Dec 14th, 2012

Girl, Interrupting

By Nick Robison

Tonight, during my Intervarsity small group we looked at the healing stories from Mark 5:21-43, which is a two-for-one healing of both Jairus’s daughter and the bleeding woman.

If you’ve been in the church for any amount of time you’ll have been exposed to a myriad of sermons on this passage, which is appropriate considering there’s a lot going on in these few verses; but for now I want to focus on one specific issue. Imagine you’re standing in Jairus’s shoes, your daughter is dying, you frantically find Jesus and beg him to come and heal your poor girl. Being the gracious God that he is, Jesus agrees to come with you and off you go as quick as you can, after all, she could be gone at any minute. Then Jesus stops and gets involved in some brouhaha with another person. Yes, she may be suffering, but this has been going on for 12 years, it’s unlikely she’ll be gone in the next 15 minutes, you’re girl on the other hand….

Finally, Jesus wraps it up and the journey resumes. Unfortunately it’s too late, the bad news arrives, she’s dead Jim. Perhaps if Jesus hadn’t stopped things might have been different, perhaps he never intended to heal her in the first place, perhaps he just didn’t understand the urgency. Of course, this being history (and not our first time around this chunk of scripture) we know that Jesus does in fact heal the daughter, thought the healing looks more like being raised from the dead. So all’s well that ends well, right? The gift of the omniscient narrator means we get to see the whole picture at once also, the fact it’s called ‘Jesus Heals a Woman and Jairus’s Daughter’ gives some hint to the ending as well. But Jairus doesn’t get omniscience and for a period of time his entire world has come crashing down around him, his daughter’s dead, Jesus failed him.

Many times in my own life I believe I’ve been promised something by God, only to see the opposite come true. I’ve prayed for nights on end and when the morning comes nothing’s changed, in fact, it’s often worse. And I often wonder how we reconcile scripture such as Isaiah 45:19

I did not speak in secret,

in a land of darkness;

I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,

‘Seek me in vain.’

I the Lord speak the truth;

I declare what is right.

which seems so precise and clear, with our own experiences. Did God lie to us? Is scripture wrong? The nice tidy answer is quote back Isaiah 55:8 and claim a sort of sovereign immunity:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

While it’s absolutely true that God is sovereign, divine and high above us, sometimes the answers just don’t seem to be enough. After all, God claims to be a God of Justice and Mercy, he says he longs to be merciful to us, so what gives?

I don’t have a simple answer to this question, people much smarter then I have built up sound theological and philosophical answers to suffering and the divine arrival (for a more complete explanation see C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain) but I don’t think anyone will ever come up with the perfect explanation. And in the heat of the moment I doubt any logical answer can absolve the pain.

For me, I keep coming back to the words of my favorite hymn:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;

Here by Thy great help I’ve come;

– Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Ebenezer means ‘stone of help’ and comes from the Old Testament where after defeating the Philistines Samuel erects a monument and declares ‘Till now the Lord has helped us’ (1 Samuel 7:12). ‘Until now’, not ‘forever more’, not ‘always’, ‘until now’. In the midst of pain, in the midst of suffering it’s easy to forget what God has already done and easy to imagine what he won’t do in the future. To this, Samuel’s answer was to set a stone in the midst of the people and remind me that up to this point God has been faithful, he has delivered them. Remember what the Lord has done, write his goodness on your hearts.

Every week during communion the Anglicans remind themselves that he as a God who always delights in showing mercy. Every week, he is a God who always delights in showing mercy. We continuously remind ourselves:

God is good.

All the time.

And all the time.

He is good.

I also remind myself of the truth that scripture gives:

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,

and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.

For the Lord is a God of justice;

blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and thewater of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

-Isaiah 30:18-21

That first verse is a promise, ‘the Lord IS a God of Justice’ and you can hold him to that. As the Psalmist cries over and over again, DO NO ABANDON ME, REMEMBER ME IN YOUR MERCY, COME LIKE YOU PROMISED. The truth of the character and nature of God is not circumstantial, what he has promised he will do and you can hold him to his word, Crying out for mercy is not a sin, even Jesus prayed ‘if it be possible, let this cup pass from me’ (Matt 26:39) but he finishes his prayer with a key distinction ‘nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’

Maybe Jairus never had doubts as to God’s power, maybe he could see past the now into the great plan of God. If so, may we all have the faith of Jairus. Somedays I am confident in the face of adversity, other days I doubt not God’s power to save, but his desire. ‘Maybe he just doesn’t want to.’ I pray for increase in my faith to trust the Lord no matter what I see, to believe in truth and trust that he is who he says he is, a God of mercy, a God of grace, a God of justice. It’s not easy, it probably will never be easy, my world is very real and at times God can seem very far. Yet, Truth remains.

Remember that until now, God has helped you.

Remember the stories of other people’s triumphs.

Remember who He says He is.

Remember the promises He’s made.