Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out...
For the season of Lent at our church, we're reflecting on the healing stories of Jesus found in the gospels. We're considering what God might be speaking to us today through those encounters about our own need for healing in so many ways. On Sunday we read a story from John 5 of a man who was disabled for 38 years, waiting with others at a pool that he thought would heal him if he got into it at the right moment. Jesus sees him, asks him if he wants to be well (that seems insensitive), and just a few moments later, the guy walks away healed. There's more to it than that (at least I hope so- I turned it into a 35 minute sermon). And there's much to be explored about our own desire for healing and willingness to move toward it, especially during the lenten season. Now, our conversation wasn't really about physical healing. It was about whatever ways we find ourselves in need of wholeness.
In the story, it wasn't just what happened, but what didn't happen that caught the notice of some in our community. We frequently have a Q and Eh? dialogue time after our messages, and this week was really good. Some issues were brought up that we don't often mention in stories like these, because it's just so darn... messy.
Like: If there were a ton of sick people there, why did Jesus only heal that one guy? Did he heal the others too?
Like: Why do some people get healed and others don't?
Like: An instantaneous moment of healing is wonderful, but God doesn't seem to work like that very much anymore.
Like: How do we think/speak about moments where we feel God worked (healing, protection, etc) when it could cause real harm to others whose experiences with loss are not like that?
And here's my big, wise, insightful pastoral response to those questions:
I don't know.
And I'm ok with that.
These kids of questions can paralyze us, especially if we have been exposed to a worldview where the idea of having dynamic faith in God got linked to having adequate answers about all the things.
I love asking questions. Yet I also know that some of those questions will never be resolved. How much does/doesn't God intervene in the laws of physics? How much is God's work more subtle and internal? How should we feel about situations that we are absolutely sure God is opposed to, yet we see very little change-- where powerful people, natural disasters, and illness continue to do great harm?
We can just give a broad sweep that if God is all powerful, then God is somehow behind both the good and bad, and we just don't see the big picture. This might make us feel consistent, but it leaves us with a character gap. Because every time that we see Jesus encounter brokenness (sickness, suffering) he offers compassion. Plus, the guy cries because of how broken the world is. So we simply cannot put God as the author of the same stuff that breaks God's heart. It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't feel like Jesus.
So we are left unresolved. We are left without having everything airtight, wrapped up in a bow, and systematically organized.
And I want to tell you, friends.... that is alright. It's ok to have unresolved elements in your faith. It's ok to believe that God is good and at work to renew all things... yet not understand how evil and brokenness persist. It's the same posture the Psalmist had so often, so you are in good company. It's ok to walk in a faith that's full of beauty and full of unanswered mystery, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
On some level God will always be beyond our understanding. And yet we have God in a person, living out accessible stories of love and instruction, so that we have enough to go on. I don't know exactly how God works outside of what I see in Jesus. But what I see in Jesus is compelling enough to commit my life to trusting and following.
There is beautiful peace that emerges when we can know God while not knowing everything about God. And maybe as Christians admit that a bit more easily, others will welcome their perspectives into the conversation more often. I recently heard a comedian give a bit where she said, "the think I miss most about being a Christian is looking down on everyone who didn't have all the answers." Oh Lord, forgive us.
A core of these lenten weeks is learning honesty and trust in the desert season with Jesus. I can't think of a better way to practice that than holding the love of God and the mystery of God together as we center our lives on the way of Jesus.
Jesus, help me trust you, even in the unresolved places.
*Just to be clearly affirming to those who raised these questions this week: I think it's so valuable to do that, and I applaud you for leaning into this. Humble wrestling is an integral part of active faith.