I was trying to help one of our new members choose a Bible verse for her baptism. We were at the computer in my office, typing some of her favorite words into an online concordance to see what would come up. That’s when she asked me:
“Why won’t Jesus heal me?”
“In your sermon on Sunday you were talking about all these people Jesus healed. I was just wondering why he won’t heal me.”
She told me what she was dealing with: not cancer, not any other kind of terminal illness, but chronic pain and some other problems that had plagued her for years.
“Jesus seemed to heal everybody back then,” she said. “Why not now? Why not me?”
So I told her what I often tell people when they ask me that question. I told her that Jesus’ earthly ministry involved a lot of “show and tell.” “He was showing and telling people what the world will look like when God’s kingdom comes and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven,” I said. “He was rounding up recruits for the Kingdom by showing them how good things will be when that day comes, and by telling them about a world with no more sighing, no more crying, and no more dying.”
“But of course he didn’t heal everybody,” I said. “He healed the people who could get to him, the ones who crossed his path. He was moved with compassion every time he saw someone in need. But even then their healing was temporary. All those people Jesus healed eventually died. It’s what happens to all of us in the end. So you have to ask the question: If we’re all going to die anyway what’s the point of living?”
“Right! What is the point?”
I went all the way back to something I had learned in seminary: I told her about Irenaeus.
“Irenaeus was one of the early church fathers, and he thought that this world—which is so full of joy and sorrow, so full of sickness and health, so full of better and worse—was the perfect place to grow up. He called it ‘a vale of soul making,’ and his hunch was that you need a place like this—a place where choices have consequences, a place where life is often a struggle—to make a soul.
“For example,” I said: “I go to the fitness center a couple of times a week and one of the ways I get stronger is by lifting heavy weights. I could lift light weights, or no weights at all. That would be easier. But I wouldn’t get stronger. The only way I can do that is by lifting heavy weights, the ones that push me almost to my limit.
“If you never had any hardship in your life, if you never had any pain or struggle, life would be easier, but you might end up soft and flabby—spiritually speaking—and maybe that’s not what God wants for us. I don’t want to blame God for our suffering. We live in a broken world and we are the ones who broke it. But it may be the kind of world that gives our souls a good workout, the kind of world that makes them stronger, so that when we stand before God someday and he asks, ‘What have you got for me?’ we can say, ‘This! This beautiful soul: refined by fire, shaped by suffering.’”
She was thoughtful after that, taking it all in. I said, “I know that’s not a perfect answer. Some people seem to have way more than their share of suffering. Some people seem to have almost none at all. But if we stop blaming it all on God and instead say, ‘This is the kind of world in which a soul can be made,’ then we might start paying more attention to our own soul making. We might even say, when we are straining under the weight of incredible challenges,
“I feel my soul getting stronger.”