It seems like a pretty insensitive question. The disciples come across a person who had been blind from birth, and ask Jesus,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus, of course, sets them straight. This guy isn’t blind because he sinned. He is blind so that the work of God might be made manifest in him. And then — BOOM– Jesus heals him.
Blindness, disease, misfortune–when we encounter these things it is not God sending down his wrath because we’ve been bad. God doesn’t work that way. Jesus comes to bring life, to breathe healing. In this fallen and imperfect world, God allows us to experience trials and misfortune so that His work might be made manifest in us.
But what about when Jesus does not heal?
Redemptive suffering, you say. And yeah, it’s the correct answer. But it’s not an easy one.
The whole point of This Christianity Thing is that the path to Heaven is the Cross. We will all come to Calvary. We will all suffer. Yet, because of the Cross—because of Jesus— our suffering can have meaning. Our suffering is a part of our sanctification, and is meant to be offered up to Jesus in order to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24).
Knowledge of this fact may not make the chemo easier or the grief hurt less, but at least, because of Jesus, we can do something with our suffering. We can give our hurt to Jesus. Not to make it hurt less, but to allow it to be used for good.
Still, it is a bit difficult grappling with the fact that the same Jesus who healed the blind man sometimes allows me to continue in my blindness, or my sickness, or my pain, without manifesting His power through a miraculous healing. Yet I also know that Jesus doesn’t owe me anything. I know that on this side of Heaven, there will always be suffering. I really don’t presume God to grant me miracles to reward my good behavior, and I know my struggles are not Jesus punishing me for bad behavior.
Sometimes bad things just happen.
But if I’m being totally honest, sometimes my “God doesn’t owe me anything” attitude has less to do with faith than it does with just not trusting God all that much. I spout off fancy, two-dollar phrases like, “Redemptive Suffering,” while on the inside, I’m asking with the disciples, “Jesus, who sinned? Why did this have to happen?”
After all, God causes it to rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, right? So then what is even the point in praying? Is it all just essentially “points” and chugging along so that I can end up in the right place when I die?
When my knee-jerk reaction to suffering or trials is, “Well, God doesn’t owe me anything,” I think there’s something sort of “off” in my relationship with God. The statement itself is true. God doesn’t owe me anything. He has already given me everything and then some. Yet God loves me with the love of the Father. When I am crushed in spirit, His response is never simply, “Well, remember, I don’t owe you anything, Mary.”
It might not be in His perfect will to take my suffering away in the way that I am praying for, but it is not out of contempt or forgetfulness on God’s part that miracles appear to not come. It is out of love.
God understands my pain. He wants me to draw near to Him in times of trial, not as some kind of test of my love for Him, but because He has a plan and purpose for every moment of my life. God causes all things to work together for my good–my ultimate good, yes, but the seldom-spoken truth is that my ultimate good and my immediate good are actually not in opposition to one another.
I once heard a priest (I think it was Fr. John Riccardo) say that the only thing that is going to happen at the end of our lives/ at the end of time is that the veil separating us from seeing things as they truly are will be pulled away. It won’t be that we suddenly won’t remember the events in our lives that caused us great pain, we will just finally see them in their fullness. We will see where God was and what He was doing in our lives’ greatest trials. We will see that God never abandoned us, and even in our weakest moments, He was drawing us closer to Himself.
We will finally see all the ways in which God has made His work manifest in us, even in those times in which it seemed He left us in our blindness.
So we should never tire of praying for miracles; and we can be assured that God is always, always at work within us.