We get ourselves into trouble when we expect direct, visible growth. I had lofty expectations for spiritual growth during my time at Clemson. Aside from a few national championships in football, I anticipated drawing closer to Jesus, finding a community, and discovering clarity in my future: namely an aspiration for ministry.
Yet the only clarity I found was that I, for whatever reason, was not written into God’s plan. I wrestled with doubt and begged God to relieve me of the burden of constant questioning. The response I heard was not a powerful or even a polite refusal—I heard nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was depressed, I felt abandoned, and quite honestly I felt a bit pissed off. To me it seemed as if God had been leading me by the hand to a life of ministry and then just left me, cold and alone. Even worse, I would resent friends who were growing closer to Jesus because I was jealous that, metaphorically, Jesus had taken them by the hand while leaving me lost and looking. I felt like a lost, wandering, meaningless orphan. And worse yet, Clemson went 6-7, in as much of a tailspin as I was.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
In Psalm 13, David wrote those words to God. They felt like they had come on a telegram from my soul. I understood why God wasn’t felt by those who refused to seek him, but I was actually trying to seek Him. I was pleading God to remember me and show Himself to me. But I detected no response.
I’ll never claim to know the Will of God, but I do believe there was value in the suffering. Romans 5:3-5 says that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ And it was true. After two and a half years of desperation and perceived isolation from God, I could feel his hand and hope again.
But that’s all it was all along – a perceived isolation from God. He was no less with me after the storm than he was in my darkness. He was no less with me when I only bothered to pray once a month then when I prayed daily. He was there, regardless of what I did or how I felt or who I felt. Through it all I learned not to base my perception of Jesus’ closeness and compassion on something so untrustworthy as emotions and feelings.
The process was a lot more painful and took a lot longer than I wish it did, but the most meaningful spiritual growth in my life occurred during and directly after this most trying part. CS Lewis wrote – ‘He(God) relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.’
Why does God rely on troughs? It’s because real faith is truly born ‘when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do God’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.’ – CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
-Big G aka Gray Segars, UMin Intern
A recent adventure into Scripture has left me wrestling with God. It’s a story I’ve probably read a hundred times. And yet, somehow the questions I’m asking about this passage never entered my consciousness the first 99 times I read it.
It’s the story about Jesus healing a paralytic, found in Mark 2. Here’s what happens…
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
I’m not gonna lie, after reading this recently, my reaction to Jesus’ initial response to such a bold, desperate act of faith was deep frustration, even anger. How must this paralyzed man have felt? I’m sure there was an element of embarrassment for him as he allowed his friends to fight against all odds to get him to this place before Jesus. And think of how the hope in him, the desperation for healing, must have been rising. As Jesus is about to open His mouth to speak, I’m sure this man was faced with the overwhelming realization that he might actually experience true healing. Only to then hear, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I wonder if the man was processing Jesus’ words something like this:
“Um, excuse me… forgiven? Has He seen the state of my legs? Why does He think I came to Him? Maybe I wasn’t clear… I want to walk. I appreciate the His gesture of forgiving my sins and all. That was sure nice of Him. But that isn’t why I let my friends destroy the roof and interrupt His preaching. All I want are legs that work.”
Only after Jesus senses that the teachers of the law are making an inward fuss about His open display of authority does He say to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home,” thus healing the man of his paralysis.
I guess the question that troubles me is this: If the teachers of the law hadn’t questioned Jesus’ authority, would Jesus have healed the man’s legs at all? Could this story have ended with Jesus walking away from the man after forgiving his sins while leaving his legs paralyzed?
When I think about the places in my own life where I yearn to experience healing, I imagine being set in front of Jesus with my wounds open and bare before Him, hopeful that He’ll choose to heal me once and for all. I can imagine hearing these seemingly irrelevant words from Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven.”
“No, Jesus,” I can hear myself saying, “that is NOT what I wanted. Why can’t you just give me what I want? I want to be relieved of my pain, not forgiven of my sins!”
In all honesty, I have not come to a solid conclusion regarding the tension I find in this text. It still doesn’t entirely settle. The one thing that has become clear to me as I read, however, is my own short-sightedness and small-mindedness. I entered this passage wanting from Jesus an immediately gratifying result. Please, Jesus, heal this poor guy’s legs. But, surprise, surprise, Jesus doesn’t conform His ways to meet my expectations. I wonder if this man’s request was too small. The paralyzed man wanted his legs healed, but Jesus wanted the whole person healed. The paralyzed man wanted the freedom to walk, but Jesus wanted to give him freedom from the weight of sin. The paralyzed man wanted healing from the physical sickness he could see, but Jesus wanted to heal him from the spiritual sickness he could not see.
I wonder if the hope I have for my own healing journey is tragically incomplete. Perhaps Jesus wants to give me more than I have found the words to Him ask for. Perhaps He longs to give me true, eternal wholeness over immediacy. The question I find this text asking is, “Will I trust Jesus’ picture of wholeness and healing over my own?”
By Liz O, UMin Intern
When I experience deep pain or witness extreme injustice, I certainly find myself doubting a faithful God. There was a time when I would recognize that doubt and determine that I must not have enough faith. Now, though, I understand that true faith does not come without doubt. If I think I have faith without doubt, then I don’t have faith at all – I have certainty. But we are called to faith, and ultimately, that faith must lead us to “jump.” Trust me, it would have been a lot easier to take the plunge in Corinth from a place of certainty, but it was weighing all the doubts in my mind that made it a leap of faith.
Posted by Becky Riggers