Mk 2:10; 3:35-41; Jn.15:24), which is another way of bringing glory to God.

Also consider that in the first instance, Jesus’ healings are about the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God; they are an eschatological annoucement (c.f., Mt. 11:2-5).  Part of that eschatology is the restoration of all things back to the way they were meant to be, viz. people aren’t going to be blind, or lame, or subject to acute bleeding  when the Kingdom of God is fully manifest on earth.  Note the subtle distinction between healing somebody to relieve their suffering, versus healing somebody in order to reveal the coming Kingdom, which includes the relief of suffering.

Scanning deeper into the New Testament, I have trouble finding many prayers aimed only at taking away suffering.  When Paul prays for the suffering Thessolonians, his prayer is that they are good witnesses in the midst of it; that their faith is strengthened (2 Ths.1:11-12).  A plea for relief is nowhere to be found, but a promise for it is included in the eschatological encouragement preceding his prayers (vv.5-10).

So then, what is our proper response to suffering?  Ought we pray for relief or healing?  Of course!  But, the effort must be framed in terms of a bigger priority: God’s glory.  Consider Christ’s example as he predicted his torturous death on the cross (Jn. 12:27-30), or his agony in Gesthemane (Mt. 26:39-43).  His first focus is God’s glory and submission to His will.  Our prayers for healing or relief should therefore start with the same focus:  “God, be glorified; thy will be done.  If it pleases you to bring relief, please do so quickly, only be glorified by it.”

Suffering, as C.S.Lewis notes, is often God’s megaphone.  Within hard times, opportunies upon opportunies avail themselves to be redeemed to bring glory to our Creator.  May this be our priority at all times, because God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

Coming in Part II:  The broader categories of suffering.

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