Many times when Jesus performed a healing miracle, the Gospel accounts record Him doing something curious. Before He heals the individual, He asks them, “Do you want to be healed?”
On the surface, it seems like an odd question. Who wouldn’t want to have their sight back, their hearing restored, the ability to walk? But I think we underestimate how attached we become to our infirmities and imperfections.
I have a dear friend who has M.S. She’s had it for as long as I’ve known her. She’s become very much intertwined with support groups, making friends with people who share her illness. I have family members that are deaf, that went to Gallaudet University, and very much have found comfort in the deaf community and culture. I don’t presume to say they wouldn’t want to be healed, but their healing would very much change those profound connections that they’ve built with others. Most of us find companions based on common interests – sports, church, school, etc. Those who suffer often find friends with people who suffer as they do.
Jesus’ question on the surface seems rather simplistic and easy to answer. But for those who have spent years sitting by a pool, begging for money, making friends with the fellow sick and disabled, being made whole would absolutely change their entire world. They may be looked on with envy, ostracized from their group, they may have to start working to make a living, they would have to change their entire routine.
More than that, they would have a new identity. No longer would they be the blind man, the lame man, the leper. They could no longer rely on their imperfection as their identity.
This is why Jesus first asked them, “Do you want to be made whole?”
I thought about this, as I got into a discussion about the issue of homosexuality with a Christian friend. He argued that because a person was born with a same-sex attraction, it’s unloving to tell them that they have to change. After all, this is the way that God created them. It has become the creed of many churches, proudly waving their gay pride flag and claiming to be “an open and affirming church.”
But here’s the problem: that argument rests on a theological assumption that God created everyone the way they were intended.
Don’t tell that to my friend with M.S. or the family down the road that just buried their child who was born with cancer.
Four years ago, we miscarried a baby. My wife gave birth to her in the hospital, as it was too late to do a D&C. We held her, gave her a name. She was tiny, fit in the palm of our hand. And as perfect as she seemed, there was something terribly wrong. There was no life in her.
Either God sucks at creating life perfectly, or the notion that we are born the way God perfectly intended is the most obvious heresy of our day.
Scripture is clear. We are born into a sin nature. We are fallen. And if we are born into a sinful and fallen world, with failing bodies, then we should be automatically suspicious of any of our desires. Our desires are susceptible to sin. And I just don’t mean attractions to people of the same sex. As a heterosexual, my eyes and thoughts wander to people of the opposite sex. Considering there’s one woman in the world God intended for me to be with, that means every moment of attraction towards someone else is a moment of lust-ridden coveting, whether society deems my temptations natural or not.
I’m sure there are some reading this that are turning four shades of purple because they think I am comparing a homosexuality with someone with cancer, or that I’m trying to refute the American Psychiatric Society’s claim that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is that what our fallen society deems as natural in the context of a fallen world may not necessarily be what God deems as natural, considering that God’s ways and ours are not equal. Even the phrase, “died of natural causes,” should be an obvious cue that our understanding of “natural order” is defined and interpreted solely within the context of a depraved and fallen world.
My “natural” thoughts and inclinations should not be trusted. When I get a clean bill of health from my doctor, he has not evaluated my soul and spiritual health. I’m a sick and decaying individual. To the world I may seem healthy. I’m not blind, or lame, or deaf. But I am in need of being made whole… every day.
You know what I’m thankful for? I’m thankful that Jesus never said to me or anyone, “It’s okay, you were born that way.” To me, that seems like the most unloving, ungodly thing we could ever say to anyone. To suggest that their imperfection is the work of a loving God, to suggest that God intended for them to be sick, to suggest that God intended for them to struggle with a temptation, how is that even close to being theologically sound? Telling people Jesus wants you to be perfect like Him, and then saying you are just the way God intended you to be, locks you into only two conclusions: either Jesus cruelly sets you up for failure, or your sin isn’t really a sin, just a natural desire.
