Earlier this year I read through the Bible as fast as I could. It was a sprint from Genesis to Revelation. Whenever I’d bump up against something that beckoned me to linger I would jot it down and push on. There were lots of interesting things that came about from this kind of reading, but something that caught me off guard, specifically during my jaunt through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, was that I found myself reacting in frustration and anger. We all know that the Gospels are full of accounts where Jesus is healing the sick and the blind and the lame, but reading in this accelerated way allowed me to see that Jesus was healing people a lot. I mean, he was healing people like a dirty politician wants you to vote, early and often. He was healing so many people that the gospel writers simply couldn’t fit them all into their text. John said that it would take more books than the world could contain just to write down all the miraculous things Jesus did.
Like I said, this isn’t new information. I always have known and believed that Jesus healed the lame and sick, but having my perspective readjusted in this sprint of a read, the healing touch of Christ just simply overwhelmed me. And I found my soul, almost without intention, groaning.
My third child, Arwen, was born with a type of spina bifida called myelomenigocele. There’s a lot of medical jargon that goes along with that, but essentially this means that my daughter’s spine never fully closed in the womb and because of this her spinal cord protruded from her back. This leads to the spinal cord being damaged which causes things like paralysis, lack of sensation, loss of bladder and bowel control. All of these things and more affect my daughter. You can read more about myelomenigocele: here. And for a more detailed look at my daughter’s condition, I will point you to my wife’s excellent blog: here.
October is spina bifida awareness month, but my daughter and my family are aware of spina bifida every day. It’s not too far off the mark to say we’re aware of it at minimum every hour. We have had to rewire the way we think and the way we live. Everything goes through the spina bifida filter. A fever isn’t just a fever, it’s an ER visit. A slight bump on her head or back nearly send me into cardiac arrest. I praise God she can walk even though she can’t move her feet or calf muscles. And as she grows those legs are looking thinner. I’m aware of it every time I see her run to catch up to her siblings. Will she be able to keep walking when she grows up? My heart is thumping with dread even as I write.
So I’m reading about Jesus and his healing and my heart is groaning for my daughter. God, you have the power to heal. Just heal her. Christ, heal her. If I could but take everything she suffers with and place it upon me I’d do it in half a heartbeat. I can relate to the parents I read about, bringing their sick kids to Jesus, or travelling from afar just to see if this miracle worker can do what no one else has been able to do. Their concern is my concern, their anguish is my anguish, and their pleas for mercy echo mine. We want the same thing, for our child to be made whole. But the difference is that they got what they asked for and I’m still groaning. Mercy. Please heal her like you healed those people. Why won’t you heal her? My pleas for healing were met with silence against the backdrop of the miraculous. So yeah, there was frustration and anger.
All of a sudden I can see now why folks get duped by those Charismatic phony-baloney TV healer types. Desperation. It is the action of doing whatever it takes to give a child relief. Which makes folks like Benny Hinn and his ilk even more evil than I first thought. Sucking the souls and pocketbooks of those who just want relief and blaming those who aren’t healed on their lack of faith. Sick. Faith healers? More like faith stealers. But even armed with that knowledge I’m still tempted. I have real faith, why isn’t my daughter healed? Who needs a TV preacher? I’m duping myself over here. I’m tempted further, But you healed those people! Why can’t you heal her!? and as soon as the words die on my lips I hear them again in the mouths of the scoffers, “He saved others but he can’t save himself!” Well that’s a jolly crew I’ve latched myself to; Benny Hinn and the Mockers of the dying Christ. Oh help my unbelief!
Praise God for sound theology. By His grace I remember that God is sovereign. That anchor. That unshakeable tree that has taken root in my very being. Without it, who’s to say my frustration and anger and desperation wouldn’t keep me subjected to the kooks? Undergirded by the understanding that God is sovereign, reminded that this world is under a curse and that God has sent Christ to break it, I see my frustration start to crumble and like a smack to the face it hits me that this Sovereign God is aware. God is aware of spina bifida. He’s aware of my daughter. He’s aware of my wife’s stress and heartache. He is aware of my plea.
A word rollicks through my brain. Foretaste. An image of that old sailor-turned-preacher John Newton flashes and I recall that he said a Christian “lives upon the foretastes of eternal glory”. Now that’s a thought to dwell upon.
I look to the Gospels again, on all of those overwhelming accounts of Jesus healing and realize that these accounts are a foretaste. Jesus’ coming to earth was a foretaste of eternal glory. Eternal glory. Where the lion and lamb lay down together. Where the children play near vipers as harmless as puppies. Where deaf ears and blind eyes are opened and mute tongues sing. Where the lame will leap like the deer. Jesus’ healing was a sneak peek. The appetizer course. An overlapping of heaven on earth. His healing was the overflow, the bubble and froth of the Kingdom of God spilling everywhere Jesus stepped. Suddenly that which overwhelmed me became vastly underwhelming. Like the exploding spillover of a champagne bottle this healing lasted only for a few moments, revealing to us that there is more to come. This miraculous healing explosion was a glimpse, a foretaste of what is yet to come. On this thought my anger and frustration fell away and my soul found some relief. Hope. That’s what it was. Hope.
Hope, because one day there will be no more tears. No more pain. No more suffering. No more stress. No more damned spina bifida. Hospital visits and doctor’s stupid opinions and surgeries and finances are going to be removed. Hope, because one day my daughter will experience the touch of the One who makes all things new. She’s going to run laps around her siblings. She’s gonna leap like a deer. And what a sight that will be. How much sweeter will heaven make of all that is bitter on the earth? Our groaning and suffering and sorrow today will be the foundations on which is built a greater joy. Is this not but a reflection of the cross of Christ? Jesus, God Incarnate, the Only Innocent, suffered the greatest injustice, underwent the greatest suffering, wracked with the greatest sorrow, died upon the cross, being mocked at by the scum of the earth, enduring the wrath of his Father for the scum of the earth; did this for the joy that was set before him. The greatest suffering became the greatest joy. For him and for us.
I’m encouraged and strengthened by this hope. To be sure, sorrow is still there. But knowing what is in store it is a sorrow mingled with joy. My daughter still has spina bifida. I still hate it and don’t want her to have it. I still would take it away given the chance. But there is hope. I’m glad there are things like Spina Bifida Awareness Month. One of the best reasons to be aware of spina bifida, or any other disability, is knowing that one day there will be no need to be aware. Or even better our awareness of spina bifida or any other suffering will serve to augment our joy and the glory of God.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. –St. Paul in his letter to the Romans