I’ve worked with many grieving people who are angry at God because their loved one was not healed. They tell me how they stormed heaven with prayers, and yet God was silent. Some even relate stories of another person’s healing and wonder whether their own faith wasn’t strong enough, or whether God was punishing them for their sins by taking their loved one away. These situations are wrenchingly difficult and tragic. They prompt me to look more closely at the Gospels to see whether perhaps we’ve gotten God’s healing all wrong.
Place yourself in the position of the paralyzed man whose friends brought him to Jesus. They were convinced Jesus would heal him so he could walk again. They were so excited about it that they ripped a hole in the roof of the building in order to get the man through the crowd.
Finally this hopeful man is face-to-face with the Messiah. But Jesus doesn’t say "Be healed". He says "Your sins are forgiven." If you were the man, wouldn’t you be mad? You thought you were going to walk; instead he just forgives your sins?
And yet….what if he wasn’t mad at all? Maybe this was the first time in the young man’s life that someone looked at him and did not see a disability, the first time someone loved him exactly as he was, and the first time someone didn’t think his paralysis was his most defining characteristic. Maybe he did feel guilty about how he acted because of his condition, how he’d been angry, bitter, and caustic. Maybe Jesus knew what kind of healing this man needed most, and it wasn’t physical healing. He needed to be made emotionally and spiritually whole. In fact, when Jesus gazed at him and forgave his sins, maybe this man felt so completely loved that he wept for joy.
Of course, the bystanders weren’t satisfied and demanded proof that Jesus could forgive sins. So Jesus acquiesced and said, "Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home." Interestingly, that is exactly what the man does. He doesn’t jump up and down or have a party. He just stands up and walks home. It seems rather anti-climactic, but perhaps by that point it truly was. Jesus had healed him in the most profound way, and then it didn’t matter so much that he could walk. Physical healing was just the frosting on the cake, but not the miracle that made the difference.
I try to remember this story when I pray for my loved ones to be healed. God always heals, but it may not be a physical healing. In fact, sometimes the healing a person most needs is healing into a peaceful death. My heart longs for my dad, my sister, and my friend to be physically healed of their ailments. But God knows what type of healing they truly need; it is not my place to tell God what kind of healing I will accept.
So I change my prayer to one of trust. I pray that God will heal them in the ways they most need healing, and then I place them into the gentle hands of a God who loves them more than I can imagine and who wants their fullness of life in ways I cannot comprehend. The people I love may die; in fact, everyone I love will eventually die. Yet I trust that God is healing them every step of the way. Physical healing may be possible, or it may not. That is God’s call.
I pray the same thing for myself every morning of my life, and every morning of my life God is answering that prayer. I have all sorts of physical aches and pains I’d rather be rid of, but God is wiser than me. God is changing my heart. I am still deeply imperfect. God has a lot of work to do. But I believe, I trust, I know that whether it is for me or for someone I love, my prayers are being answered. Our God always heals.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she partnered with the Passionists. See her website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.