I suspect a lot of this has to do with our modern discomfort to discuss the devil. Jesus contended so hard with Satan, and we pretend like he isn’t a factor, that he hasn’t hijacked our bodies, our identity, and our ability to reason logically and with sound theology. It’s impossible to maintain the theology of a loving God in the context of sin and suffering if we do not consider Satan to be real.
Saying, “it’s okay, you were born that way,” disservices God’s intention and ignores Satan’s serious power. A more theologically sound approach is to say, “you are made fearfully and wonderfully in the image of God. But you were also born into sin, your identity has been hijacked, your DNA has been corrupted by one whose only agenda is to steal, kill, and destroy. God made your life possible. Satan made it corruptible.”
And the Gospel is this: God makes your life redeemable. Yes, there is eternal salvation. But more than that, there’s the offer to be made whole. What doesn’t get finished in this life, will get completed in the next.
I don’t mean to be overly simplistic, to pretend that freedom from our sinful and fallen nature comes easy. We read about stories where Jesus miraculously healed individuals, and that may be difficult for someone going to their sixth round of chemotherapy treatment. There are some whose hands are shaking terribly because they want a drink. There are some that cry themselves to sleep because they feel like the temptation and struggle will never go away. Paul talked openly about his struggles, using words like “fight” and “war.” We should not expect our freedom to come easy.
There are some that give up. The battle was so difficult, so seemingly impossible, that they mock anyone who would dare fight it. I heard one person use the phrase, “I tried to ‘pray the gay away.’” Let’s commit to never saying that phrase again. How terribly, unhelpful to mock someone who is trading their natural life for a supernatural one.
What Jesus offers us is an exchange – to trade our life for His. We give up our burdens for his yoke. It doesn’t mean we get an easier life. In many cases, it may be a more difficult one. How easy would it be just to give up! Paul proclaimed, “I discipline my body and make it my slave.” The easy alternative is to preach, “Jesus’ final intention is for me to be this way.”
As I write this, I think of a college friend of mine whose child died of terminal cancer. They fought tooth and nail to give their son as much life as possible. Every day they exhaustively fought for him, and they still fight to keep his legacy alive. I think about a woman has to take a cocktail of pills to fight chronic pain. She is fighting, refusing to let her pain totally overcome her. Satan is always trying to corrupt us. If he can’t make our heart calloused, he’ll make our bodies rust. In the end, all he wants is for us to live quiet lives of resignation.
There is a reason why the great stories and movies include a fight, an insistence to never surrender. Rocky Balboa trains and trains before stepping into the ring with his greatest foe. Instead of resigning to the oppression of tyranny, William Wallace gathers an army to fight for the dignity of his people. Even as his body is being torn apart, he doesn’t give up. “Freedom!” he cries, as he fights to the end. Jesus of Nazareth is scourged beyond recognition. He is spit on, mocked, and hung naked on a cross. His final breath is His war cry – “It is finished!” These are the stories that have been written on our heart – the stories of fight and victory, where not even death is the final word.
When we embrace Jesus, we embrace eternal life. I don’t mean just the life you get when you die. I mean the life you get now. Jesus defined eternal life as this, “that they may know the one true God and Jesus Christ His only Son.” The goal, as Paul says, is to “know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Jesus’ eternal life is now. What doesn’t get finished in this life will get finished in the next. But never underestimate how much Jesus wants to do here and now.
Fellow disciples of Jesus, this isn’t an essay about who goes to heaven and hell, this isn’t even a conversation focused on specific issues like homosexuality, this is a plea for freedom. It is time we take back what Satan has hijacked. It is time we stop defining ourselves by our sin. For too long, we’ve let the world speak “adulterer” over us. As a Christian, we are not defined by our disease or our failure. We are new creations, the old has gone, and the new has come.
Today, Jesus is standing before us asking us if we want to be made whole. It doesn’t mean that the temptation or the disease is going to miraculously disappear. Jesus may very well be asking us to jump into a boat with Him headed right into the eye of a storm. The question He is asking is, “Do you want your life or mine?”
Yes Jesus, I want that new life. I want that freedom. I want everything You have for me.