Friday, February 02, 2007

Mystery and Wonder

Mystery and Wonder

A recent news item told of a 32-year old woman who had been acutely obese since childhood and whose doctors had repeatedly admonished her to lose weight. She suffered from diabetes and many other maladies associated with obesity but maintained from age 20 that her weight didn’t match her diet; something must be wrong. Finally doctors located a ninety-three pound benign tumor on her ovary and removed it, admitting that her weight gain and many of her related health problems had “cascaded” from the tumor. The woman, looking forward to a bright future after years of shame and frustration, said “I always had faith that something would be found.”

I am preaching this week on Jesus’ healing of the man at the pool in Bethesda in John 5. Digging into this passage has renewed my intrigue with the connections between illness and infirmity, medical treatment, faith, God and healing. I will tell you that anyone who professes to have simple explanations for the relationship between all of the above is a fool. There is mystery here: of the human body, of the nature of well-being, and of God’s ways.

The man in John 5 has been infirm for thirty-eight years. I wonder if people have been telling him all that time that he just needs to (fill in the blank here) to be cured. Instead he is so devoid of hope, so incapable of envisioning a future without his debilitating condition that he cannot respond coherently to Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be well?” He cannot say, “I always had faith that something would be found.”

This passage also has me thinking of the way in which our faith tradition has downplayed the ministry of healing despite strong scriptural references to the manifestation of the Spirit in the gift of healing (I Cor. 12:9) and church leaders praying over the ill and anointing them with oil (James 5:14). I am wondering if we haven’t thrown out the baby (the ministry of healing) with the bathwater (abuses and harmful manifestations thereof).

I read recently of an informal Christian theological movement called paleo-orthodoxy, which advocates a return to “classical Christianity” (“paleo” means “ancient” and “orthodox” means “correct belief”). Its adherents, mainstream Christians in all respects, simply believe that modern Christ-followers need to rely more on the wisdom and practices of the early church instead of using Enlightenment rationalism as a starting point (i.e., that faith and mystery are contrary to reason). So, for instance, with regard to prayer and healing, not only can we pray for God to effect a cure through the medical establishment or by his own power, we also can partner with him to prayerfully enter into the healing work via the practices and words of Scripture God has given us. It is not a case of either or; each of these responses to illness is appropriate and faithful. But what if we’re only utilizing one? I find myself in my middle-age more and more hungry for this kind of “classical” Christian spirituality.

After Jesus heals the man the religious authorities get angry because he does it on the Sabbath. They don’t see the healing, just the violation of rules. Sigh. That’s another issue for another day.

A ninety-three pound tumor. Twelve years of bondage. A new season of life filled with hope and expectation. I am struck by the symbolism. Excitedly.


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