Some of you may have heard the story a little over a month ago of the recovery of an Arizona man after a car accident that almost claimed his life. I won’t go into detail here, but you can certainly follow the link to learn more.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the nature of affliction and miracles since hearing the story. At this point, my thoughts have taken enough substance to share here, and so I do. Let me begin with my first thought, after which I will give you the balance of the three conclusions I’ve come to as a result of it, each built on the previous in successive order.
Thought: “Sure, it’s a miracle that he is going to make a full recovery. But the bigger miracle would have been for him never to have been in an accident at all.”
That’s actually pretty profound, if I may say so myself. It’s totally true: the bigger miracle than recovery is not having anything to recover from. Being spared and protected from affliction is a real and true blessing – and indeed can legitimately be called a “miracle” – from God.
In other words, if you don’t have cancer, praise God for that miracle – there are a lot of people your age who do.
If you don’t have diabetes, praise God for that miracle – there are a lot of people just like you who do.
If you don’t have gout, kidney stones, insomnia, or acne, praise God, for even that is in all reality a miracle from Him. The mere fact that you did not die in the womb… the mere fact that the atoms and molecules you are made of cohere and give you form instead of breaking apart and disintegrating in a microsecond… more miracles. (or is it not Christ who holds all things together? Colossians 1:17)
Thus, even if you do have certain illnesses and afflictions, praise God for the miracle of not having the ones you are blessed to live without.
But what about the illnesses and afflictions that you do suffer from before being miraculously healed? Obviously, the man referenced above was only miraculously restored to the proper function of his body after he had suffered a horrible series of events and afflictions… why did the miracle come later and not sooner? That is, why did God see fit to give this man the miracle of healing instead of the miracle of preventing the accident in the first place (as per point #1)?
Scripture has the answer for this, too. In John chapter nine, when Jesus is speaking to His disciples about the man born blind, what does He tell them is the reason for the man’s infirmity?
…this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
– John 9:3b
Ah, but of course. So, God might not grant the miracle of prevention in order to display His powerful works through the more obvious miracle of healing. The linked article does mention how some friends and family of this gentleman actually started attending church again after having fallen away, so much did his recovery demonstrate the works of God. This is clear: healing from affliction is certainly more attention-getting than if the affliction never happened.
Okay, but what about the people who are afflicted but never receive healing, at least in this life? How does their situation fit into the big picture?
First, let me be honest by saying that this is currently where I fall. I won’t be specific at this time as to the nature of my “thorn in the flesh”, as it were, but I do want to make it clear that this is not a topic I approach lightly or without due empathy for those who are afflicted in their body in some way.
That said, I believe that the situation of this group (i.e. those who have not received the miracle of prevention of a certain illness, and who have also not been healed [as of yet, at any rate]) is the most miraculous of all. Why do I say this? Let me begin with Scripture:
(Paul speaking) So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
– 2 Corinthians 2:7-10
Let me say it like this: would you perceive it as a miracle for a perfectly healthy man to go about the activities of daily living? Probably not. Meanwhile, for someone with fibromyalgia, arthritis, or any other debilitating disease, it is sometimes a miracle that they were even able to get out of bed in the morning. The people who are in the midst of affliction are forced into a place of having to rely to the utmost on God’s gracious provision of strength (of mind, body, and spirit) and on His merciful holding back of their condition every day.
And that’s the bottom line: reliance on God. The greatest miracle any one of us could ever experience is that of conversion – where the Holy Spirit takes our sinful, rebellious hearts that hate God out and provides us with a humble and trusting heart of flesh. Those who suffer from affliction live in a state of active, conscious dependence upon God’s grace that most of the healthy never know, and as such are necessarily “like a little child” as they hold ever closely to the promises of their heavenly Father.
Therefore in all things – avoidance of affliction, healing from affliction, and sustaining grace during affliction – let God be glorified for Who He is:
The Worker of miracles.
Post script: relating to point #3, it needs to be noted that we are all beggars; we all depend on the gracious providence of God for every need at every moment – waking or otherwise – of our lives. My point above is that those suffering from affliction of the body are generally more conscious of this reality, and therefore mentally depend all the more actively on the Grace of God. Further, there are plenty of afflictions that have nothing to do with ailments of the body, such as the loss of children, mental illness, divorced parents, etc. What is true of bodily ailments in terms of actively acknowledged dependance upon God is also true of these things.